The Thingiverse Customizer is a tool that lets you dynamically define the dimensions of parts you want to print. For example, you might want to print a ring of a certain size. If the ring is Customizer compatible, you can simply open it in Customizer, enter the ring size, hit “Create Thing,” and in a few minutes you have a part that you can download and print. Now imagine if you could do that to create custom furniture.
At the 2014 Nashville Mini Maker Faire, I stopped and talked to Andy Chick, Chris Mabry, and Andrew Leopold, the founders of Arrister, about their dream of providing such a service. They had started working on the software and were experimenting with furniture design components that would be possible through this service in its first version. I had a chance a few days ago to stop by and check in on their progress.
They have built a web-based software that they call the Configurator that allows people to select a furniture piece, such as a desk or bookshelf, from a catalog and then customize nearly every dimension of the piece. For example, you can pick a traditional desk with shelves on one side. Then, in the Configurator you can customize the height, depth, number of shelves, and color of the finished desk and see all these changes in your browser as you define them. Once you finalize your design, you simply submit your order and a few days later a flat-packed box of parts arrives at your door ready to be assembled.
All of the current furniture designs are based on Parsons modernist style furniture that utilizes straight lines and rectangular components. The simplicity of the design makes it ideal for their first offering as it simplifies both the software and fabrication considerations. The parts are all currently made of poplar hardwood and plywood. In the future, they will likely offer different hardwood species options for customers to choose select.
What if your furniture piece is only part of a much larger room design? To enable even further flexibility, they are also working on dynamic components that can be used within SketchUp. So, you’ll be able to bring in a furniture object and change its parameters within SketchUp in the same way as you can with their online Configurator. This provides a lot more flexibility but does require that you install and understand the free SketchUp software.
As a software architect myself, I immediately latched onto the value of the software product that they had built and started suggesting lots of other ideas where it could be used. However, it became clear in talking to them that they have no intention of being a software company. They have a passion for building custom furniture and giving people a level of freedom in furniture design that has never been available before. The software is not their product; it is merely a tool they made to enable the creation of their real product — custom furniture.
Chick, Mabry, and Leopold work together at 2ndlook Studio where they do product design consulting. When they got the idea to provide a new type of furniture service, they approached the Nashville, Tennessee, based Jumpstart Foundry incubator, which helped them turn their product idea into a company. They’ve built the software and in a workshop they share with their landlord, and they have managed to prove that the concept works. Next, they’re launching a Kickstarter to help them expand out their manufacturing capabilities and space so they can keep up with anticipated demand.