When one thinks of the Furniture Industry, a picture comes to mind of the typical tables or chairs made of different types of wood, with fairly standard shapes and nothing out of the ordinary. In an industry as old as human kind, everything that needed to be invented has been invented, right? Wrong. Meet Model No. and their team of co-founders who are actually making every possible effort to disrupt this 30,000 year old industry.
What is Model No?
Model No. is a furniture company located in Oakland, California. It was started in 2018 by Jeffrey McGrew, Jillian Northrup, Vani Khosla and Adam Weaver. All their designs are made of carefully selected eco-friendly and sustainable materials with manufacturing processes designed to minimize waste.
Their goal is to put truly custom, eco-friendly design within the reach of everyone. Their debut line features five products, all of which can be completely customized using ShapeDiver’s real-time online visualization tools including height and width, curvature of the shape, color, and hardwood materials.
Each product is offered with a selection of pre-customized models created by the Model No. design team, which can be ordered just as they are, or used as a starting place for custom forms.
1. What makes Model-No different from traditional furniture companies?
(Vani Khosla): At Model No. we empower the user to define their ideal piece of eco furniture; we don’t force a one size fits all approach to the broad spectrum of customers like traditional furniture companies. Buying custom furniture is difficult, time consuming, and no fun.
(Jeffrey McGrew): With Model No. you can customize a pre-designed, and amazingly flexible product to your liking. Directly on our website you see the custom piece you are making exactly as it will look, and it dynamically changes in real time.
Once ordered it will come to you in a few weeks unlike the tradition 6-8 weeks you will see with a lot of other brands, and if you’re done using our product, we’ll take it back and recycle it for you. This model we emulated from contract carpet industry that have been doing this for years, but that no other residential furniture company is currently doing or is even capable of doing at all. It makes getting bespoke custom designer furniture as easy as ordering a pair of customized Nikes.
2. When did you realize there was a potential business case with 3D printing furniture?
(Jeffrey McGrew): Jillian & I met Vani (one of our co-founders) in 2018 while working with her on a building project together—(Jillian and I have run a design build Architecture firm for over 10 years, and Vani was one of our clients).
Vani was struggling with purchasing pretty simple furniture that needed to be custom sizes and shapes. Out of conversations between us, it seemed like a niche to be filled and that 3D printing could be a possible way to solve this problem.
We wanted to create a company where people could order custom eco furniture that fits a room perfectly in shapes and sizes that look amazing, work really well, and allow for a person to have fun while doing it. Or tailor a chair that fits their body perfectly with just a few measurements. We believe you should be able to see exactly what your product is actually going to look like before ordering and without ever having to pay upfront designer fees.
We brought on a Principal Industrial Designer, Adam Weaver, at the very beginning of this business concept. He has years and years of award winning product and furniture design experience. We brought him on, not only to help us vet the idea, but also to bring the concept into fruition. He had seen all the same struggles from the inside of large furniture companies, working with clients to create custom objects was a huge undertaking for both the clients and the company. And he was (is!) excited about the potential 3D printing could bring to the industry.
So, about a year ago, the four of us started Model No. and set out to disrupt the furniture industry with custom sustainable furniture.
3. You’ve even created your own custom 3D printers, could you share a bit more about why this happened and what makes your 3D printers different or right for your use case?
(Jillian Northrup): We decided to do this after working with a few different off the shelf printers. We have specific needs for size and speed, and a desire to be in control of the design of the machines so we can iterate them to our needs. We found ourselves modifying the printers we purchased so heavily that we felt we should go the route of building our own.
4. Tell us more about the materials you are working with. Do they imply specific constraints regarding the shapes and sizes of the furniture?
(Jillian Northrup): We are really set on being the most eco friendly company we can be. That said we are currently using primarily PLA, a EcoResin made from agricultural waste from an American manufacturer called NatureWorks. We are experimenting with other materials as well: Hemp, ceramics, woods and eco fabrics are all in our wheelhouse of experimentation as we bring products to market.
5. How do you find the balance between the customer’s needs and which rules are enforced by the generative algorithms?
(Adam Weaver): The hierarchy was pretty straight forward. We prioritized safety first in being the guiding principle to the boundaries in which we programmed the algorithms, this leaves a lot of openness for a person’s unique creative ability to generate a design that is truly their own.
The printability was also one of the strict rules we had to enforce in order to ensure that we could deliver on our promise to produce a unique piece each and every time. The form language is very much that of nature, mathematics, and our 3D printers.
To span such a large variance of individually authored styles we really had to bring value of a memorable experience to creating these objects. So, the possibilities in millions was the third guiding rule as why shouldn’t we focus on the differences of shape, size, twist and no twist people want.
6. Do you design entirely with Grasshopper? Which other tools are involved in the design process?
(Adam Weaver): We have a pretty refined design method built from the traditional industrial process, but that’s where it ends and we went to where architecture has been for decades, and that is purely Grasshopper.
There is no other tool that lets us write an equation that ends recursive data loops to doing json objects, and then machine learning tools to dynamically solve surfacing issues.
7. What’s next for Model-No? When can we expect new collections?
(Jillian Northrup): We are launching two seating collections and a dining table system in late October/ early November. It’s going to be amazing. The team here has been working hard iterating on concepts and testing the pieces. We are really excited about this next lines! And we plan to keep up the cadence of product launches quarterly.
We have so many ideas and we want to try so many other things. We’re excited about what the public’s reaction will be to the collections, but we plan on tirelessly working to keep people engaged in creating their unique eco furniture design.