Small Business
8:54 am
Fri April 11, 2014

New Haven Cardboard Furniture Company Goes Beyond One-Man Production

"It's almost like having a superpower, because wherever you go, there's always cardboard."
Zachary Rotholz

In New Haven, there's a furniture shop where everything is designed, hand-made, and shipped by just one employee working with cardboard.

Now Zachary Rotholz of Chairigami is working with manufacturers in Connecticut to scale up production of his cardboard furniture, and even make it high-tech.

Rotholz got the idea for Chairigami several years ago, when he was working as an apprentice for the Adaptive Design Association, making cardboard equipment for disabled children. As he put it, cardboard is light, easy to pack and assemble, strong, recyclable -- and it's everywhere.

"I can make it and prototype it wherever I go," Rotholz said. "It's almost like having a superpower, because wherever you go, there's always cardboard, so you can always make stuff with it."

Rotholz starts by making miniature models of his designs that are just inches tall, testing if those work before making a full-size version.
Credit Alan Yu / WNPR
The Chairigami showroom.
Credit Alan Yu / WNPR

Rotholz makes everything at the back of the shop, where he cuts, sands, and assembles gigantic sheets of cardboard by hand, like he does large-scale handcrafts for a living. That's how he made all of his products for the past three years.

The furniture isn't exactly cheap. A coffee table costs $85.00. Rotholz said that's why his business has evolved over time. 

At the back of the shop, Rotholz makes all the furniture by hand.
Credit Alan Yu / WNPR

"I initially thought my furniture would be sold to college students," Rotholz said. "Then I figured out, okay, startups and trade shows were great audiences. I transitioned to that market, and that helped me grow my business a lot. I thought it'd be retail. Now we're moving to online." 

Rotholz has outgrown his one-man shop. He started a Kickstarter campaign to crowd-fund a cardboard standing desk, and to get hundreds of these ready to ship by June, he's not doing all of it by hand. He's working instead with manufacturers in Connecticut to mass-produce the desk.

As to where the business might take him next, Rotholz said he's thinking about smart furniture. He said he'd like to try putting a circuit board printed on a cardboard surface so you can control lights and other appliances from your desk. The cardboard furniture is mostly hollow, so it has room for accessories.

Rotholz said he has been consulting for other furniture companies on how to make furniture out of cardboard, as well as working on his own creations.
Credit Alan Yu / WNPR

To demonstrate, Rotholz took out his phone and started playing music from the desk. The entire desk started vibrating. He connected an amplifier to an excitor -- a small device inside the desk that makes the whole desk vibrate to create sound. It's still a work in progress, and the equipment costs $50.00.

Rotholz's work may influence other products. He said he's also been consulting for other furniture companies about how they can make things out of cardboard, too.

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