Global EngagementUC HomeAbout UCUC AcademicsUC AdmissionsUC AthleticsUC GlobalUC HealthUC LibrariesUC ResearchNews


Recent Design Grad Turns Up the Pressure to Start Entrepreneurial Business

Young alum Jon Panichella’s senior design project – an unusual furniture collection where the elements hold together via pressure – is the basis for an entrepreneurial business he founded even before he graduated this past June.

Date: 10/21/2012
By: M.B. Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Provided by Jon Panichella
No nails. No glue. No fasteners of any kind are needed to assemble the wood furniture designs of recent University of Cincinnati grad Jon Panichella.

Instead, tension and pressure hold Panichella’s furniture designs together – designs that can be assembled with no more than a rubber mallet.

Panichella, originally from Latrobe, Pa., and a June 2012 graduate from UC’s nationally number-one ranked industrial design program in the College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP), initially developed his furniture collection as part of his senior capstone project. He then turned the idea into an online retail business, “Panichella Design.”
The "Peel" cabinet.
Jon Panichella's “Peel” cabinet wherein the door literally peels open vs. a traditional door that swings.

He says, “Once I was making the furniture toward the end of my senior year – really exploring and playing with how furniture could be constructed without traditional fastenings – the decisions just made themselves and with great results.”

In fact, Panichella’s senior capstone collection and work won the “Yellow IDSA Award,” a designation designed by Cinco Design of California and bestowed during UC’s senior design show. Not to mention that Panichella’s work received about a dozen pre-orders while on exhibit at DAAP.

Currently, Panichella’s collection consists of
  • The sleek “Sweep” chair where the seat wraps the base.
  • The “Hinge” chair comprised of a separate seat and back connected by a ball joint that allows the back to recline. The hinge then allows the back of the chair to snap back into an upright position.
  • The “Around” table where the legs are held in place by tension.
  • The “Peel” cabinet wherein the door literally peels open vs. a traditional door that swings.
    The "Sweep" chair.
    Jon Panichella's "Sweep" chair.

As mentioned, all parts of each piece lock together by means of friction and tension, requiring no traditional fasteners and no assembly tools except a mallet. (Panichella’s business model calls for the designs to be shipped via flat pack to customers’ homes. Customers then assemble the pieces.)

The ease with which his furniture designs are assembled might stem from the fact that Panichella built his first piece of furniture when he was in eighth grade – when he constructed a folding chair with a canvas back.

His required UC co-op quarters – during which he worked for employers designing everything from medical braces to fork lifts – rounded out his professional experience. And as for his concept of employing pressure and tension as a means for locking design elements together into a completed piece of furniture….well, that idea probably came from his DAAP design studios where critiques, or “crits” as they are called, regularly employ pressure to mold the design students themselves.

Panichella recalls, “Yes, the critiques are nerve wracking, but they help prepare us for the real world and what employers need. Through the crits DAAP gave me the drive to pursue a design vision. That was the case when I was producing my final furniture products.”

All of the pieces in his furniture collection are made from birch plywood, a material selected, according to Panichella, because “it’s quite durable for its weight and size. In addition, it makes for an even-grained, solid plywood without any patches or holes of sawdust in the middle.”

Panichella adds that the designs are environmentally low impact because they make full use of available material and are efficient, in terms of energy required, to manufacture.
Jon Panichella
Visitors to the 2012 DAAPworks exhibit view Jon Panichella's furniture designs.

“Two chairs can be produced from a four foot-by-four foot piece of plywood. I’m using 85 percent of the sheet material in producing the furniture. In addition, because of the simplicity of the design, the wood pieces of my chair designs can be cut out in 14 minutes. That’s not only good in terms of energy use and the environment, but it keeps production costs low, and that’s good for end users because the retail price is also kept lower,” he explains.

Since his June graduation, Panichella has moved to Ocean Side, Calif. There, he has partnered with Ponoko, a rapid prototyping center in Anaheim. Ponoko will handle fabrication and order fulfillment of Panichella’s designs. And, in fact, the first completed chairs may ship as early as the end of October to those who had pre-ordered them.

He is currently working to design a lounge chair and ottoman, which he will add to his online retail collection. He is also looking for full-time furniture design employment.

He states, “Furniture design challenges my skills and abilities in a way no other design project does. So, I want to continue to learn a lot about furniture, both the design side and the business side.”

In other words, he wants to keep up the pressure.
UC's Jon Panichella

  • Apply to UC's undergraduate industrial design program.