by Joe La Delfa.
Cardboard furniture isn’t great for what it is, but for what it replaces.
Browsing through search results for cardboard furniture yields nothing but praise. Design magazines, blogs and of course, cardboard furniture websites are feverishly throwing buzzwords at the screen, creating not so much a coherent paragraph but a fuzzy cloud of optimism.
“Geoff Christou and Chris Porteous have created an interesting solution for Canadian students living the dorm life. Their line of cardboard furniture (currently $19.99 for either a bookshelf or desk) is water resistant, lightweight, flatpacked and assembled without tools, screws or glue. And best of all, it’s 100% recyclable” Linyee Yuan for Core 77 Magazine.
These reviews portray cardboard furniture as the holy grail of product design. However, in reality edges will dog ear, surfaces will ripple under forgotten spills and that word recyclable holds as much weight as your average election promise. In other words, it’s a cheap and flimsy product made of one material, aimed to fill a short term need. However the reason why I hate it is the same reason why I love it, because it is better to fill a short term need with a product of a single material than one made up of 10 different materials, why? Hard rubbish.
As a product designer, seeing hard rubbish makes me feel grey inside. Whilst on exchange I had to wade through the stuff to get to the entrance of my student dorm, because when the summer students leave and the winter students arrive, what do you think happens to the IKEA furniture that is no longer needed? Countless products with hours of styling and engineering behind them end up sitting out in the rain ready to be landfill for the rest of their life cycle. So much furniture is stuffed underground because it isn’t economically viable for it to be stripped back to homogeneous waste streams.
Cardboard is already a homogeneous waste stream and therefore integrates into a city’s established recycling infrastructure. Despite these systems being far from perfect, it’s better than landfill. So for now, cardboard furniture and I enjoy an uneasy truce. As we stare at each other across the room, the tension is palpable. I want to throw my hot tea at him but the thought of an IKEA stool sitting in his place prevents me from doing so.
Header image courtesy of Chairgami (USA).