Chairigami: The Cardboard Furniture of the Future

Saving the world one cardboard chair at a time

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Chairigami founder Zachary Rotholz

Speaking of ideas that are out of the box: one startup is using cardboard to make eco-friendly furniture.

Chairigami manufactures tables, arm chairs, couches, shelves, standing desks, even iPhone cases out of recyclable material called Triple Wall, a three-ply corrugated cardboard. The material is like plywood in terms of its sturdiness, but is flexible enough that it can bend without breaking, providing maximum comfort. The pieces — which range from $80 to $180 on the Chairigami website — ship flat and require minimal assembly, but no glue.

Zachary Rotholz, 24, started the New Haven company in 2011 after graduating from Yale University with a Mechanical Engineering degree. “People these days just purchase stuff and throw it out when they’re done with it, so I wanted to get people thinking about what the material is made out of,” he says.

Unlike most furniture designers, Rotholz doesn’t mind if customers use his pieces merely as a starting point for their own creations. “It’s almost like an open source material: hack it, rearrange it,” says Rotholz, who is also an alum of the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute. A summer camp converted one of his cardboard tables into a LEGO table by cutting out a rectangle shape in the middle of the table and putting a bin of LEGOs inside. Other clients have installed speakers and light fixtures or drawn elaborate patterns on the cardboard.

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And for customers who are petrified of spilling drinks on their cardboard coffee table and ruining it, Rotholz can cover it in duck tape. “A lot of the coatings available commercially aren’t recyclable,” says Rotholz. “I want all products to be completely recyclable after they’re used. If you spill something it’s fine, just wipe it off.”

Rotholz is just the latest creative to design cardboard home decor. There are hundreds of tutorials on YouTube that show people who have recently moved somewhere how to recycle extra packing materials into furnishings. Etsy sells cardboard beds for cats and wine bottle racks, while pinners can find a cardboard foosball table for their rec rooms on Pinterest.

In terms of upcoming projects, Rotholz says he’s experimenting with ways customers can put together different items to create an entirely new piece of furniture, such as a pop-up standing desk using a cardboard table on top of a cardboard desk, or a bed made from cardboard benches and a sofa — something that sounds ideal for people who live in cramped apartments.

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