If you’re someone who sketches out ideas for furniture on the back of a napkin—say, an ergonomic chair that fits your cottage-chic aesthetic or a lamp you saw in Mad Men—I have exciting news for you.
Naya Studio, a year-old Boston-based startup, uses AI to help you turn that idea into a real product. Companies like Wayfair, Herman Miller, and Google are currently collaborating with the startup to build new products, but the platform is designed to be so easy to use that anybody can take advantage of it. Saad Rajan, who cofounded the company with Vivek Hv, says they imagined a college graduate designing a piece of furniture for her new apartment or an architect creating pieces for his own space. “Our driving force is empowering others to be more creative,” he says.
Hv, a former aerospace engineer, and Rajan, an engineer who had spent time with artisans in Tanzania, founded Naya in 2019. They had met as classmates at a Harvard program called the Masters in Design Engineering. As they delved into the world of design, they realized that the industry makes it unnecessarily complicated to transform an idea for a piece of furniture into a fully-fledged product.
Naya’s platform is designed to bypass the pain points. When you start the process on the website, you can explain the piece you’re trying to create with words, drawings, or even mood boards. The AI analyzes exactly what kind of piece you’re trying to make, estimates how much it will cost, then matches you with engineers, industrial designers, architects, and other experts who can help that idea come to life. Once you pick the people you want to work with, it offers a neat interface that makes it easy to collaborate. When you arrive at a final design, Naya connects you with manufacturers who can make the piece, including artisans, woodworkers, and factories. Naya’s design fee starts at $100, and goes up depending on the complexity of the project. (It’s more expensive for commercial design work.)
Over the past two years, Rajan and Hv have built a network of more than 130 designers and makers who have joined Naya’s platform to be matched with clients. All suppliers are vetted to ensure they meet Naya’s standards, and the final product design is also vetted for quality. (Naya has a proprietary quality control system that considers the material and structural integrity of the product.) For now, 80% of these partners are located in the United States, but over time, they expect to bring in more international partners.
Historically, creating custom furniture in the United States and Europe has been very expensive. This was interesting to Hv, who grew up in India, where it is relatively inexpensive to go to a carpenter, discuss what you’d like, and see it turned into a reality within a few weeks. It’s not just that the cost of labor is more expensive in the West, it’s also that the entire supply chain is industrialized and spread out, so it doesn’t always make financial sense to do one-off projects.
But by acting as a kind of middle man, Naya helps clients bypass these supply chain constraints and create pieces that aren’t much more expensive than mass-market pieces. So far, completed projects have been between $200 for a simple bedside table and $4,000 for a sculptural dining table.
One of Naya’s clients in New York had an idea for a desk that his young son could use in bed for activities and projects during quarantine. He did a few rough sketches and sent photos of his son’s room, along with details about his working style. He was matched with a designer based in Providence, Rhode Island, who created a formal blueprint and discussed materials, colors, and finishes. In a few weeks, the desk arrived, ready to use. The project cost $500. “By pooling these experts, we can find the right person at the right time for the job,” says Rajan. “This is one big reason our costs are affordable.”
While many furniture companies let customers customize various aspects of their pieces, Naya takes it a step further by letting people create objects from scratch. And ultimately, this may help the industry move to a more on-demand, customized approach. This is much better for the planet, because there is less waste and unsold inventory. “We’re not interested in helping people tweak color and dimensions; we want them to be able to do a rough sketch on a piece of paper and we’ll turn it into a reality,” says Rajan. “We believe that this is what the future of personalization and creativity is about.”