The idea behind a company called Joybird has merit: Sell mid-century-modern-inspired furniture online to customers who have graduated beyond Ikea. But suspicion sets in once you look at their website closely.
The first red flags come from the marketing copy, which sounds less like the truth and more like bland platitudes that they think customers want to hear, like the text below the following image:
Superior quality begins with sourcing the finest materials available and using proven artisan manufacturing techniques to create timeless and exquisite furniture built to last a lifetime. We believe in an old-school approach to creating furniture the way it was meant to be built with each and every piece carefully thought out and tested by real-life humans.
Should "finest materials" be used next to a photograph of plywood? What are these "proven artisan manufacturing techniques?" And what's the "old-school" approach, are they using handplanes and spokeshaves?
Then there's this mess of a company description:
"We don't just build furniture - I mean don't get us wrong we do - but we also have a great passion and respect for what we do. We live, eat and breathe mid century modern inspired furniture and are thrilled to do what we do."
Here's their description of the factory location:
"As more and more companies move overseas, we keep our manufacturing close to home in North America, helping grow local communities by providing well paying jobs, benefits, and a family culture like no other."
By "North America" they obviously mean "Mexico." Manufacturing in Mexico isn't uncommon these days—why hide it? Also, is "helping grow local communities by providing well paying jobs, benefits, and a family culture" in Mexico any better than doing the same in China? This sounds like they are trying to have it both ways: That they want to trumpet a Made-in-America provenance that they cannot truly claim, while gaining praise for not manufacturing in Asia.
Overall, the company's copy reads like it's targeted at people who don't know anything about furniture or materials. Read their caption of the desk below:
As opposed to what, walnut metal?
Here's where it gets disturbing. This is Joybird's "Unson Credenza:"
Below is a sideboard designed in 1955 by Finn Juhl, the Danish industrial designer who helped popularize Danish Modern in America:
Does that seem okay to you?
Here's the description for Joybird's Xavier Desk:
No cheap fillers to be found here—we employ firm, all-natural wood for an organic look and a solid structure.
We call bullshit:
It's no secret why a company like this can still succeed. Their Unson retails for $2,239. Design Within Reach sells Juhl's original for $8,950.
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"Mid Century Modern"… I hate that term. Just means nothing and yet I see it pop up all over the internet lately.
You couldn't be more precise in this comment, i felt the same way reading it. This post makes the author seem as bad as the company he's judging
Picking apart grain direction and knots on a keyshot rendering is a bit moot, is it not?
Sadly I got very much the same feelings whilst reading this article. The author berates the company on such petty things to the point where one would swear he has some sort of personal grievance.
"Their Unson retails for $2,239. Design Within Reach sells Juhl's original for $8,950."
Should something designed half a century ago still be accessible only to the wealthy? And I've always wondered: is Design Within Reach's name meant to be ironic?
I've always said the same thing about "DWR" I always laughed at that name. I'm an industrial designer in my 40's and I still can't justify buying anything from DWR - it's always design just out of reach :)
Ha! I get you, Jeremy. I've also been thinking and saying that for years to any designer that will listen (that DWR is a misnomer); but recently my boss informed me that the name originally was meant to convey that now Mid Century Modern was no longer only accessible by interior designers and their clients (as apparently access to these showrooms to view and purchase high end design was relegated to those in the profession or those with $$$). Still, their stuff is way overpriced (LCW Eames chair for over $1000!!). You can get a knock-off that looks just as good and similar quality for 1/3 of the DWR version. As a woman on a design blog once said in a discussion about reproductions that has stayed with me for years now: "I may have less money, but I have good taste". How do we democratize good design for all? West Elm is doing a good job of that (I think); they are not cheap they are certainly within reach for middle income families/singles. My entire bedroom set is WE and I got it for 2000K. So I have now the Mid Century look without going broke.
