BY ANNA DILEMNA
Frank Gehry popularized cardboard furniture in the 1970s,
and now it’s making a comeback.
Admit it. We’ve all had the cardboard box that the cardboard furniture designed by architect Frank
came to stay, like that microwave box that Gehry in the 70s. Even back in the 60s, designers
you used as a “temporary” end table: eight were experimenting with ways to use the abundant
months later it’s buried under a pile of old maga- but unconventional material.
zines and overfilled ashtrays, a mysterious T-shirt Designer Peter Murdoch created a popular line
wedged into one of the cracks. of cardboard furniture specifically for kids, which
Ten years later you might have classed it up a bit was sold at Bloomingdale’s and mentioned in high-
by draping it with fabric in an attempt to disguise profile publications such as Time magazine. At the
its lowly, papery origins. After all, having furniture time, the furniture was seen as a novelty, and its
made from cardboard is decidedly not chic, right? easy disposability was more of an attraction than
Wrong! These days more and more eco-aware its ecological friendliness.
designers are turning to cardboard as a material After all, this was the decade in which people
that can be both sustainable and stylish. were running around in paper dresses designed to
Giles Miller (
farmdesigns.co.uk) makes gorgeous be thrown out after only a few wears. The popularity
patterns by exposing the rough edges of corrugated of cardboard furniture died out several years later,
cardboard in his furniture, while companies such however, and it was largely forgotten until recently,
as Cardboard Design (
cardboarddesign.com) high- when designers began to revisit the idea — this
light the versatility of the material by constructing time with an environmental perspective in mind.
furniture that expands and retracts, resulting in Furniture made from cardboard can be surpris-
a dizzying array of amorphic yet functional items. ingly strong, holding up to several hundred pounds.
Others, such as Dutch designer David Graas, make Nevertheless, we’re still left with a few concerns.
furniture that’s built using its own shipping box as Like what if you become over-animated while
part of the final design. drinking red wine, resulting in a splashy accident?
Cardboard furniture isn’t constricted solely to Or what if you’re a smoker? An ashtray perched
the world of high-end design, however. In Europe, atop a table constructed of paper products just
particularly in France, it isn’t at all uncommon to seems somehow, well, potentially catastrophic.
see people making and selling cardboard furniture Makers of cardboard furniture say that these are
out of their homes, and there’s even a word in valid concerns, although there are products to make
French, cartonniste, to describe a person who makes the furniture more waterproof and less flammable.
furniture from cardboard. Curiously, several designers who work with
One of the most inspiring cartonnistes is Miss Julia cardboard seem to feel that its fleeting nature is
miss-julia.com), a graphic artist based in Marseille an integral part of its beauty, that to try and make
who incorporates the pictographs and typographies it permanent would be defeating its point to begin
from the original boxes into her finished pieces. with. Fans of the furniture feel that it’s worth the
Actually, the idea of making furniture out of card- risks. After all, they’re paying for a design that’s
board isn’t a new one. Perhaps most well known is both ingenious and environmentally conscious,
Photograph by Rolf Kueng