Kano’s office bears a striking resemblance to the product it makes.

Kano is a handsomely-designed modular kit of parts that assembles into a computer, and its office, while not a computer, is also assembled from a handsomely designed modular kits of parts.

Less than a year ago, Kano moved into a new building in East London and hired Opendesk to build out much of the interior space. The resulting digs looks a little like a toy box filled with life-sized wooden toys that can be rearranged and played with (or, you know, used to do work). There are table tops with pegs that can hold boxes filled with Kano components, an interactive wall where Kano’s colorful cables hang, and a bunch of desks that are based on open source furniture designs.

You see, Opendesk, the company behind Kano’s interiors, is known for making open source furniture. It’s a little like GitHub, only instead of offering a repository of code, it offers tables, desks and chairs whose designs can be tweaked to individual specifications.

The way it works is simple: Customers choose from one of 40 design on the website and download it as a digital file that can be altered to fit any given room. That file is then sent to a local manufacturer who uses a CNC machine to cut the pre-designed parts into what amounts to pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Those parts are then delivered to your door as a flatpack piece piece of furniture just waiting to be assembled. Joni Steiner, one of Opendesk’s five co-founders, explains the whole idea by quoting a John Maynard Keynes saying: “It’s easier to ship a recipes than cakes and biscuits,” he recites. In this case, the recipe is a digital blueprint file and the cake is a piece of furniture.
If you look around the Kano office, or really any office Opendesk helped to design, you’ll notice a lot of wood. Right now, the company only works with plywood and CNC machine milling. That’s one material and one manufacturing technique, which might seem limiting when you consider what’s possible. But keeping a tight focus is strategic, Steiner explains. “There are already so many complexities within one material and process,” he says. Even though a guiding principle of open source is individuality, it’s also about reproducibility. What good is an open source desk if you can manufacture it locally and with ease?

Most of Opendesk’s pieces are optimized for the material and the way they’re made. Most plywood comes in 8×4 foot sheets that are ¾ of an inch thick, which fits nicely on the bed of many CNC machines. Part of the cost of making any one of these designs is the amount of time the machine takes to cut a part out,” Steiner says. You can cut cost and waste by designing an object that fits within these parameters. The reliance on simple, reproducible shapes has lead to a homogeneous (but attractive!) aesthetic that’s marked by bleached wood in simple shapes. But that’s fine for now, says Steiner. “I like the idea that the aesthetic is the product of following those principles.”

Opendesk’s furniture is unashamedly functional. “We see the desk as a piece of infrastructure,” says Steiner. It’s made to be assembled and disassembled and then assembled again if you happen to move and want to take it with you. Steiner explains that the best designs are those that slide or slot into place, which reduce the use of third party metal bits like wheels and hinges.

The desks in Kano’s office, for example, are a riff on Opendesk’s first design, which was a simple sawtooth table that hooked together via planks that are malleted into specified holes. Most of the rest of Kano’s office was custom designed including the one piece Kano’s co-founder, Alex Klein, says shows the versatility of a simple piece of wood. “You kind of take these pieces and slide them together, it becomes a Kano kit-powered arcade machine,” says Klein.

Can we get the blueprint for that?

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Open Source Furniture Makes This Office Look Like a Toy Box