Very strange focus on plywood, as if it's some kind of inferior wood. (Ironically, the very next Core77 story is one about a furniture exhibition showing tons of plywood and veneer: http://www.core77.com/gallery/54414/From-Holz-Handwerk-Furniture-Shop-Furniture-Fixtures-Fittings-n-Tool-Storage). Plywood has a long history of being used in high-end furniture, both visible and invisible. As others point out, it has technical benefits over solid wood. You could say plywood is a misunderstood technology, and it is often unfairly grouped with particleboard and MDF.
Veneer is real wood by the way. A top of a desk can be made of 100% walnut and still edge banded with real walnut veneer to give it a better finish, anyone who works with wood knows that. End grain really isn't the best to look at and doesn't give it a finished look. I prefer the nice finishing. DWR does make their items from MDF which is a total SCAM if you ask me. A triple plywood frame is the standard and FAR better than that crap MDF or particle board like Article (Bryght) or DWR uses. Do you expect them to make a sofa frame from walnut or something? Joybird is doing it the right way if you ask me.
If you edgeband solid walnut endgrain the first season it moves the banding will either buckle or crack. Banding is great for plywood, particleboard, MDF and other stable materials but the standard way of covering endgrain on solid would be breadboard that allows for movement.
Yup. Edge banding is to cover up, not to accentuate. Edge banding does not work on live wood. No self-respecting woodworker would slap some mismatched veneer over endgrain.
If the core is plywood and not MDF or the like, it is a solid wood piece.
Technically it is, but the therm solid wood it's used to describe wood planks that came of out the tree. differentiating it from plywoods, MDF/LDF and other bio-composite materials.
As a furniture/industrial designer I don't see why these guys have to lie like this. There's no shame in saying you use veneer. With mass deforestation of old growth timbers we can't keep mass producing credenzas from solid timber for billions of people in the world. With our pieces we stay honest. If it's veneer, let the customer know. We use ply moulded shells and solid timber frames but for tops of desks and tables using solid timber is quite often wasteful excess. A veneer top will often give a flatter surface and can still be fixed if dented.
This is an absolutely horrible article. Core77 should take away your writer's card. So many of the other comments nail the issues: Plywood is real wood. They don't say, in your example, "solid" wood. They also don't say where they use it - they imply for the "structure", which I would consider the frame and legs of your example, which very likely ARE solid wood. Also, veneer is often used in high end furniture, as is plywood - and they have all the dimensional stability benefits called out by other comments. The Eames desk is all plywood. And exposed without edge banding. In MCM furniture, veneer was a GO TO method - it was designed to be affordable and mass market, and often sold through department stores. Veneer achieved that. You can also commonly find veneer on antique dressers back dating back to the 1800's - they are at estate sales all over the Midwest on any given weekend. It's just how things are done. If you are going to critique furniture, you should have some understanding of how furniture is commonly made.
Your point about knock-offs is a good one - too bad you buried it in uninformed opinions. But, even to counter that, I personally like the subtle changes they made to the Joybird version - the shorter, tapered legs, and the wider drawers are more proportionally refined and pleasing to my eye. They may also capitalize on the storage footprint better - less wasted space under the cabinet. So, if it was me, I'd buy the Joybird over the DWR Juhl's piece. And, then I don't need to freak out when one of my kids sets a sweating glass on it...
By the way, when I was furniture shopping after I graduated IKEA, I learned something new about veneers that changed my perception of them forever. Correct me if I am wrong furniture designers: Veneers don't necessarily mean cheap, right?? Veneers are found on even high-end furniture where using solid rare woods would not only be uber expensive but wasteful. It's just that Joybird misrepresents their furniture by describing it as "solid wood" when it is not?
Did you try reaching out to Joybird for clarification? You know, like journalism?
The descriptions are clearly market-speak. "All-natural wood" is not solid wood. I'm a big boy, I understand English.
To clarify, DWR are aware that their name may sound ironic because it's not accessible in a consumer price point of way. But at the time of their founding, they picked the name because designer furniture was only accessible through trade shows and show rooms, not through a brick and mortar store. They're basically the Bergdorf Goodman / Saks Fifth Avenue of furniture, super pricey stuff (physically) accessible for wealthy pedestrians.
