Judging by Greycork's crazy-fast crowdfunding, it looks like the company has found a niche in the furniture market. The Providence, R.I.–based company has developed a furniture system that claims to be cheaper, higher quality, and easier to assemble than other leading affordable furniture companies (à la Ikea). It launched an Indiegogo campaign for its first collection—a living room set that includes a sofa, chaise, side table, coffee table, and bookshelf—on Monday, and it's already more than 90 percent funded. ARCHITECT spoke with Greycork's CEO and co-founder John Humphrey about the concept and their future plans.
ARCHITECT: Are you marketing Greycork more as cost savings or time savings? Or both?
Humphrey: It's both. And really those two things can only be placed behind a beautiful product that's made from great materials. What we wanted to emphasize first is this is a product that has been created with an obsessive attention to detail on the design, and we didn't want to come out with something that was purely function or purely had a utilitarian value proposition. It first has to be something that looks extremely good in your home, and is going to be a fit with your own style, and you are going to have the comfort of knowing that it's built with great materials. And only when we have satisfied those needs, then can we say, "Hey, it also costs less and the experience around it—in terms of buying it and assembling it—is magnitudes better than what you can get anywhere else."
So what makes the assembly easier?
JH: Our furniture sets up in under four minutes and no tools, at all. And typically what you have with competitors is a bag filled with hardware and tools that are extremely cheap and create a complicated and frustrating assembly process.
How can you assemble a sofa with no tools?
JH: We install bolts or we install other pieces of hardware that are built into the components before we ship it to you. So for example, the legs have what's called a hanger bolt installed, it's a bolt that's threaded. And then what you do when you receive the product is take one of those legs and just screw it in to the frame, the sofa frame, and you do that all by hand.
Does the collection come in other colors?
JH: Not right now. We wanted to launch with just one variant. And one of the great things about Indiegogo is that it allows us to understand and gauge whether people want to have more variants in the product.
Have people asked for more colors?
JH: No, not yet.
So let's say you get the funding for this, what are you going to do next?
JH: We're going to ship the orders from this campaign and then what we'll be doing is opening up our own website, so you'll be able to come on greycork.com, place an order, and we'll have your product shipped to you within one to five days for free. Once we've achieved that is when we'll begin designing our next collection, which will launch in 2016.
Are you thinking one collection per year?
JH: That seems to be the most appropriate cadence for us right now. The reason is we feel there is a very large market for this product category, and I think what makes the most business sense is focusing on one room at a time, and creating a collection for that room that's magnitudes better than the competition.
Your Indiegogo page describes the design aesthetic as "Japanese / American," influenced by designers George Nakashima and Charles and Ray Eames. Do you plan to stick to that aesthetic?
JH: We plan to stick to that. Bruce and Jonah [Ed. note: co-founder and CPO Myung Chul "Bruce" Kim and industrial designer Jonah Willcox-Healey]are the leaders of our product design team, and they've been studying furniture and building furniture for a very long time, and those are some of the designers that have inspired them. So they are the ones that are really determining the aesthetic direction of our collection, as long as we make sure that it aligns with consumer preference, and we think that we can reconcile those things pretty well.
It seems counter-intuitive that a product made with higher quality materials and is easier to assemble is actually cheaper. Can you explain how that works?
JH: We understood the price point that we needed to reach from the very early stage, and we used that as a constraint in our process. The way that we do that is by reducing components in the design. We make the machining of these components simple, and the way that we know to make that machining more simple is by having a strong connection with the equipment that's being used in the production process. The way we built that strong connection is that Bruce and Jonah, our product designers, spend a great deal of time with our manufacturing partners to really understand what the equipment is that they have available, and therefore what is our machining capability. Once we understand the constraints of the machines, we can design around them and make sure that the pieces that are going to be machined are extremely easy for the machines do to, and therefore capable of our manufacturers to handle at a very low cost.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Sara Johnson is the associate editor, design news at ARCHITECT. Previously, she was a fellow at CityLab. Her work has also appeared in San Francisco, San Francisco Brides, California Brides, DCist, Patchwork Nation, and The Christian Science Monitor. Follow her on Twitter at @SaraA_Johnson.