Watch out, Ikea. Zach Rotholz ’11, the founder and owner of Chairigami, a company that sells furniture made with only cardboard, is challenging people to rethink furniture, one chair at a time.
Chairigami, named for its multifunctional furniture pieces that fold into different shapes, has become the new, but temporary, neighbor to Yorkside Pizza, opened officially Thursday night. More than 20 people visited the store Thursday evening to try out the collapsible cardboard chairs and tables and chat with Rotholz.
“My goal is not just to provide, but change the way people think about furniture,” said Rotholz.
Opened last Thursday, Chairigami sells furniture made from “Triple Wall” cardboard that combines 70 percent recycled cardboard and uses no adhesives. Rotholz said that this material would be a great match for college students because it is lightweight and folds flat, which makes it easy to move and pack. The store also carries chairs and shelves that can be turned into other furniture items and tables of various sizes.
By emphasizing that every Chairigami piece is handmade from cardboard, Rotholz said he hopes to challenge people’s ideas of furniture and inspire people to use their hands for crafts more often.
“People have been drawn away from their hands,” said Rotholz. “[But] we can still be artisans in today’s technology craziness.”
Rotholz’s passion for cardboard carpentry started two summers ago, when he first worked with Adaptive Design, a non-profit that works to ensure that children with disabilities get the customized equipment they need.
He developed the cardboard chair — now the logo product for Chairigami — for his senior project as a mechanical engineering major. It was not until this summer, when Rotholz was a summer fellow in the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, that his project became a business.
Rotholz said he chose cardboard as a creative medium because of its universality.
“The thing about cardboard is that everyone can relate to it,” said Rotholz. Regardless of age or socioeconomic class, everyone remembers playing in the refrigerator box as a kid, said Rotholz. He hopes that Chairigami can bring together locals and students through a shared curiosity about cardboard furniture.
At the end of the summer, Rotholz presented to a group of investors, mentors and peers at the Entrepreneurial Institute that included Bruce Alexander ’65, vice president for New Haven and State Affairs and Campus Development. After listening to Rotholz’s presentation, Alexander, whose office partially funds the Institute, offered to lease 286 York St. to Rotholz at no cost for one month. However, Rotholz said he currently has no plans yet after he moves out.
Alexander said he wanted to provide Rotholz with a way to test out his concept without burdening him with start up costs.
“We love having students start businesses and create jobs and economic prosperity in New Haven,” Alexander said.
Tony Koutroumanis, manager of Yorkside Pizza, said that he sees the store’s opening as a blessing because the area looks betters without an empty front.
Two students interviewed at the event liked the concept but thought $70 for a chair was too expensive.
Yanique Joseph ’00, executive director of Green Cities Green Villages, also attended the opening event and said that cardboard furniture would be a great fit for disaster areas and temporary housing.
Chairigami will have another opening presentation this evening from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., before moving out of the location on September 30.