When it comes to green furniture, many consumers automatically think of wood.
However, some designers are now exploring a material that looks like wood and is still environmentally sound: cardboard.
Yes, you can sit, sleep, dine and put your feet up on cardboard furniture. You can even place that 70-inch television screen on top of a cardboard TV unit.
Cardboard continues to grow in popularity as a material for domestic furniture and décor.
Even retailers are getting in on the trend, with beauty brand AESOP making waves with its cardboard-clad Flinders Street Store in Melbourne, which was built in 2007.
The retail store features industrial-grade cardboard from the display shelving to the massive eastern façade, which is made up of 1,550 cardboard sheets according to designers March Studio.
“While intended as a temporary installation, the interior – and public response – held up resiliently for seven wonderful years, at which point refurbishment became inevitable,” AESOP's website states.
The company’s products may not weigh much, but the strength of cardboard can hold up under far heavier strains.
For example, the cardboard Dutch Design Stool by KARTON which measures a mere 30 centimetres by 34 centimetres by 30 centimetres can support up to 200 kilos of weight.
The company also has the German-made Paperpedic Bed which can hold up to two tonnes of weight.
One of the most appealing attributes of cardboard is its versatility.
Most pieces are received flat packed for assembly, but unlike with many other furniture materials, there are no tools required for assembly.
Furniture can also be disassembled and stored easily, making it extremely flexible and great for temporary situations such as having a friend staying over for a short time or for events.
KARTON offers step-by-step, iPhone friendly video instructions on its furniture online. The company responds to fears over liquid spills ruining the material, suggesting “quick action and an absorbent cloth” as a remedy. The products have a layer of waterproofing (water-based polyurethane and paints) but any liquid left to absorb into the paper surface will penetrate and leave a mark.
The designer behind KARTON’s stool - Tim Vàrdy - came up with the idea of cardboard as material due to it being lightweight and fully printable for advertising.
The stool comes in 13 designs such as Beechwood, concrete and heavy metal, and is made in the Netherlands from FSC-Certified corrugated cardboard.
KARTON is well known in the Australian market for its cardboard creations, which range from counters to tables to bookcases, backdrops and 3D Paperform wall tiles. The cardboard is made from a mix of virgin and recycled paper (the virgin pulp provides superior strength) and every product is 100 per cent recyclable.
Any glues used in KARTON's products are non-toxic and made from vegetable starch.
Online shopping boutique hardtofind also stocks cardboard stools from Design For Use.
From designs like a world map to a colourful mosaic, these boxy pieces can double up as a stool or bedside table and include cutout handles for stability.
Liquid Design in the UK also has an “Edge” cardboard furniture collection that is made up of a table, coffee table and clocks. The tables are decorated in various prints while the clocks resemble light oak or dark wood.
The thick edges of the table show cardboard's intricate interior structure while the flat surfaces are covered in a laminated veneer which gives the appearance of wood.
French artist and designer Emilie Mazeau Langlais is making waves with her cardboard creations that look incredibly vintage and wood-like. She won an award in 2009 for her Louis XV commode and she has also created a leather-look loveseat, tables, chairs and bookcases out of cardboard.
According to Inhabitat, “Mazeau Langlais blends, cuts and liquidises the material to obtain a desired shape and 'antiquated look.'”
The pieces are then covered in beeswax coating, a traditional finish when looking to boost longevity.
Cardboard furniture can be ideal to meet temporary needs or in developing countries.
Last year, Omar Afshari from the Imam Hossein University Faculty of Woodworking wrote a report on this, looking at corrugated cardboard as an opportunity finding it more durable and economical compared with recycled furniture.
He listed cardboard's credentials as “light weight, inexpensive, ease of use and very high strength.”
He also cited the opportunity for advertising, noting that it can be used at festivals, as tourist infrastructure, in “dormitories, youth homes and more.”
So while wood is good, in some cases cardboard could be even better.