From the prototype to his own company — after his apprenticeship and some time in the graphics and interior design industry, the Düsseldorf carpenter journeyman and Kiyo co-founder Jonathan Knyrim is turning the somewhat dusty furniture market inside out with the piece he designed and built at the end of his apprenticeship. With the German Design Award under its belt and the support of his old school friend Jakob Hunold and the entrepreneur Tom Etz, the Kiyo brand has been committed to timeless, simple and sustainable design since it was founded in February 2022. True to the motto "Less is future", the Kiyo team has developed a piece of furniture that, thanks to its modularity, is ready for almost all furnishing needs and defies "fast furniture". In the interview, Jonathan, mostly called Johnny, told more about the R1 shelf, Kiyo's philosophy and his preferences in interior design.
Just introduce yourself: Who are you? I'm Jonathan -- actually everyone calls me Johnny - I'm 25 years old and grew up in Düsseldorf. After an apprenticeship as a carpenter and some time in the field of graphics, web and interior design, I founded Kiyo together with the Düsseldorf entrepreneur Tom Etz. Jakob Hunold, an old school friend of mine, recently joined. We've known each other since fifth grade. At that time we sat next to each other in the last row and just chatted, all within limits, of course.
How did KIYO come about in February 2022? What has happened since then? My journeyman's examination marked the birth of Kiyo. First under a different name. The journeyman's piece at that time was the first prototype of the product that is finished today. The idea was to build exactly the opposite of a classic journeyman's piece, i.e. a piece of furniture that was as simple as possible.
For the past two and a half years I have been mainly concerned with the ongoing development of the current R1 Regal and finding reliable producers, which has not always turned out to be an easy task. The furniture market is a really old-fashioned field. In the meantime, we have been able to convince the first customers, get retail partners on board, have won the German Design Award and have a great product ready for the market.
The structures required for this are now so mature that we are well prepared for the coming period. Material research and development and the complete brand and company building also took a lot of work. As a team, however, we have settled in well. Especially if you are very close friends, it is all the more fun and you motivate each other every day.
Does the name have a special meaning? Kiyo is a Japanese given name and has many different meanings and interpretations. Among other things, purity, simplicity, calm and honesty. This fits in perfectly with the Japanese-style appearance of our R1 and with our corporate and design philosophy. But there is also a bit of narcissism in the name, because the letters can all be put together from Johnny Knyrim.
Your design principle is “Less is future”. What do you mean? From daily work processes to product design, we reduce every question to its core. With this basic principle, we work to find contemporary and future-oriented solutions. It is important to us that the aspects of sustainability, adaptability, inclusion and affordability are reflected in our products. "Less is Future" is our guide and also a kind of self-regulation. Is that really Less? Is this really the future?
Your mission is to fight Fast Furniture. How can we imagine that? In Germany alone, the amount of bulky waste in 2021 was 3.1 million tons, i.e. approx. 37 kg per capita. On average, a completely new piece of furniture is bought in Germany every five years. We find these numbers absurd. At Kiyo, we create high-quality products that are not unnecessarily complex and still have an appealing and timeless design. In addition, we have a very good price-performance ratio. Dealers we spoke to told us that our R1 system shelf was almost too cheap or that we could raise the prices significantly. But that is not our vision. We want to make quality furniture accessible to a broader audience.
What is special about your R1 shelving system? The special feature of our R1 control system lies in its simplicity and modularity. Our basic element, the R1 Cube, consists of only one part. Four identical plates that are put together make the cube. No screws or tools are required for assembly. Even children can set up the R1 Cube in no time; dismantling is just as easy.
The space-saving packaging also ensures that a complete wall shelf, consisting of R1 elements, can be transported in a Smart and that we can therefore guarantee a delivery time of five working days. Thanks to our magnetic connection, the R1 is infinitely modularly expandable. There are no limits to personal design, and once you've had your fill of a structure, you don't have to buy any new furniture, you simply rebuild the R1 without further ado.
Where do you get your materials from? Transparency is very important to us, so first the bad news: Unfortunately, it is not yet possible to purchase our magnets from a country other than China. All other materials, i.e. the MDF boards, our coating and the real wood edging, are sourced entirely from Germany. Our production facility is in NRW. Except for the magnets, we can say with a clear conscience that our products are "Made in Germany", even "Made in NRW".
Who do you want to reach with the concept? Do you have a specific target group? We want to make quality furniture accessible to the masses. Our R1 is so versatile that there is more than just one use case. From the complete furnishing of offices, to the record shelf for music lovers, to the bedside table next to the bed. For this reason, it is not so easy to define a clear target group. From the feeling we would say so far that the target group is a bit younger. The R1 is ideal for students, for example, if you want to save yourself the moving truck, or if you don't have a chair at the pre-drink, you can grab an element of the R1 and use it as a stool. We don't want to be specific and are happy about every customer who enjoys the R1.
How would you describe your personal furnishing style? I would describe my personal furnishing style as a mixture of minimalist and functional. At the moment, for example, I have quickly converted my apartment into a photo studio. Simply because we needed it and anyway I spend more time in the office than at home.
Is there an interior design here in Düsseldorf that inspires you? Do you have a tip? I always find interior design that inspires me everywhere. It doesn't always have to be an entire apartment. Sometimes, when visiting friends, a small detail might catch my eye. Some decorative arrangement, a detail on a piece of furniture. Whole rooms are rare. Museums, cafes or bars always fascinate me. Recently, for example, the exhibition by Julien Carrier at the Langen Foundation really inspired me. Somehow every form of aesthetics has something to do with interior design.
Which places in Düsseldorf inspire you when developing your concepts? The architect's workshop in the HSD is formative and inspiring for me. This is where really innovative designs come from and thanks to the many possibilities that the workshop has, there are few limits. In general, we have a great creative scene here in Düsseldorf, so you can hardly save yourself from inspiration.
What does the future hold? Our goal is to build up a comprehensive but extremely narrow range of products for interior design. We will keep thinking our products further and further, which will make us a real alternative to Fast Fast Furniture. We already have some partnerships, collaborations and surprises up our sleeve! As previously indicated, we delved deeply into material development. In this area we are currently working on one of the biggest milestones. Unfortunately, I'm not allowed to reveal more just yet.