Adrian Chua and Irene Ng of Paper Carpenter on How They Think Outside the Box
When the pandemic struck and Singapore went into a circuit breaker period from April last year, many were left unprepared for WFH (working from home) and HBL (home-based learning). Electronics stores saw brisk sales of laptops, while furniture retailers reported the same for work desks and chairs.
Adrian Chua, the founder of Paper Carpenter, was able to address this workspace issue fairly quickly with the design agency’s proprietary Cardboard Carpentry skills, and PaperConnect building system, which is made entirely out of cardboard yet with the strength and durability of wood, thanks to a sturdy internal structure.
Within days, the self-assembled Poppi desk—with ample space for an iMac or a desktop monitor-laptop combo—paired with a Hexa stool, which can withstand a weight of up to 150kg, were already available for purchase at its online store, along with other office-related products from the Work from Home series.
This is usually how Chua, who works with a small team of designers and architects, gets his design inspiration: “I look into problems—and design products that will make people’s lives better. I like that it’s possible to materialise a product within a day using cardboard. I can have an idea in the morning, start with the 3D ‘cadding’ process in the afternoon, and cut out the parts using my cutting machine by the end of the day.”
Such is the potential of the cardboard material, which is a more sustainable choice than wooden carpentry and also 100 per cent recyclable. Chua’s wife Irene Ng, who is Paper Carpenter’s marketing director, explains, “Within our stock list, we have 12 different grades of cardboard for various type of product designs and usage. Smaller packaging boxes are made using thinner cardboard to give them a sleek seamless finishing, while thicker double-wall corrugated cardboard is used for furniture and larger structures.”
The PaperConnect system comprises hollow, highly compressed paper square bars, which are joined up with recyclable plastic connectors in various configurations to build desired structures. “The innovation of Cardboard Carpentry, together with the PaperConnect system allows anyone to build anything easily,” says Chua. “The paper bars, which cost only $12 each, can be cut to length by hand with a saw that can be bought from Daiso.”
So if you wanted to, you can even build your own cardboard furniture. In fact, the entire Paper Carpenter office is entirely fitted in cardboard. Besides furniture, the company also produces cardboard crafts such as a cat scratch pad inspired by the iconic dragon playground motif. It also creates large-scale 3D cardboard structures—its Europe exhibition featuring eight famous landmarks in Central and Eastern Europe at the Changi Airport Terminal 3 last year was named the largest cardboard landscape by the Singapore Book of Records—along with exhibition booths, product displays, and even packaging. One of its first products was an on-demand paper pallet used in forklift transportation that can take the load weight of at least one tonne.
Over the years, the evolution of science and technology has made it possible for paper to be fire-retardant and also water-resistant. “We have partnered with chemical companies to develop safe water-based nano-coating, which can be applied to our paper products. This innovation has opened up opportunities to develop packaging products for freight of flammable goods and replace styrofoam boxes to package vegetables and fruits,” says Chua.
While there isn’t any specific structure that he dreams of building, it is Chua’s dream to create a more sustainable world through his cardboard creations. For Ng, “Cardboard may not be a sexy material, but if we look at it beyond it being just a box, it can be transformed into various interesting designs. All we need is a wild imagination and the possibilities are limitless.”
(Related: Sustainability Is Not An Ideology—You Have To Do It, Says Architect Antonio Citterio)
Also featured in our Masters of Materials series: Josh Leong of Josh Leong Shoes, Heirloom by Josh Leong and Palola | Ceramicists Loh Lik Kian and Debbie Ng
- Photography Darren Gabriel Leow
- Art Direction Jana Tan
- Hair Benedict Choo, using Clé de Peau Beauté
- Make-Up Benedict Choo, using Clé de Peau Beauté
- Grooming Benedict Choo, using Clé de Peau Beauté