Kindly step aside “zonkey” ... today, here's a non-zoological portmanteau that combines flat-packed furniture with the traditional Japanese art of paper folding.
When then-22-year-old Yale grad Zach Rotholz opened his brick and mortar Chairigami storefront on New Haven's bustling York Street nearly two years ago, his nascent one-man business specializing in student- and earth-friendly furniture made from recyclable/partially recycled triple-wall cardboard — “Cardboard furniture for the urban nomad” remains the company’s official motto — received a decent amount of local press and fanfare.
"Zachary Rotholz has given a whole new meaning to the direction, 'Insert slot A into slot B,'" opened arts editor Donna Doherty in a Sept. 2011 profile on the venture for the New Haven Register before going on to call New Haven’s newest business "perhaps one of its most unique, combining fine design with function, environmentally sound manufacturing principles and just plain fun."
In the time since he first set up shop in New Haven (Chairigami HQ has since moved from York Street to Chapel Street to its newest home at 55 Whitney Ave.), things in Rotholz's glue-less universe of cardboard coffee tables have been going smoothly.
And while its unclear if the ultimate transient-types, college students, have continued to provide Rotholz with a bulk of his business, a recent profile by Ariel Schwartz at Co.Exist makes it clear that lightweight and easy-to-assemble Chairigami furniture has found a welcome home at trade shows, pop-up events, offices, institutional settings, and even youth camps. This past spring, Sausalito, Calif.-based summer camp organization Steve and Kate's Camp commissioned Rotholz to make 2,000 stools that would replace — wait for it — existing IKEA pieces found at numerous Steve and Kate's Camp locations. To date, this has been Chairigami's largest order.
"It was very grassroots. I tested and iterated as I went, "says Rotholz of the early days of Chairigami, a “bootstrapped operation” that the young entrepreneur founded with the help of $5,000 in bar mitzvah money. "A lot of the furniture ideas came from the website. People would come on the web page and give their suggestions."
Perusing the Chairigami website today, you’ll find that the original Chairigami chair-cum-stacking-shelf — “the epic chair that started it all” — is joined by a host of other cardboard furnishings and accessories like a standing desk ($120), arm chair ($180), a variety of shelving units, and even an cardboard iPhone case that comes with its own Sharpie marker (currently, and not surprisingly, sold out).
Two years in, triple-walled cardboard is still Rotholz’s material of choice. Resins and glues of any sort also remain absent in the hand-crafted creation of Chairigami pieces (“We’re just a no-glue kind of company," explains the Chairigami website.)
Most people call it cardboard but that's just a stage name. We manufacture all of our furniture with Triple Wall, a three ply corrugated board that is tough yet forgiving. Triple wall is made from 70% recycled cardboard and 30% FSC certified virgin fiber. Though Triple Wall hails from the world of military and industrial packaging, it also makes for some rad furniture.
I have a long love affair with cardboard. I began by playing in large refrigerator boxes and teaching children in central park to engineer with cardboard. Later, I was a cardboard apprentice at Adaptive Design and designed equipment for disabled children. This evolved into a senior project in mechanical engineering and then into a pop-up storefront in New Haven, Connecticut. Now I'm ready to save the world, one cardboard chair at a time.
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