But I agree that at some point, paying thousands of dollars for a still manufactured piece of furniture is pretty outrageous. It would be different if the furniture was vintage and out of production. While Joybird would benefit from a better copywriter, I would rather pay a fraction of the price for a mid century modern style credenza, then fork out the full $8000.
Thanks for that background. Your explanation for their name does make sense. I've always called them "design just outta reach" thinking it only had to do with price! :)
*then = than
Can't edit my comment!
Your efforts toward grammatical perfection are to be commended. Please offer college-level courses on the subject to today's text-centric youth.
I wonder if Finn Juhl's heirs are benefitting in any meaningful way from Onecollection "exclusive rights" to produce his designs. Also, "exclusive rights" often just refer to manufacturing and marketing agreements, not enforceable legals rights like patents or copyrights, so "ripoff" allegations are not always as simple as they sound.
I wonder why Finn Juhl's heirs should get 1 cent for his work. What did they do?
Any American property rights have expired, so there is no reason to compensate Juhl's estate on US sales. Perhaps they get a cut on Danish sales, but I would expect that might be $100 / year today!
Theres a way more interesting story here than "company rips off mid century designer". Joybird was formed by former Thrive furniture employees. Thrive was a USA-based company that manufactured in the US.
This piece doesn't go far enough. After ordering from Joybird twice and having to send everything back, I confidently assert as fact that Joybird makes garbage furniture and has no discernible quality checks in place. And, as someone with many decades of experience writing marketing copy, I agree 100% that their language is purposely misleading.
No -- they are not merely using the phrase "walnut wood" to clarify that a piece is not made with maple, cherry, or some other wood species. They are using the phrase "walnut wood" because they cannot claim to use "solid walnut," and yet want readers to think they are using solid walnut. If they were being straightforward, they would describe their furniture as rubberwood with a walnut stain (as a lot of it is), or walnut veneer over plywood. Plenty of very reputable companies are exactly this straightforward in their product descriptions (DWR, for example). A buyer should not have to call or email to ask how the furniture is constructed. The information should be present in the product description on the site.
The Joybird furniture we received was chipped, scraped (not merely scratched), cracked, covered with some kind of white substance (glue?) that would not come off, had large manufacturing flaws in the fabric, and more. The dining chairs looked like they had been drop-kicked or served as the ball in a soccer match. The chaise I received had a damaged leg, was missing a leg cap, and had weird dimples in the foam insert so that the whole thing was lumpy.
Oh, if you people only knew...
Does this happen to everyone? I ordered a chair and it took greater than 6 months to receive it. However, I have had it for 2 years now and it seems to be off pretty good quality. I am on the market now for a love seat and really like the Joybird ones; however I do not feel like waiting more than a month or two. Who else makes furniture with in these price ranges and nice designs? I noticed there is a new company called A2B that comes up, but I have no idea if they are junk or not.
Key takeaway: Our experience with Joybird was a long and squeaky one. Love the idea of the company but the quality and customer service are seriously lacking. Big learnings came from talking to the furniture repair technician and delivery teams about what furniture they would buy themselves and what they would avoid. They see it all and know their stuff, and they do not recommend Joybird either.
Below is the full story. It sounds ridiculous and it is, I know. Putting this all out there to share our experience in taking a chance on an unknown kid (Joybird). Others will have different experiences and you'll see that in the reviews.
I will call out that as an internet based company, they rely on reviews so there is a lot of pressure (read: incentives) put on customers to leave reviews in the first couple weeks with your new furniture. If we had written a review in the first couple weeks it would be a positive one but as you can see, problems started after a couple months and only got worse with time. For me, anything that costs over $1,000 better last more than a few months.
It's also worth noting that the Cole Sofa and Cole Ottoman are no longer offered by Joybird, so quality issues may be unique to that line of furniture. However, the majority of our issues have been customer service based.
So here it goes...
August 2016: Order placed for Cole Sofa and Cole Ottoman. Takes a few months to produce Joybird's 'built to order' pieces.
