“Opendesk”: Open Source Furniture

As I commented quite a while ago, one of the interesting things about digital fabrication is that it enables designs to be shared just like any other digital object. There are different ways this can be done, including uploading for anyone to use, uploading to sell, commercial downloads, and commercial services that build a design that you up load.

Digital design files also open the possibility of “open source”, and open source libraries. These efforts are quite interesting, taking the notion of a shared, public, knowledgebase into the realm of “things”. For example, Obrary is developing an “open source hardware”, a collection of free digital plans for DIY tools, intended to be The Global Village Construction Kit.. I’ve never needed a aluminum extractor, but I know where can get the plans for one.

An interesting variation on this theme is OpenDesk, which is a digital service that sells designs under various creative commons licenses, which are free for use. The designs can be downloaded and built (generally out of plywood with a CNC milling machine), perhaps at a local maker space or fab lab.

Opendesk has a global network of makers and a collection of furniture by a range of international designers. Because that furniture is designed for digital fabrication, it can be downloaded as a digital file and made locally — on demand, anywhere in the world.

The company makes money outfitting office workspaces,  customizing the standard open source plans for specific spaces, and sending the plans off to a local maker for delivery to the site.

The coolest feature is something I’ve wanted to see for quite a while: connection to local makers. At the Opendesk site you can also locate local builders who have the equipment and knowhow to build the design. This makes so much sense: keep the jobs local, ship around knowhow peer-to-peer.

I’ll admit that I don’t fully understand the business model for Opendesk, but I do understand most of the technology, so I’m pretty sure it is sustainable and mostly harmless.

The furniture itself doesn’t excite me much. I mean, inexpensive plywood designs are not that attractive or, I fear, comfortable. The Opendesk site has zillions of designs for chairs which are, well, all very chair-like. Lot’s of tables, many that don’t look very practical. And so on. (The bottom line is that the human race knows how to design basic furniture, designs are not the bottleneck!)

But the simple functional designs are more than made up for by the ability to get them built by local makers. For me, making it myself is something I want to do once, just to learn how. And that one time will take time and probably be a mess. If I really need something, I would far rather pay a local shop to build it right. And I certainly would rather have it built by a local shop than some anonymous factory a long way from home.

If I can make a suggestion: I would like to see the service to also include a network of recyclers who will dismantle and reclaim the products at end of life. This will be even more important as they move into “smart” designs that contain electronics.

I’m a bit concerned about their brainstorm about their aim to get into “smart” furniture”.

The workspace of the future will be intelligent, implicitly adapting to ergonomic, social and cultural requirements. For example, adding wireless phone charging to your desk, presence detection, scriptable LED notification systems and configurable touch and sensor inputs.

I dunno about this.  However, if they keep to the “open source” model and keep it modular and interoperable, it might be a good way to experiment and discover what, if any of these features are really assets.


  1. McGrath, R. E. (2013). Introductions to Making at a Community Fab Lab: Experience and Perspectives. Urbana: Champaign Urbana Community Fab Lab. https://robertmcgrath.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/white-paper-2013-mcgrath-v11.pdf

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