Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Fleeting Few Minutes at Unto This Last

This post is proud to have been syndicated to the Ponoko blog.

I was down visiting the village of London this last weekend, and managed to grab a fleeting trip to Unto This Last, the pioneering on-demand furniture mongers whom we have reported on before.

Unto This Last have a beautifully cosy corner premises on Brick Lane, the hub of all things bagel-shaped and trendy in London's east end - although if you're haphazardly navigating there using only your memory like I was, you would do well to note that it is in the quiet, residential bit of Brick Lane north of Bethnal Green Rd that you will find Unto This Last!

Unto This Last shop

image from Unto This Last

So having got there, I only had a brief period to enjoy the shop/factory, but boy did I like it. The shop is packed with their trademark minimalistic products, tables on tables, a bed suspended from the ceiling... As I was told, space is at a premium here, so often items larger items are brought through to the front for storage mid-production to clear space in the back rooms where the action happens. The beauty is the production is entirely visible from the shop - I stood watching for a while captured by that peculiarly mesmerising quality that all computer controlled fabricators seem to have over onlookers! The router head whizzed and whirred back and forth, churning out another set of mysterious shapes from an eight by four bit of ply - clearly for an independent just-in-time business such as this one needs a large, speedy CNC machine.

Unto This Last say that the process that they have developed allows them "to manufacture your order to measure, within a week, at the price of mass-production." And I can believe it, although its a non-stop business for the employees. This was 10am on Sunday and the machine was in full swing, the technician pottering between shop and workshop, finishing off pieces. The prices are more than reasonable, the catalogue's visual language nodding knowingly towards Ikea's manuals, and lovingly entitled "The Data". The other striking thing about this calm, productive environment, was the lack of any dust, noise, or other indicators of light industrial activity - yet all is on display for all to see.

I was most impressed, and excited. And miffed that London should be lucky enough to have the only Unto This Last - as is traditional with each of my visits to the big smoke, I wonder whether the city really deserves or appreciates what its got: a charming, low impact and local improvement on everyone else's Ikea!

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