November 2016: Cole Sofa and Cole Ottoman arrive. First couple weeks were great and we LOVED the look of the sofa. It was a little disappointing how the matching ottoman was taller than the sofa, just a little awkward but nothing terrible. Few weeks go by and then the squeaking begins. The back of the sofa had loose / broken springs that made a horribly loud noise every time we sat down. Contacted Joybird to have a service person come and repair. Fast forward to...
December 2016: service person came out assess and fix the issue but unfortunately he couldn't do anything without Joybird's permission because the sofa needed a full reconstruction. Next step was for Joybird to contact us once they've approved repair or replacement.
**Note: I asked the service person what he thought of Joybird and he shared that he had been on a lot of service repair calls for Joybird and recommended a few others for similar price points instead.
January 2017: Took multiple follow up calls throughout December and into January. Couple weeks into January Joybird finally responded that replacement was the best solution and would take 4-5 weeks to build the new sofa. Fast forward to...
March 2017: The replacement sofa was ready for delivery and this is where the real issues began. It took until the forth delivery for the sofa to finally make it to our apartment. It was a mix of issues with Joybird and the delivery company (JB Hunt in Chicago). On Joybird's part, they are extremely slow to respond to customer service issues especially those made by phone. After the second missed delivery window, I contacted Joybird management and they offered compensation for the serious issues. I shared how it was not only frustrating but also expensive as we had to pay for missed delivery windows not to mention the many hours off work costing us a lot of time and money. Even after that, they missed the third delivery window. Pretty unbelievable. Finally on the fourth attempt the sofa made it into our apartment.
April 2017: Again had to make multiple follow ups regarding the status of our compensation for delivery issues. No response from Joybird, a tiring pattern.
May 2017: Final attempt urgent customer service email sent to Joybird about that delayed compensation which was finally responded to by the customer service manager.
June 2017: Sofa seat started to squeak. After everything we had just been through we tried to ignore it because we couldn't imagine going through the process again. As time went by, the seat cushions started to fall apart like the foam was too big for the case. Fast forward to...
August 2017: We move forward with the process of returning the sofa for a full refund. Surprisingly easy, especially compared to other experiences. Do wish we had received a confirmed refund amount before returning.
September 2017: Delivery team picked up sofa and ottoman last week. Asked why we were returning. I showed them the squeak and the cushions and laughed. Said that they are slammed busy with Joybird returns.
Finale: Joybird processed the refund for the total amount minus the compensation provided in May. Wanted to give Joybird the benefit of the doubt but they stood strong and the manager offered no real help.
If you've made it this far you must either enjoy reading long reviews or work at Joybird. If you work at Joybird, I hope our experience gives you some good action items to address and make your company more successful. If you are just someone who likes reading long reviews, hope it was worth it :)
Anna-Claire thank you for the detailed breakdown - it’s super helpful for someone like me who is looking to make a new purchase. I’m very curious - would you be willing/able to share the names of vendors some of the repair folks and others shared with you that you mention?
I bought the Eliot Sectional from Joybird and it was beautiful, and their customer service is terrific. However there were lots of problems with the upholstery, so much so that I had a cushion replaced. But then a seam split open and a corner of the new cushion just kind of broke open. I had the sofa barely six months and it had very light use. They took it back and are refunding my money, which is great, but I don't have faith in the construction quality or upholstery quality to order again from them.
This is a shade throwing article and nothing more. I have been in the market for a new sofa for about three months now. After ordering swatches from Anthropologie and not receiving half of them, even after communication, I moved on to West Elm. Now with them, talk about a nightmare on customer service. I have ordered swatches maybe five times now and they never have the fabrics I may want. Now, the sectional I wanted is no longer there. So I had to find something else. After searching more at WE, we chose a number 2. The sofa was $2,898.00 with an added $100.00 for white glove delivery and it would take 8-10 weeks to get it. Well, upon check out, I noticed another fee added. To my surprise another $300 was added for shipping and handling. At this point, I am pretty pissed off. So the sectional is now costing me $3,298 before tax!!! Before sending my order all the way through, I did some consumer review research for WE and what I found was horrific. They have the worst customer service, some people wait months for what they order, some don't even get what they ordered or find out weeks later that the product they already paid for is sold out.
