Babies and pets have a bad rap for getting more kicks from an empty box than what came inside. Dan Goldstein is similarly enchanted, with a bit of a twist: The San Francisco designer’s Re-Ply chair is a clever example of innovative engineering that transforms plain old cardboard into a comfortable, and surprisingly durable, seat.
Goldstein actually came up with the concept about six years ago and has had a few prototypes in his apartment, "always attracting attention," for about as long. "I knew at some point I wanted to explore this idea and see where it might go," he tells Co.Design. Buoyed by a few friends who had run their own successful Kickstarter campaigns as well as San Francisco’s startup-friendly culture, he quit his job at a Bay Area architecture firm and began teaching design at several local schools in order to free up some time to put together a plan.
Obviously perfecting production techniques was important, but figuring out Re-Ply’s shape actually came first. Goldstein’s influences were wide-ranging, from Louis Kahn (whose work "is so rigorously rational it becomes sublime, and he interprets materials as they really ‘want’ to be") to Jasper Morrison’s pieces, which "always display a lightness that seems to emerge from simplicity," to—of course—Charles and Ray. "It is hard to design a chair with a steel-rod base without giving a nod to the Eames legacy, too," he says. (Personally, I think it’s Butterfly-esque, even slightly Egg-shaped.)
From there, it was a matter of reconciling the modernist duo of form and function. There are precedents for furniture made from corrugated fiberboard (the "technical" term), but most are based on methods that involve folding, or extruding. Goldstein reinterpreted its structural potential by envisioning a unique process that leverages what he cites as its "papery qualities"—strong in tension, weak in compression—as follows: Boxes are cut into panels, stacked, and cut to shape with a jigsaw or bandsaw, and a nontoxic, water-based wood glue is rolled between the four-ply layers, which are then pressed over a mold; once the glue sets, the curved shell is folded in half. And that’s where things get slightly more complex.
"There is some fancy origami that happens in the area where the corners overlap at the joint before holes are drilled through more than eight layers of cardboard for the bolts," Goldstein says. "The radius of the chair’s curves come from subtracting unnecessary material at the overlapping area of the cardboard joint, and that same radius is used in the laminating mold. The three-fold duty of a single pair of bolts hold the crease of the cardboard, attach it to the metal base, and allow it to rock."
He’s already started reaching out to furniture retailers in the city, which often have a surplus of boxes kept in good condition. They’re usually damaged only around the corners or flaps, which are cut off before being used for the Re-Ply, making them ideal specimens (anything ripped or punctured won’t work, and pieces that are 100% recycled are just too soft to hold up). "The cardboard in the middle layers of the Re-Ply can be aesthetically imperfect, but the condition of the outer layers must be pristine," Goldstein says. Ultimately, production of the shell and final assembly will likely happen in a small San Francisco-based space, while a pair of metal shops in Portland, Oregon, will make and finish the bases.
One of the biggest surprises for Goldstein has been the "wildfire" effect of social media. "Just 10 days ago, images of the Re-Ply existed almost exclusively on the single laptop sitting on my desk," he says. Now, folks across the globe have seen his creation on countless sites and blogs (chalk up one more here) and contacted him to offer their support. The project has been funded (and then some) on Kickstarter, and Goldstein is sorting through the logistics of bringing the seats to living rooms worldwide. Keep your eyes peeled—there may be a matching ottoman, along with other new incarnations, coming soon.