A small blue/grey table with a laptop on top, plus a backpack and a pair of headphones hanging on hooks on its side.

Furniture shared with everyone – but what is open source all about?

Is it a furniture movement, a philosophy, or an invitation for everyone to join the party? Whatever it is, open source is here to stay. At least it is, according to Joni Steiner at Opendesk in London.

Say, you are looking for a new coffee table – or a desk. Traditionally you could either go to a store or order it online. Now there is an alternative – open source. You download a digital design file and bring it to a local manufacturer who can cut out the pieces from wooden sheets using a CNC router, a computer controlled cutting machine. Alternatively, if you have the right equipment, you can make it yourself.

However, there is more to it, says Joni Steiner, architect, designer and co-founder of Opendesk, a London company that hosts digital furniture designs that can be made globally via a network of local craftsmen. They have a strong focus on sustainable locally-sourced materials and fair pay for designers and manufacturers.

The idea behind open source is also to encourage a community to grow around the design.

Joni Steiner saw how open source thinking had started in software and how it helped huge collaborations happen. Today, millions of computers are running exclusively open source software, and nearly all computers run open source software to some degree. He became interested in the philosophy and new ways of producing furniture through digital fabrication and co-design, letting more people contribute to more products with more outcomes in more locations.

“Collaboration happens when people can share and work together on multi-author projects. For us, it’s not so much about being technically open source but more about being open in spirit with an increasing awareness of the benefits of sharing and collaborating with the outside world,” says Joni Steiner.

A woman working on a design on a laptop computer, beside a notebook, a pen and various other items.
Chiara Onida’s screens add privacy, turning the DELAKTIG sofa into a booth for meetings or work privacy.

Would you call open source furniture a movement?

“Yes, I think I would. The notion of open source design work in relation to software is well established, but when you move to hardware it’s really much more of an emerging area – and that’s what makes it exciting,” says Joni Steiner.

DELAKTIG, created by IKEA in collaboration with British designer Tom Dixon, is an aluminum sofa frame designed as an open platform. It means anyone – a local carpenter or a global company – can create add-ons such as tables, covers or legs to personalise it.

Joni Steiner and Opendesk got together with Space 10, IKEA’s future living lab, to imagine future lives for the DELAKTIG sofa though a series of additional parts. Seven designers came up with add-ons for the DELAKTIG sofa. The designers explored local materials as well as local production, and focused on designing for a circular economy.

A result is, for example, adding screens to make a seating area more private. Or you can change DELAKTIG entirely. Joni Steiner and his brother decided to use the chassis and turn it into a table using longer legs and adding a surface made of recycled material.

“DELAKTIG is essentially a piece of infrastructure and you can change it over time – that’s why the project appeals to us. Overall, DELAKTIG is a very generous piece of modular thinking. It’s ‘open’ by design, and it’s letting people come and play with it,” Says Joni Steiner.

Two women and a man on grey sofas by a row of windows in a bright office setting; a group of people are outside the windows.
Joni Steiner (in middle) and Opendesk got together with Space 10 to discuss open source.

What does the future look like for open source and IKEA? James Futcher, Creative Leader and the person responsible for working with DELAKTIG, says: “With a lot of our products you see in the store, you can combine them freely. Open source design for IKEA is taking that one step further. It’s having a product where you can actually build on to it and adapt it. But also build on with other companies.”

Blue and white pieces of plastic with milled holes in different shapes.

Joni Steiner and his brother David made a tabletop using waste denim.

A square white trey in a square black trey holder and a blue mug with pens in a black mug holder, on the edge of a grey sofa.

What do you hope for with DELAKTIG?

“I hope that people like DELAKTIG for what it is. And there are many creative ways of setting it up to suit their needs at home. But I also hope it triggers people to do other things with it,” says James Futcher.

Could it go even further?

“A lot of people are creative at home. How can we have just the drawings available, and you make them yourself in your garage? A way to reach more people,” says James Futcher.

One way to personalise it is to use a cover from Bemz. Together with Tom Dixon the offer a haute couture cover for the DELAKTIG sofa.

“IKEA has been applying open source design to their products for years. This has created a vibrant ecosystem around IKEA. However, DELAKTIG is the first IKEA product that is intended to be hacked by external ideas and external partners,” says Lesley Pennington, the founder of Bemz.

Want to know more about Opendesk?

Opendesk | A new kind of furniture company from Opendesk on Vimeo.