University of the Arts London
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Cardboard Furniture

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posted on 2024-04-30, 13:23 authored by Lorraine Gamman, Adam Thorpe

Original design concepts and research by CSM BAPD graduate and DAC intern, SiWei Wesley Lei. Final design specifications developed by Design Against Crime.

This product was in prototyping and testing with HMPPS/PSPI.

These cardboard furniture products (wardrobes and hangers) were designed for use in segregation (seg) units where furniture is often smashed up by prisoners. The cardboard products serve as effective personal storage units, but are also inexpensive, recyclable and easy to produce. They provide a safer option compared to MDF furniture and don't require any adhesives for assembly.

  • Material: Fire-treated cardboard
  • Manufacturing Method: CNC or die-cut

BAPD Student Design and Research

SiWai Wesley Lei’s cardboard furniture design and research​

BA Product Design student (c. 2019) and DAC intern, SiWai Wesley Lei, designed an original range of cardboard furniture concepts called 'Up' as part of the client project in his final year of study at Central Saint Martins. UP is a customizable cardboard storage system that aims to prevent self-harming and maximize storage in a small environment. This cardboard furniture range includes storage units and hangers. These storage units can be stacked together, interlocking like LEGOs. Each of the units is cut from a flat sheet of approximately 15mm thick cardboard and easily folds into shape with. No screws or nails are required.

HMPPS selected his cardboard furniture concepts as one of several winning student concepts, identifying the potential of cardboard furniture to provide safe, versatile, inexpensive and recyclable storage options for cells, particularly segregation units, where furniture is frequently destroyed and risk of self-harm is high. As a winning concept, SiWai continued to research and develop the designs as a DAC intern, exploring manufacturing methods, materials, fireproofing treatments for cardboard, environmentally friendly adhesives, and recycling streams.

Development and Refinement

Development Objective: Make Cardboard Furniture Look Less Like Cardboard​

Every material implies a certain aesthetic, quality and evokes emotion. Common descriptors for cardboard include things like cheap, flimsy and temporary, and the result is that cardboard tends to be treated as such. Therefore, the challenge for cardboard in this unique context was to refine the designs so that the furniture would be identified as something of greater value through quality aesthetic, sturdy construction, proper functionality and the potential to be long-lasting if treated well.

The development of the cardboard furniture had many iterations (see images below) and each evolution of the concept aimed to improve upon the following objectives:

(1) Reduce the appearance of cardboard, specifically corrugated edges.

As much as possible, we eliminated corrugated edges of cardboard so that only flat, uniform surfaces were visible. This was accomplished by designing intricate cutting and folding patterns that hide the cardboard edges. In addition, we identified cardboard with laminated surfaces that could be ordered in a variety of colours. The simple change of colour from the typical ‘cardboard brown’ would significantly enhance the aesthetic and quality.

*At the time of writing, the laminated cardboard material and suppliers are not approved by HMPPS. The material is neither fire-treated nor has testing been carried out to determine how it could be fire-treated or the effect of fire-treatment on the material itself.

(2) Simplify the construction to eliminate need for adhesives

​The final cardboard furniture design does not require any adhesive, which improves safety, recyclability, cost, transport and assembly. The need for adhesives increases time of assembly, raises costs and creates potential safety hazards. In general, the cardboard furniture could be flat-packed for transport and quickly assembled ad-hoc at the HMP establishment. However, if adhesives are required for assembly, it would take much longer for the furniture to finally get into a cell as the prison would need to have adhesive on-hand and labour available to apply the adhesive. Likewise, without adhesive, the cardboard furniture can be assembled in the cell, potentially by the prisoner. In addition, adhesives would effect the recyclability of the cardboard and any adhesive would first need to be tested and approved for cell safety.

(3) Improve the functionality and customisation of the storage components (i.e. shelves and hangers)

The cardboard furniture has structural elements (cross-bracing) that should always be in-place, however, the design also incorporates a functional flexibility, allowing for the prisoners to add or remove components like shelves based on personal preference at no detriment to the overall stability of the furniture.

Final Designs

The final design for the cardboard furniture range consists of two units: a wardrobe capable of hanging clothes and optional shelves, and several hanger options.



__mm x __mm x __mm

Key Features:

  • Clothes hanging bar
  • Removable shelves (x2)
  • (Optional) Injection moulded plastic base

​Ladder Hanger (Option #1)

​Key Features:

  • Ladder design allows for vertical hanging
  • Fits in the wardrobe

Loop Hanger (Option #2)

Key Features:

  • Loop design provides more storage compartments
  • Fits in the wardrobe

Technical Specification


  • 13-16mm 8'x4' laminated cardboard sheets.
  • Unapproved cardboard supplier: Antalis
  • Unapproved product: Xanita Print
  • Injection moulded plastic base (optional)


  • CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machine
  • Alternative method: die-cut machine

Storage and Transport​

  • Flatpacked

​Fire-treatment​ products (unapproved)​​

  • Flametech


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