The sharing economy has accustomed us to the concept of sharing homes, cars, bicycles, offices, labor, even food. But for some reason I never thought I'd see a company built around sharing furniture.
A startup called Furnishare is betting that folks who own furniture they're not using are willing to rent it out to others. As for those others, they're targeting folks who have just moved and want to furnish their new digs on the cheap. Here's how it works:
On their website, the company's tone is identical to the cheeky, we're-disrupting-business-models archness of an Airbnb or a ZipCar. In the FAQ section they answer the question "Is the furniture clean?" with "Frankly, our couches are probably cleaner than yours. Yeah, we went there."
Obviously a company like this isn't going to work out in the sticks. In order to build up a desirable stock of furniture and not go broke with transportation costs, they need to be located in a population-dense area. Thus the company only services New York City, at least for now.
So, have they built up a desirable stock? Browsing what's on offer reveals a mix of CB2, West Elm, Ethan Allen, Pottery Barn and yes, Ikea, along with assorted antiques and vintage pieces. A storage unit from the latter category is the only one that jumped out at me, and it seems that's what's in demand; in the section advising would-be rentees, the company writes "Check if your item is considered vintage, which can increase its value."
Here's the real point: I'm ambivalent on the existence of this company because I like the idea of what they're doing, yet simultaneously dislike that there's a need in the first place.
On the one hand, I can see the clear environmental benefits of their service. During my nightly dog-walks around lower Manhattan, I routinely see discarded Ikea/West Elm/Pottery Barn furniture out by the curb, the previous owners apparently unwilling to go through the hassles of Freecycle or Craigslist, and I lament that it's going into landfill when someone else could probably use it.
On the other hand, as a designer it makes me a bit sad that furniture has become so disposable, just a collection of items that owners form no real attachment to and have no problem parting with. It was only a few generations ago that people bought furniture they'd keep for a lifetime and/or kept in the family. But these days furniture is going the H&M/"fast fashion" route, and the only heirlooms we interact with are heirloom tomatoes.
I'm generally in favor of sharing things in order to increase their utility, but am curious to see what you think. What say you: Is Furnishare's service pure pragmatism, or pimping out?
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I really didn't like it until I read a little more on their site. It's surprisingly cool. There's something nice about not being tied to any material thing. Once your lease is up, you can start over anywhere you like. Just load up your (small / few) things into your backpack, and you're off!