The entire tone of the article sounds like everything Joybird does is evil and as is if all of their customers must be morons when it comes to purchasing furniture or anything else. Most people understand that there is a "cost" associated with more affordable furniture. And nitpicking the company description because it is a bit quirky is just petty. They make good looking furniture for a decent price and treat their customers as well as employees fairly.
Shame on any designer who advocates out-and-out copying of someone else's design, regardless of legal parameters! Shame, shame, shame.
The author is largely correct. The claims made by furniture manufacturers are reliably misleading. They are not regulated! Joy Bird is no different. I will also say much of the comments from the reader are even more incorrect. Joy Birds video regarding manufacturing doesn't tell you anything nor is there anything written to refer to that would qualify as describing the industry standards of their products. As a quick indicator you can defiantly see the the veneer panels on the sides of the desk are completely different grades between the sample used in the video versus the one presented in the article. Other claims are very dubious through out Joy Birds product description. But again the entire industry is about getting away with as little expense/ quality as possible with very rare exception.
Clearly that company pretends to be more of what it is, still you can have really fine materials other than solid wood, and plywood made of different types of woods, so those patterns on the side can have some kind of repetition (because of the unrolling process of the plywood manufacturing).
Perhaps the images are product renderings? That would explain the lack of end grain etc on the second piece.
I thought they were 3D renderings also, the shadows don't look right.
This is a really excellent article. I have no objection to using modern materials and methods, but the bullshit factor and the design ripoffs that are directly in contract to their supposed "integrity" deserves being highlighted and condemned.
Funny thing about walnut. I have two solid walnut settles. By solid walnut I mean solid walnut. I remember having an argument with a relative who loved the settles but could not understand that Walnut was a type of wood and the brown color was natural and the way the raw wood looks, not the result of my taking wood and coloring it "walnut". Highly amusing but frustrating.
I would have chalked the first "settles" up to a typo. But seeing as how it appears twice (and you know what you're talking about), I can only assume that your attempt to type "settees" was undermined by that most nefarious of software, AutoCorrect. Go home, AutoCorrect, we've got this.
A settle is an arts and crafts style sofa. Its not a typo
I will be over there in the Shame Corner.
I’ve had a lot of experience through the years with licensed originals. If I had a dollar for every piece of Herman Miller and knoll that I’ve received defective I could take a buy a Barcelona chair with it.
I just received my Joybird Unson and I am very happy with it. The process took 3 months altogether and I had to remind them of my order, but once things were set, everything worked out fine. I had no problems at all with the delivery service. It is farily solid and well built. The colors are fantastic. The drawers are a little sticky (not terrible but not great either.) It is a very striking piece and looks even better than I thought it would. The one thing I would change is that it is a little long. I think it be a little about 6" shorter. The walnut veneer has a slight figuring which is very beautiful . I am very pleased with my new sideboard.
Despite Joybird's website saying "Ships in 3 days" my (non-custom) Joybird Soto Chair took 6 weeks to ship and 9 weeks to be delivered. The chair was broken on arrival. The delivery guy said the Joybird furniture is frequently broken. Rather than offered a quick replacement, I was told a new chair would be at least 5 weeks for a replacement. Customer service was not responsive. Instead my account was mysteriously deleted, so I was unable to leave a review on their website. Don't trust Joybird's artificially inflated reviews. I went with Article instead.
Really? I thought about purchasing the 3 day ready to ship piece but I if it takes over a month then forget about it. I once purchased a chair with them and it took 6 + months to be delivered.
Stay away from Joybird. I purchased a sofa bed and desk from them. Both were defective. I got the desk replaced. The sofa was beyond redemption, with upholstery that was shredding, holes and all, after less than six months. I returned that. One month since they picked the sofa up and still no refund showing up on my credit card. Who are these people?
