April/May 2017 issue of American Craft magazine
John Humphrey Greycork Set

Greycork offers its furnishings à la carte or as a living-room set. 

Jon Gourlay

Editor's note: Greycork has closed. At the time our April/May issue went to print, Greycork was fully operational to the best of our knowledge. According to architecture and design blog Curbed, Greycork leadership cited challenges in maintaining both quality and affordable prices. 

Nimble startup Greycork has good news: You don’t need a lot of money to have high-quality furniture shipped to your door. You won’t need tools or complex instructions to build it when it arrives. And if you decide to move to a new apartment next week, it breaks down just as easily.

It’s a pretty attractive pitch to those with tight budgets and tighter hallways, and none of it is an accident. Everything Greycork does is by careful design.

“People are space-constrained and more mobile, and they have different needs,” says John Humphrey, Greycork’s 28-year-old co-founder and CEO. And by designing to meet those needs, he says, “we want Greycork to become a household name.”

These are more than grand visions. In 2013, Humphrey – then working in venture capital – sketched out his first foldable coffee table concept. Two years later, Greycork became crowdfunding website Indiegogo’s most-funded furniture company ever, raising more than $270,000. Coverage of the Providence, Rhode Island, outfit in the New York Times, Forbes, and Fast Company has kept Greycork in the limelight, helping it secure an additional $1 million in venture capital in June 2016.

It’s clear that Greycork is onto something big, attracting the label “Ikea killer” thanks to the company’s focus on easy-to-assemble, minimal designs. The entire experience speaks fluent millennial: affordable, undeniably cool furniture for the digital-native consumer who is tired of particleboard.

“The customer we’re selling to wants quality materials,” says Humphrey. “They don’t want cheap stuff, and we don’t want to put furniture into the world that’s disposable. It just comes down to building a responsible company.”

Humphrey has that kind of experience, in part because of childhood summers spent helping at the family millwork company in Somerset, Massachusetts; he was stocking inventory by 10. “I got really comfortable with things like assembly lines,” he says. “I was always thinking about assembling big products and putting them out on trucks.”

These days, he’s shipping Greycork’s growing roster of designs. Everything from sofas and chaise longues to bookshelves and side tables are created with intense scrutiny by the two-person design team – both graduates of Rhode Island School of Design. Regional and local partners manufacture the components, which are then inspected, flat-packed, and shipped from Greycork headquarters.

The team’s function-first approach requires a deep understanding of their customers. Director of design Molly Harwood, 23, brings a firsthand perspective.“I’ve shared small rooms before,” she says. “A lot of times, if you get something shipped flat and you assemble it, that’s it. But with Greycork, you can take it back apart with no tools and move it into your next home.”

The itinerant young professional has been Greycork’s focus since day one, but the team has learned lessons along the way. “The first collection we came out with – the Brooks tables, which were really high-quality folding tables – were just extremely expensive,” says Humphrey. “It sounds obvious, but price really matters. There are a lot of alternatives: People could buy something really low-end that’s really inexpensive from this huge mass-market retailer, or they could get something secondhand from Craigslist or a neighbor.”

Now the company offers its entire living room set (a sofa, chaise, coffee table, side table, and bookshelf) for less than $1,800. In addition to its focus on affordability, Greycork also stays ahead of the competition by putting customers’ needs first – even when those needs are evolving. Consider its multipurpose sofa. No dining room? Sit down and eat; the slipcovers are designed to easily wipe clean. Frequent houseguests? Get out the sheets; the cushions, made of memory foam, are about as wide as a twin bed.

“This furniture is the structure for our customers’ experience in their home,” Harwood says. “So we need to get them the best base we can.”

Form and Function

Careful oversight: All of Greycork’s manufacturing partners are located in the United States at this point. “We work with manufacturers locally, and we go and visit their factory and watch them build things so that we can make sure the quality is there,” says CEO John Humphrey.

Solution-focused: Greycork’s newest product is a pegboard designed to add storage in underperforming and awkward spaces, shipped with hooks and a shelf. A mirror is an optional add-on. The company regularly launches new products.

A family affair: Humphrey’s father, Peter, bought Horner Millwork in 1980 and has built the 12-person Massachusetts shop into a 400-employee business.

Consumer savvy: The Greycork team uses their Providence, Rhode Island, showroom for sales – but also as a market research lab, connecting with customers and learning what they want in their homes. Before adding a new product to their line, they conduct a customer survey about its potential function and appeal.