Designers are beginning to lighten the load of their furniture designs in a bid to reduce resources and costs and serve a mobile market.
The trend toward lightweight furniture is encouraging a less-is-more approach and offers endless design possibilities particularly for the urban consumer or large scale furniture manufacturer.
While the design and form of many of these products is fairly conventional, they remain aesthetically appealing while offering ease of portability. This is especially useful when decorating or moving because in many cases, the furniture is also easily disassembled.
The past year has already seen some clever contenders vying for the title of world’s lightest furniture product, a list that includes London designer Benjamin Hubert.
At last year’s London Design Festival, Hubert unveiled what was credited as the world’s lightest timber table, a mere nine kilograms. The table, dubbed Ripple, was manufactured by Corelam and is constructed from birch aircraft plywood that was sent through a corrugating machine. It spans 2.5 metres and is 3.5 millimetres thick.
Despite it’s weight, Ripple is actually 200% stronger than solid timber with the ability to support a substantial load and is also 80% more sustainable in terms of its materials.
Hubert’s light-as-a-feather portfolio also includes the Membrane chair, manufactured by Classicon. It is made from a steel and aluminium frame wrapped in a 3D knitted textile that offers a mesh-like aesthetic.
“Our client wanted an armchair that engaged with the way people live – we responded with a construction based on sporting industry technologies that is super light due to its economic use of materials,” Hubert said on his website.
This strategy brought the Membrane chair to ergonomic life and, weighing only three kilograms, makes it both lightweight and inexpensive.
Hubert’s Ripple table had a short lifespan as the world's lightest once when German designer Ruben Beckers launched his own creation.
Beckers used imm Cologne 2014 as the launchpad for the kleinergleich5 table. The name translates to "less than or equal to five."
kleinergleich5 weighs a mere 4.5 kilograms, with Beckers using strips of wood for its construction. Underneath the tabletop is a 28-millimetre wooden lattice structure that offers load-bearing capacity while also offering grid space for the table legs to be attached.
“It is safe to assume that at just 4.5 kilograms, it is probably the lightest wooden table in the world,” said Beckers.
Another project ranking among the world's lightest furniture is the Carbon Balloon Chair (2013).
Unveiled at Marcel Wander’s retrospective exhibition at Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum, the concept derived from a challenge to all designers to create the world’s lightest chair.
Carbon Balloon Chair weighs 800 grams and is hand made from party balloons filled with compressed air. The balloons are then wrapped in strips of carbon fibre with an epoxy resin to harden the frame. These same materials are also used to make the netting for the seat part of the chair.
Wanders says carbon is his favourite material to work with due to its light weight. He noted that his chair “requires fewer materials, generates less waste and is highly durable.”
Such furniture pieces are contributing to a growing trend toward lighter products, lighter construction and material preservation where possible.
Last year, Frieder Schuler, leader at HOMAG Group Engineering, the world’s leading manufacturer of machines and equipment for the woodworking and furniture industry, said the future will be driven by the lightweight construction of products.
Referring to a “certain prejudice,” Schuler believes many consumers are convinced that a high quality item needs to be heavy.
“Today we are seeing a shift in people’s perceptions, which is being driven in particular by the younger, more mobile generation,” he said.
Schuler says lightweight furniture brings about material savings, both in reduced resources and cost. He believes lightweight furniture will be suitable for interiors on aircraft, caravans and ships while encouraging “more sparing use of wood as a precious natural resource.”
Other benefits of lightweight furniture include reduced transportation tonnage, easier handling of flat-pack furniture for end users and cheaper delivery for the growing online marketplace.
“Guided by the underlying precept that less is more, we are seeing lightweight construction increasingly gaining acceptance. Economically and ecologically speaking, lightweight technology offers so many advantages that I believe it is intensively the way forward," Schuler said. “Up until now, the furniture industry has been hesitant in taking up the offer of machines for the manufacture of lightweight furniture.”
“But we are currently experiencing a marked and growing increase of interest from our furniture manufacturing customers in environmentally aware production.”