January 12, 2005 11:26 AM PST
Behold the $55,000 PC
The Redmond, Wash.-based start-up specializes in building high-end PCs into handcrafted furniture, everything from simple Amish and Shaker cabinets to ornate Louis XV creations.
"The trend is covering up and building in technology," said John Wojewidka, a veteran of the custom PC business who started Truvia in response to growing demand for PCs that didn't look like PCs. "People don't want the technology itself to be the centerpiece of their living environment."
After several years of working with furniture makers and wood carvers on one-off projects, Wojewidka decided there was a need for a systematic approach to custom-made desks that carefully conceal a high-end PC. The movement has attracted interest from companies such as Microsoft that are looking to popularize PCs as living room objects.
Truvia is now working on several prototype designs, as well as forging relations with the interior designers and architects Wojewidka expects will account for the majority of his business. He expects the typical client to be a wealthy family with a new or remodeled home where a clunky traditional PC would mess up the look of the den or living room.
Wojewidka predicts that the Truvia approach will hold particular appeal for design-savvy women. "We've got an opportunity to market to well-heeled female buyers, who've never been addressed in the PC market," he said. "They'll buy something like an iMac and put it inside a handmade Amish cabinet. When they're not working on it, they don't want to see it."
The innards of Truvia models will come from VoodooPC, one of a growing number of PC makers specializing in high-powered machines for game players. Truvia will carefully integrate the Voodoo hardware into a desk or another other object crafted by one of a handful of custom woodworking partners. Designs can resemble anything from a Louis XV armoire to a modernist glass-and-steel cabinet.
"We can design anything anyone could possible want," Wojewidka said. "My partners on the furniture side include people who do modern stuff and others who do very traditional furniture."
One partner's claim to fame, he noted, is replicating museum pieces. "You can have a PC that looks like a piece from the Louvre."
Integrating a PC into a fine piece of furniture means more than drilling a few holes for USB and power cables. Truvia's designs typically hide the screen when the PC isn't in use, and placement of the PC in the furniture poses a number of engineering challenges.
"We've got a lot of concerns about heat management," Wojewidka said. "We've worked a lot on ventilation. We don't want anyone's house to burn down."
Truvia PCs also have to be designed for a life cycle that's much different from the two-year replacement cycle typical of the PC business. "If someone's paying $40,000 for a piece of furniture, they're not going to give it up in two years," Wojewidka said. "Everything has to be designed for upgrading."
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