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Hem’s Addictive, Custom Shelving Tool Teases Responsive Furniture To Come

Easily configurable, custom furniture: It’s the anti-Ikea, and the latest trend in interior design.

Responsive design has already taken over the web, with apps and sites that can automatically stretch and shrink to fit on tablets or televisions with equal comfort.

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Now, we’re seeing that same trend reach the interior design world. Recently, the Yves-Béhar-backed furniture startup Tylko released an app that let you stretch and paint tables and pepper mills to better fit your home. Nendo unveiled a shelf that expands and contracts to suit your needs. And now, Hem has released an impeccable update to their shelving building tool, that not only allows you to configure shelves to a room’s exact dimensions, but to do so without destroying the design language of the object.

Following three years of iterative work, Hem has created a sleek bit of UX. Pull a few sliders, and you can see the shelves morph and multiply, juggling themselves before your eyes to be as aesthetically pleasing as possible, yet retaining integrity down the the quarter-inch scale.

“In general bookshelves consist of rows and columns,” explains Hem founder Jason Goldberg in the product brief. “We analyzed the patterns of the static designs of our bookshelves to find rules within the designs. Rules like minimum or maximum section width, or section height for each for the models, create break points where new rows and columns get added to the design. The technology was configured to allow for design specifics like repeating or alternating columns.

“And, we also factored in rules and concepts for practical usage of the shelves,” he continues. “What do people put into the bookshelf and what sections and sizes are required.”

Basically, designers trained algorithms in resizing designs, with the exact thresholds bounded by aesthetics, functionality, and material performance (to make sure boards don’t bend under heavy books).

“One of the biggest challenges was getting into a responsive design thinking from a product design perspective. For example with very narrow shelves with two or three columns, it was very hard to keep the integrity of the product design,” Goldberg writes. “But once we achieved that, the definition of more patterns for new bookshelves became a fun process.”

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Using the tool is pretty fun, too. While Hem could have hidden all the real-time stretching and reconfiguring, there’s something innately satisfying–maybe it’s the illusion of control, or the implications of transparency–in watching the shelves rearrange themselves on a user’s whim. It’s enough to make configuring a four-figure shelving unit as addictive of a fantasy as watching a House Hunters marathon. It’s why 5,000 people have already created custom shelves since the new tool was unveiled earlier this month, and why, into the future, Hem plans to introduce similar controls to categories including wardrobes, sideboards, and cabinets.

You can try out Hem’s custom shelf builder here.

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About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started Philanthroper.com, a simple way to give back every day

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