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Sleek New App Lets You Design Furniture on Your Phone

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Blending together a cocktail of current technologies, from apps and augmented reality to CNC milling and distributed production, Polish startup Tylko wants to turn the process of ordering a bespoke bookshelf into a marvel of advanced manufacturing. The setup seems almost too good to be true: users design a shelving unit on a smartphone app, and then, by utilizing augmented reality technology, they can literally see what it looks like in their space while sitting on their couch. You can even pinch the prototype to shrink and reshape the model while you're moving it around your living room, and then click to order. Its an entire process, that, according to one founder, offers a new level of personalization.

"It's not one product, it's hundreds and thousands of products," says entrepreneur Benjamin Kuna. "There are so many use cases and shapes that it can fit."

The Warsaw-based company, which currently operates in Poland, Austria and Germany but is eyeing future expansion, started when Kuna and a few friends—interdisciplinary designers Hanna Kokczyńska and Jacek Majewski, architect Mikołaj Molenda and parametric designer Michał Piasecki—collaborated on a project for a local design festival that let users submit designs and create their own custom chairs. Those who got their own custom furniture loved it, and Kuna and his friends, a motley tech team with combined experience in parametric design, web design and virtual reality, decided to create a more robust personalization process.

Tylko users start the process by designing a shelf within the app's showroom mode. A few basic models are available, limited to a maximum size of 224x240 centimeters (roughly 88x94 inches). That in itself might be considered pretty impressive, but then, by printing out a Tylko logo and snapping a photo, which establishes a sense of scale, the app lets would-be designers take advantage of augmented reality. While seeing the room around them on their phone screen, users can shrink and reshape a model of their shelf simply by pinching and moving their fingers, allowing them to customize the shape of their furniture and "try it on" in their own home, apartment or office. During this second phase of the design process, Tylko's proprietary algorithm constantly reshapes the shelf's supports and geometry to make sure the resulting product will be properly balanced.

"We started with shelving as a proof of concept," says Kuna. "It's the most suitable piece of furniture for customization and easily grows in any direction."

At that point, the user clicks to make an order. This is where Tylko's business model becomes even more interesting. The design is sent via a proprietary file system to a furniture manufacturer, who then mills the shelf with a CNC machine from solid sycamore and plywood laminate. But Tylko doesn't actually have a dedicated facility. By leasing space from bigger manufacturers with excess capacity, they can eliminate middlemen and turn around products and expand to new markets much faster. Kuna says they aim for two-week delivery and eventually, after expansion and iterative improvements, believe a one-day turnaround is a possibility.

Currently, Tylko isn't a cheap option for home furnishings. A six-by-three foot shelf would cost 1,400 euros ($1,568) before delivery costs are factored in, at least three or four times what it might cost at IKEA. But Kuna doesn't really see IKEA as a competitor. A custom-made shelf with higher-quality materials is worth the price, and the cost will decrease as they improve the process. The technology also promises more efficient use of space. But to Kuna, the cost isn't really the bottom line.

"The most compelling argument is that when you create something, and you get to look at it every day, there's a certain magic to it," he says. "You know that nobody else in the world has the exact same shelf in their house."

Tylko will be launching at the London Design Festival at designjuntion from September 24 to 27, presenting the app to a wider audience and showing a new table design.

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