In London’s affluent Mayfair district, Fume Gallery – a contemporary design space – is showcasing a new collection of furniture. This wouldn’t be surprising if it weren’t for the incompatible material these chairs and tables are made of: cardboard.
“The Box” was designed by British furniture designer Max Lamb, and uses cardboard boxes that he had accumulated in his studio. “I find it very difficult to get rid of things,” he said, sitting on one of his creations. He added that he finds beauty “in trash, or in things that are already there and have already been thrown away.”
Although it is one of the cheapest materials available, and is often thrown away, cardboard is increasingly being used to create high-end, affordable furniture. While many designers are experimenting with this material to craft exciting pieces, others are harnessing its potential as a seemingly sustainable option for furnishing your home.
Cardboard boxes were cut, folded, assembled and layered, and the materials were also used to create layers of papier-mache. What resulted is an interesting collection of furniture, which retains elements of the cardboard box aesthetic – cubist shapes and packaging logos – but develops them through unexpected sculptural moldings, textures and earthy paints.
Although the material is flimsy, the pieces are designed to withstand practical use. Its strength results from the way Lamb built layers of corrugated cardboard—the most impact-resistant type—and used a glue-like mixture of wheat and water.
Lamb’s new work fits into the ongoing story of cardboard furniture, a notable early example of which is Frank Gehry’s 1972 “Wobble Side Chair,” part of the architect’s “Easy Edges” series that embraced the unexpected strength and sculptural potential of cardboard Layered corrugated. . As a student, Lamb was inspired by Jerry’s cardboard work, and later created a cardboard table in 2000 that he says his parents still use.
More recently, another famous architect turned to the material for making furniture. Having used cardboard in innovative architectural projects, Shigeru Ban used it to create his “Karta” collection (1998-2015). Pan designed chairs, a bench, a chaise longue and a table with thin cardboard tubes treated with resin to make them waterproof, but combined with more traditional materials including birch plywood and glass.
Since 2020, Berlin-based Ukrainian artist and designer Ilya Goldman Gubin has been strengthening distorted cardboard boxes using resin and fiberglass, transforming them into extraordinary chairs, tables and shelves. The ongoing “Cartoon” series began in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic when Jubin turned to experimenting with creations that blur the lines between art and functional objects. “I wanted to add a new dimension to my art, something accessible that people could touch without needing permission,” he explained via email.
Gobin has “fond memories” of playing with cardboard boxes as a child, and building imaginary houses and cars. “Cardboard looks simple, but it’s special,” he said. “Everyone had a cardboard box in their hands. Now, I wanted that same box to have a new purpose – to support us.” Gobin likes to describe the idea behind the project as: “What we once carried, can now carry us.”
Each piece is unique. He uses his body weight to shape the boxes into different curly shapes. Although they look like shiny sculptures, the boxes work perfectly as benches or tables. “Although (the pieces) look delicate, they are strong,” Jubin explained. “I wanted to make something that would surprise the observer.”
Moving from the provocative to the practical, the Room in a Box brand – founded in 2013 – offers simple, modular cardboard furniture for purchase, described as affordable and good for the planet. Using high-quality corrugated cardboard, the German brand promises that its pieces – from bed bases to chairs and tables – can last up to 10 years.
Room in a Box gained attention from posts on TikTok last year, with videos about the cardboard furniture now racking up more than 2.4 million views. The brand appeals to young people on the go who need lightweight and easy-to-move options, but don’t like the environmental impact of “quick furniture.”
Co-founder Gerald Dessen told CNN via email that Room in a Box pieces are much more sustainable than furniture made from traditional materials, citing lower carbon footprints and lower energy consumption due to the recycled and recyclable nature of its materials, lightweight construction, and modular form. .
But these qualities have also made cardboard a popular choice when it comes to deploying furniture in emergency situations, especially for refugees. In 2011, French designers NOCC, together with entrepreneur Julien Sylvain, created the Leaf Bed, a cardboard bed designed for use by people in refugee camps. With a simple design of pre-cut panels that ship with all the tools and parts needed for assembly, UNHCR has deployed the camp bed.
The cardboard manufacturer involved in producing the Leaf Bed, Smurfit Kappa, also teamed up with Edinburgh Direct Aid (EDA) in 2017 to send aid to refugee camps on the Lebanese-Syrian border in cardboard boxes that can be converted into emergency furniture.
On a daily basis, cardboard is used as an emergency shelter wherever we look. “We see cardboard in the streets; “We see people using it as an insulating and protective material,” Lamb said, acknowledging that this use contradicts his work. “Here I just make pieces of furniture for the gallery.”
Although his works may be collectible design pieces (prices are only available upon request), he says the project is a critical reflection on being a “producer of things,” and hopes to showcase the “beauty and sustainability” of cardboard as a material. “It can be a permanent part of our lives,” he said. “We don’t have to get rid of things that are secondary to the things we buy or value more.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled the name Illya Goldman Gubin.