Inside the Box

For the utterly eco-conscious soul, the guilt of throwing away the box can be enough to spoil a new purchase. But what if the packaging were the product? That’s the idea behind designer Alain Berteau’s no-waste Cover Stool, a cardboard box that becomes an upholstered seat. Produced by Dutch manufacturer Montis (www.montis.nl), the chair is cheap, sturdy, and unexpectedly comfortable. Sustainability need not involve sacrifice, according to Berteau. “I don’t think we can expect anything from people if ecology is not actually the easier and better option,” says the 35-year-old Belgian. Here he takes us through the particulars of his design, available in the United States through Luminaire (www.luminaire.com).

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The biggest challenge is a marketing problem: consumers don’t want to buy cardboard furniture. When people saw the upholstered product on the floor, they played with it and sat on it and said, “Oh, what a nice stool—and very cheap.” Then they realized that inside it was just a cardboard box. Some people were very excited, but others were a little bit suspicious and asked questions like, “Are you sure it’s strong?” Yes, actually most packages are stronger than the objects they protect.

Because the stool requires only one square meter of fabric, we could afford to use a high-quality 78 percent recycled polyester called Messenger, from Maharam. It’s very stretchy and soft and stays nice-looking even after a few years of use.

I know that most people like to have gray and black stuff at home; but when you launch a product, you have to be flashy to get noticed. At the moment the stool is available in brown, red, and two shades of green, though we’ll probably make it in other colors. I think it’s a cool idea to put a touch of color—a little red diamond or green polygon—in your home.

The cardboard is the thickest on the market but is more or less the same material used to protect TVs, computers, and other products. It’s so standard that any cardboard-box manufacturer in the world can produce the chair. So if we decide to start production in China or the United States, for example, it would be easy.

Reminiscent of the new Hearst building by Norman Foster, the polygonal shape is very strong and almost impossible to deform. If you really smash it, of course, you can hurt it, but even if it’s damaged, you can cover the imperfections—such as accidents that may have occurred during shipping—with the upholstery cover.

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