When most of us think of outdoor furniture, we usually mean benches, picnic tables and deck chairs. But if you’re a city resident, you might also think of the countless armchairs, beds and wardrobes that sit abandoned on the street each year. Bulky items like these are expensive to move and can be difficult to dispose of, so a house move is a popular time for old furniture to become somebody else’s problem - a significant loss considering the amount of embodied energy, materials and labour in these products.
It was this dilemma that led entrepreneur Alpay Koralturk to set up Furnishare in 2014. A New Yorker for eight years, Koralturk found moving house - something he had done six times - a stressful and frustrating experience. Like many other citizens, he would try and sell some furniture that was no longer needed, but being against the clock and juggling other jobs, lots of good quality furniture ended up being thrown out. Some items find a new owner in this way, but Koralturk decided to investigate the scale of this loss to the economy.
He found that in the United States alone 11 million tonnes of furniture is wasted annually, and only 2% recovered for recycling. He saw an opportunity for something new and unique in the market - an offering that could be more convenient for consumers and better for the city. It could also benefit manufacturers and designers. There’s not much of an incentive to create furniture that stands the test of time when customers, as observed by Koralturk, buy and use cheap products that get the job done for a while, but then throw them away. Koralturk believes that a different model, one that keeps furniture in productive use for longer, could influence designers and manufacturers to create products that last.
In Turkey, where I’m from originally, great furniture stands the test of time and is passed down - that sort of furniture is not really incentivised anymore.
The Furnishare model has a number of components but revolves around a central concept: customers pay for access to high-quality furniture rather than owning it outright. When someone has an unwanted piece of furniture, they can contact Furnishare who reviews the item and collects it from the current owner. The item is then placed on the Furnishare platform, where people seeking furniture can view it and lease it. This is done through a subscription service at a price Furnishare claims is a ninth of traditional rental stores. As we’ve seen with other platforms such as AirBnB, the leasing revenue is split between Furnishare and - for an agreed period - the person who donated the item. The model gives people a chance to monetise a burdensome or underutilised asset rather than simply disposing of it, a process that might itself cost money. When items are returned to Furnishare after the lease period they are cleaned and maintained, something the founder says is far more effective when well-designed, well-built items are cared for by professionals.
Principle 2: Optimise resource yields by circulating products, components, and materials at the highest utility at all times in both technical and biological cycles.
With a proposition based on convenience, choice, affordability and quality, it’s a wonder a similar model doesn’t already exist in the furniture industry, offered by a manufacturer or a second-hand marketplace. Koralturk thinks this is because the most important strength of Furnishare is its capabilities in logistics - an area a typical furniture manufacturer isn’t eager to get into. Another advantage is its focus on maintaining quality; a marketplace doesn’t worry about the quality or type of listings, just the volume. As a platform, Furnishare wants to get smarter in its interactions with those who donate and lease furniture, using data to tailor its inventory to reflect what people want and need in their homes, and ensuring furniture is kept at the highest level of utility and value at all times.
The team behind Furnishare say that the biggest challenges they have faced are the same as those facing any new logistics company. However, they also have the task of changing people’s perspectives about a traditional industry, and bringing the public around to their way of thinking: that ownership is overrated, and experience is far more valuable. The next few years are going to be about getting the word out about the Furnishare proposition, and for Alpay Koralturk, the wind is blowing in the right direction. The entrepreneur says that he’s seeing companies in different sectors making changes that favour access and better utilisation of resources, and from Zipcar to Rent the Runway, the response is often in favour of owning less.
You don’t need to own your furniture. You can get better stuff, more conveniently, if you don’t own it.