I agree with the writer here. Honestly I did not read every line if the website to find the one spot they mentioned Tijuana Mexico as the home of their manufacturing operations. I was convinced that it was an American furniture company. My mistake. However I will let everyone know that the operations and manufacturers are Mexican held so others may not be bamboozeled with all the marketing BS on the website like I was. I’m sorry I found this out now after ordering 2 pieces. I’ve invested too much time. I think you can find the same quality in a good Chinese manufacturer and pay a lot less. Shame on me for not supporting American furniture workers.
Just came across this and I guess he doesn't know that I made two chairs out of plywood. One of them even has plywood in the name. Gotta run. Lautner and I are redoing the pearly gates.
What bugs me is that they're ALWAYS having a 20% off sale :-/
"The finest woods, superbly ground, then mixed with only the best resins, compressed and heated to perfection."
Being "affordable" takes nothing away from those whom make high end pieces that get high end prices.
Dear Mr Noe
There is nothing new in the world. Most everything is a copy of something. Some things may reference more directly than others, but there are few originals. However, some disciplines have come to understand that originality isn't as important as the march toward general progress. Science and literature often borrow from others, but they credit/source/footnote/et
c. This allows them to, as it were, stand on the shoulders of giants.
The golden rule of marketing: the perceived value is always higher than the actual product.
DWR has been guilty of similar crimes (Do a search for the article "The Rise and Fall of Design Within Reach" - I'm unable to paste the link here, for some reason), Sadly, there's no crime in ripping off ideas due to what is best described as "business friendly legislation", and not designer-friendly protections. Good callout, though it would be good to know their defense, or what legal action is being taken on the part of the Finn Juhl estate.
Timely article. I was sad that I missed their blowout sale this past weekend. And now, after reading this article, I know now what to look for in not only their furniture, but others. I work in marketing so I am familiar with vague references to product quality and manufacturing...that doesn't bother me. But taking someone's design is off-putting. Thanks for the article.
I think it's really nice that they take inspired pieces and make them available to todays average person, without charging an arm and a leg.
As opposed to Cherry or Maple, the other woods they offer this in.
Did a little more looking around. DWR has some stuff made out of MDF! I'm honestly surprised. If you want to talk about junk...
$5000 for an MDF credenza: http://www.dwr.com/storage-credenzas-sideboards/morrison-credenza/1789.html?lang=en_US#lang=en_US&start=11
And that original design you reference here. I don't understand how they can charge $9000 for something made out of MDF: http://www.dwr.com/storage-credenzas-sideboards/finn-juhl-credenza/598.html?lang=en_US#lang=en_US&start=18
While that is clearly a rip off of the original piece, and they are overly marketey, the edge banding issue doesn't bother me. You are comparing them with DWR, so let's make that comparison. A huge number of DWR pieces are plywood with edge banding. They are very well made, so most people won't notice, but there is clearly no end grain. Most of their shelves and tables are plywood with edge banding. And those pieces aren't any cheaper then their solid wood pieces. Even the highest end brands use veneers and edge banding. I was in Roche Bobois the other day and spotted a $15,000 table that was veneered and edge banded plywood.
Plus, plywood with edge banding is objectively better than solid wood. Solid wood warps over time. Plywood will not warp. It is also stronger than solid wood. This is why the best brands use it so often.
I agree. While I prefer to use solid wood as often as possible, sometimes veneer is the way to go. Craftsmen have been using it for hundreds of years. You can certainly design around wood movement and even use solid core material, but with the price of walnut where it is the material cost for that desk would be well over $1000 if it was all solid. I have no problem with the drawer boxes being veneered plywood. Hopefully they used solid edging instead of tape (doubt it). The top makes me a little sad. The fact that they are stealing designs makes me pissed.
Design within Reach's prices are still too far out for me, but I assume they are priced better with manufacturing these pieces again, then say searching for the only originals left that are in good shape. I believe that is the point of their organization.