Introduction: Designing Cardboard Furniture

Create more spaces that weren't there before, save a tonne by creating you're own furniture out of cardboard and watercolour tape.

You'll find several nifty tricks and tips here and in following instructables about how to design your own cardboard furniture.

Some pieces can be completed in a day or two, depending on your design.

I came across Eric Guiomar's DVD titled How to Design Cardboard Furniture by Vinestreetworks, then his first book, and then this instructable was born.

Here's some new techniques you can use to design uniquely shaped furniture.

New! Eric Guiomar's new pdf book part 2 is available.

Check out many French Cartonnistes personal websites below:
French Cartonnistes Websites

In this instructable, I demonstrate how I made an extremely sturdy three-storey book shelf made of six ply cardboard. Simply follow the same principles to create any design you like.

Step 1: Sketch Your Design & Measure & Cut Accurately

Check out books and catalogues for inspiration. The first cupboard I planned to make was a Chinese style black and gold one. In this instructable the same methods are used for every type of object you plan to make. I will show step by step techniques of how I made a craft cupboard to store my knicks knacks.

Check out my other instructables for details on how to make your own door hinges -
new tips and tricks for cardboard furniture:

So now you've figured out you basic construction. You will be surprised at the strength of your cardboard structure. This cupboard below holds up to 80kg of folders.
After 3 months its still standing!

Look for clean cardboard thrown away in electronic superstores. Large complete pieces are ideal - the size of a refrigerator or plasma tv. I clean any visible dust with hospital grade 90% alcohol. Let dry.

You will need to work out the measurements for thicknesses for each layer ON PAPER.

6-10cm is ideal space between each LAYER.

Thicker ply of cardboard is definitely going to make aa stronger cupboard or chair or table.

In one structure I used 2-ply cardboard other times 3-ply.
1 ply is all that's necessary for the shelf layers (more on this later)

When cutting the shapes of the cardboard use a simple craft knife. Slice 3-4 times over the line you've drawn without using pressure. You'll be surprised how effortless it is compared to working with WOOD.

Sharpen your knife often. I used the side of brick and its brillant.

Accuracy in MILLIMETRES is essential, or your structure may collapse. (Seriously.) NOTE THE DIRECTION of your cardboard. If you cut on the vertical GRAIN each piece will be stronger than if you cut a horizontal grain.

Step 2: 3 Silhouette Shapes

Now you will cut out the silhouette shapes.
Cut 3.
The middle one and the front one you will cut out the spaces for the shelves.
The 3rd silhouette will not be cut out inside as this is to be the BACK of the shelf.

In the pictures here, some like to cut 4 silhouette shapes for extra support.

Step 3: Measure and Cut Struts

1. The strut will be as long as you want the WIDTH of your structure to be
2. The strut is the inside skeleton that supports the whole
3. The width of each strut will be the same width as the THICKNESS of each layer.

A. Cut and measure your strut pieces. You will only need ONE silhouette to cut struts. This is the MIDDLE SILHOUETTE. You can create more than 3 silhouettes for extra strength for a long chest of drawers for example.

Label each SILHOUETTE : top and bottom, front and back.

B. Cut the struts approximately HALFWAY both on the silhouette and the strut

C. They are insert DOWNWARDS FOR EVERY SHELF SECTION except the bottom, where they are placed UPWARDS

Step 4: Layer Silhouettes on Top of Each Other

1. Place the uncut inside silhouette on the bottom level
2. Place the middle silhouette that has struts attached
3. Finally place the top level which will be the FRONT OF STRUCTURE
4. Put weights to add slight pressure so you can tape the pieces more tightly. I used coloured sand in zip lock bags.

A. Using very STICKY DUCT TAPE attach the stuts at the top, bottom, middle. This takes a while to do, but its relaxing exercise.

Warning, you must be very accurate in measuring and assembling at this stage or structure may collapse because edges do not meet exactly. The other main cause of collaspe is if the ply is less than 2 or 3 ply or the direction of the stripes on the cardboard for the sides are horizontal instead of vertical.

With my first Chinese cupboard, I had problems because of a slight measurement off here and there. Use a FILE or RASP to even edges sticking out.

Step 5: Measure, Cut and Insert Roof and Bottom of Each Shelf

1. Measure your depth of each shelf space. Cut out accurately using 1 PLY cardboard for the roof and bottom shape to insert into TOP SIDES AND BOTTOM of inner space. 1-2 ply thick is enough for inside. The strength lies in the 3-PLY silhouette frame and internal skeleton.

