Function be Damned! Cardboard Furniture


The story goes that architect Louis Sullivan first uttered the architectural edict about form following function at the turn of the century, and the idea has been a cherished touchstone ever since. But anyone who follows design knows the truth: People often put looks before comfort, durability and common sense. Case in point: Cardboard furniture.

Frank Gehry created the Wiggle chair (above) out of 60 layers of cardboard, screws and fibreboard in 1972, and it looks as fresh now as it did then. Its engineering and clever design has earned it a price tag of $1,078. Here’s the dirty secret: The chairs look good, but they don’t wear well.

Here’s the problem that any toddler who has made a fort out of a packing box can tell you: Cardboard just isn’t that durable. It lasts for a time but, especially with heavy use, it breaks down quickly. As a reporter who scouts many, many private homes, I can tell you I have seen these lovely chairs destroyed by cats who mistake high design for a scratching post or crayon-loving children who just have to put their mark on everything in sight.

Courtesy of hivemodern

Granted, I’ve seen some perfectly preserved modern cardboard pieces, but they are all tucked into little-used corners in the homes of compulsively clean single people without pets or children. But don’t take my word for it, take the case of Roberto Tiscareno, a San Francisco marketing pro. His former employers outfitted the lobby with the chic, yet cheap, Pause stools from CB2.

Courtesy of CB2

“One day I met a designer in the lobby, sat down on the stool and the cardboard buckled under my weight and I fell backwards onto the floor,” he says. “Luckily, I wasn’t in front of a client, as I screamed so loudly. I’ll never trust cardboard again.” Which brings me to my other point: Purchasing cardboard furniture is just like anything else—you get what you pay for. Although I haven’t done a Consumer Reports-style test, I’ll bet the Gehry chair would win the durability test against CB2 any day.

And who needs to conduct a scientific test when the fragility of cardboard is being demonstrated before my eyes, here at the offices of McEvoy Media (publishers of California Home+Design and 7×7)? Please understand, we are lucky to work in such a lovely environment, and I am grateful for it every day, but up on the fourth floor of our architecturally award-winning home sits a design fail.

Granted, this oversize cardboard lounge probably looked great on the day it was installed, but years of bearing the weight of publishing geniuses have definately taken a toll.

A closer look shows crushed, wrinkled cardboard. And truthfully, in the year that I’ve worked in this building, I have never seen anyone actually sit on it. Why would they? There are plenty of beautiful, and far more comfortable, chairs to choose from.

Which brings me to my final revelation: With apologies to Mr. Gehry, cardboard chairs just aren’t comfortable.

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