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Paper and bamboo furniture

WRITER: DANIEL DASEY

Sofas and chairs made from the same stuff as egg cartons? And bench tops and table legs made from bamboo? Anything is possible as IKEA design-teams explore a world of materials.
 

Close-up of an empty egg carton.

IKEA designers have long been intrigued by the idea of using new and more sustainable materials.  Now, they have been given the chance to let their imaginations run wild and to investigate two promising – and slightly out-there – material options: Paper and bamboo.

Teams of designers have been experimenting with everything from paper sofas and bookshelves to paper tables, as well as looking for more uses for bamboo. Can these materials be durable, beautiful and age well? Can they be sustainably sourced? It’s all aimed at making better use of resources and making people’s lives better.

Michael Nikolic is creative leader for the team investigating paper furniture. “The paper industry handles a lot of waste which is turned into new packaging,” he explains. “But we thought, rather than producing packaging that will eventually be thrown away, recycled or re-produced into a new package, why not create something aesthetic? Like a sofa? This is when IKEA is at its best – when we do things differently.”

Michael’s team began by travelling the world to meet paper manufacturers and suppliers, and to learn about the qualities of different paper products. While some paper makers initially thought the idea of paper furniture was crazy, the team was able to identify nine different paper-based materials that could be of use.

One of the most interesting, was paper pulp – a material used in things like egg cartons and the tray your barista gives you to carry hot coffee. Created from either wood or recycled materials, it can be moulded into just about any shape and hardens to provide a hard shell. Additives can make it water resistant and it can be produced in a rainbow of colours. Other materials being looked at include paper clay, paper glue, paper cotton and even washable paper.

“With many people simply throwing their old furniture on a dump, the idea of creating affordable  paper sofas, tables and chairs that could be recycled at the end of their lifecycles was a big inspiration,” says IKEA designer Maja Ganszyniec. “A cradle-to-grave approach means putting a product together so that it’s easy to take apart and separate once the lifetime of the product has run out. A paper sofa follows this logic.”

A woman holding two plant pots made of paper pulp, one small and one large. And in the background there are piles with plant pots in beige, white and orange.
A woman holding a basket made of paper pulp.
Close-up of an plant pot made of paper pulp.

"I firmly believe that IKEA has helped to increase the standards throughout the bamboo industry in China, as well as securing work for many bamboo farmers."

While paper furniture may not be a reality yet, bamboo is being used in increasing amounts in IKEA products. Fast-growing and requiring very little in the way of irrigation, fertilisers and pesticides, it is a wise and sustainable choice of materials when grown according to responsible forestry guidelines.

Bamboo is already used in IKEA products like RIMFORSA work bench, HILVER table tops and legs, the LILLÅSEN desk and ALDERN counter top. All bamboo used for IKEA furniture is grown in China, and as of autumn 2016 Forest Stewardship Council certified.

Larry Lin, manager of IKEA bamboo-supplier Dasso says the IKEA involvement in the industry has increased both sustainability and innovation abilities.

Two women and a man sitting around plant pots made of paper pulp. And in the background there is a board with photos and sketches.

“Together with IKEA we have raised the level of quality and also increased the efficiency for production as well as in material use,” he says. “I firmly believe that IKEA has helped to increase the standards throughout the bamboo industry in China, as well as securing work for many bamboo farmers.”

This is just two examples of new materials which has been tried out during the year by the IKEA design-teams. Today, it is too early to tell which of these products that might end up in the IKEA range. But one thing is for sure: IKEA designers will continue to push the boundaries, exploring new materials that will surprise and delight customers and help to preserve resources.

Paper bicycle, anyone?

And some more highlights…