2. Sticky tape all joins carefully with duct tape for good quality strength. Aim for a FLAT and SMOOTH edge. This helps when decorating with paper to sit nicely.

Step 6: Cover or Decorate Your Construction

1. With the Chinese cupboard I covered everything with duct tape then spray painted it black

2. The second cupboard was covered with double-sided tape and gift wrapping paper

Eric Guiomar's recipe includes wallpaper paste, water and acrylic paints stirred together, to form a thick glue and thinly painted onto the Nepalese papers then attached to your cardboard structure. Once dry it is waterproofed with bottle of acrylic varnish (normally used to polish the kitchen lino floors.)

When you paint with the wallpaper paste + ACRYLIC PAINT I found when I put too much water the cardboard collapsed. Minimal water is recommended, or paint in the sun, small sections at a time.

Rice Starch Glue Paste recipe
Rice flour (or wheat flour found in Asian shops)
2 T Salt dissolved in boiling water
optional - Drop of eucalyptus oil to prevent mould

1. Cook until translucent. Keeps in fridge 3 days. This is used instead of PVA for decoupage or papier mache techniques.

Gesso mix
1. Mix the above recipe with the milk paint formula below and add gypsum / whiting / chalk and 1 cup of PVA glue extra. It will look the mask and bowl pictures below with the finish, having a nice smooth wood-like appearance.

2. If you use rabbit sizing instead of PVA it needs to be cooked at medium heat. Whisk until smooth. First soak the granules overnight to 15 parts water. Do not boil.

3. Tempera powdered painted can be added for colouring. Gesso sticks best to a rough surface and may crack when painted.

4.(I made a chalk board with this Gesso mix formula and it was extremely smooth).

5. When dry sand with fine sandpaper. The suface can be painted, inlaid with metal or anything you like.

1870 Milk Paint Formula

1 Quart skim milk (room temperature)
1 Ounce of hydrated lime by weight
(Available at hardware stores. Do not use quick lime (calcium oxide), as it will react with the water and heat up. Hydrated lime has been soaked in water then dried.)

Stir in enough skim milk to hydrated lime to make a cream. Add balance of skim milk. Now add sufficient amount of powder pigment to desired color and consistency (Pigment powder must be limeproof). Stir in well for a few minutes before using. For best results continue to stir throughout use.

Apply a thin layer milk paint with a cheap natural bristle brush. Allow project to dry sufficiently before applying next coat. Extra paint may be kept for several days in the refrigerator, until the milk sours. Double or triple the recipe for paint.

Allow to dry thoroughly 3-4 hours before use. For extra protection, give paint a coat of oil finish or sealer. Color may change - test in inconspicuous area.

Very Durable Weather Resistant Paint

5 parts cottage cheese or dry curd cheese
(Dry curd cheese is cottage cheese without cream or flavoring added. You can make a similar cheese by putting cottage cheese into cheesecloth and hanging it until it stops draining. Use cottage cheese if you are in a hurry.)
1 part hydrated lime or slacked lime

Mix hydrated lime with water to make a paste. Add to cottage cheese and stir in well. Leave for few hours - the cheese lump will dissolve completely. Select some powder pigments and add to solution (Pigment powder must be limeproof). Add more water if too thick; powdered skim milk if too thin. Strain if you want a fine paint (old nylon stocking works well).

Step 7: Adding Hinged Cupboard Doors

The door imitates the internal structure of a single piece of 1-ply cardboard.

1. Cut 3ply struts into strips that nearly reach the edge of your cupboard door.
2. Hot glue
3. Cover the door and edges to create a sturdy box door.
4. Decorate the surface of door then glue a piece of balsa wood / masonite the size of a hinge. Drill holes for screws. The wood provides solid support for the hinge. I experimented with fabric hinges rather than metal ones.
5. Attach a hinge to cupboard and door. Attach a magnet or velcro.

Please check out for leather hinge instructions

Step 8: Other Sample Work From Interesting Designers

You'll be so inspired by these Design Ideas below!

Here are some other Cartonnistes - Cardboard Furniture Designers from France. Go to and click under the title MEET THE CARTONNISTES!

Also check out

Also see below the Retur designers using a different construction technique with screws and satay sticks: