Portrait of Bart de Vries using his product, Limber.

Bart de Vries and one of his Limber products.

It seems like a big ask but he’s already making inroads through his Wellington-based start-up Limber. It produces ergonomic, sustainably-made desks.

Bart’s desks, both full-sized and the mini, are taking the world by storm. They’ve even captured the attention of leading experts in ergonomic design from the University of California, Berkeley, who have declared them “the world’s healthiest desks”. It’s a label Bart is proud of as it reinforces what he set out to do. To create a desk that allows a full range of motion, speed, and ease of changing height, in-built ergonomics, and uses sustainable wood. “It’s extremely rewarding having created products that are helping people reduce pain and move more as they work.”

Bart’s idea for Limber came from his physio work helping injured people get back into their workplaces. But, they would return to environments that caused the injuries in the first place. They would be back through his door within 18 months and in a little more pain and with a little less movement. And so Bart’s journey to break the cycle of pain, ill-health, and ever-reducing performance and vitality began.

“The typical desk set-up restricts your ability to move. If you don’t use it, you lose it. I needed to find a way to get people moving again while working,” he explains. The most powerful movement for health, Bart says, is getting down and up off the floor. It requires strength, balance, flexibility, blood pressure changes, and more.

“It’s extremely rewarding having created products that are getting people moving again.”

Bart de Vries, Limber founder

His challenge was to create a design that allowed people to do that throughout the day while they were working. “I couldn’t find a desk that allowed enough movement, or made it fast enough to move, so I set off to create one that did. Using the latest science to help increase health, reduce pain, and prevent disease.”

Ironically, while spending long hours sitting at a desk to research ways to get people moving, the former professional hockey goalie himself started suffering from back pain and headaches. “Sitting at a desk can be more hazardous than having a hockey ball rocketing my way at 200 kilometres an hour,” he laughs.

Armed with his ideas and research, Bart brought together an industrial designer, an experience designer, and an engineer. The aim was to design a desk that moved from floor to standing quickly and effortlessly. With sustainability top of mind.

After six years and 25 prototypes, hundreds of design tweaks, thousands of hours, and end-user research with companies like Xero and TradeMe, Limber was finally born.

The Limber desk, with computer accessories on it.

The Limber Desk product.

Limber users get moving

Feedback shows Limber desks are helping owners to get moving again. Rewarding them with life-changing benefits rather than back pain and headaches.

“Working from home means we’re working in environments far less than optimal with little movement. We’re not walking around the office or down the road to meetings, we’re only walking from room to room,” says Bart.

It’s Limber’s mission to halve disability caused by back pain — it’s the number one cause of disability globally — and Bart is well on the way to achieving that. While orders for the original Limber desk are increasing, the mini has been in huge demand, driving rapid growth for Limber. “There’s been a massive increase in orders, a major rise in traffic to our website, and we’re getting orders from all over the world, Canada, Spain, Singapore, Australia…”

The mini takes off

As its name suggests, the mini offers modern ergonomics, movement, and flexibility at a lower price point. It takes 30 seconds to assemble or disassemble and it can sit on the floor or a table.

Avalon’s Scale Studios in Lower Hutt, which is well-known in the film industry, manufactures both the mini and original Limber desks. Bart and his dad look after packaging and distribution. WellingtonNZ also had a part to play in Limber’s success. Capability funding allowed Bart to work with a design agency for digital asset production, and a second lot of funding helped with an advertising campaign.

Bart’s focus is on tapping into markets outside of New Zealand. Limber has launched the mini in Australia and he’s eyeing the United States and European markets in the future. Even though things have ramped up, Bart still makes time to work as a physio. 

“I love being able to help people. Hearing each person’s individual story and working with them to figure out how we can get them back to where they want to be is very satisfying.

“It’s extremely rewarding to see all the elements of that knowledge come into play in the Limber designs. Knowing people are setting themselves up at home well and hearing that their bodies and backs are feeling better, it’s the reason I got into this.”