Literally a room in a box

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If you’re a UW co-op student looking for furniture that’s compact, easy to store, and easy to move between placements, a cardboard furniture company — Our Paper Life — may soon have a viable, environmentally friendly solution inspired by a UW alumni’s experience in the co-op program.

Geoff Needham, a UW architecture alumni and co-founder of the designing and marketing firm, said the idea for Room in a Box was inspired by both his and other students’ co-op living experiences; experiences defined by the unpredictability of placement that comes with constant moving.

“A few of my friends had told me stories about living in New York or London, and living in completely unfurnished rooms, sleeping on the floor on blue yoga mats. I thought it was really strange that we can’t furnish our own spaces,” Needham said. “So I thought about that and that’s how the idea came about … We started with a desk and a shelf and Room in a Box is the evolution of that idea.”

Their goal with Room in a Box and the other cardboard furniture the company manufactures is not only because of recyclability, but to create furniture that “works with our lives in a pretty seamless way.”

“Recyclability, reusability, and ease of transport and assembly are all key aspects of the company’s furniture. It’s not just because it’s recyclable, but because it works with our lifestyle,” Needham said.

Since 2011, they’ve developed a chair, a trash bin, and a modular storage system that can be used for anything from bedside tables to bed frames to target the needs of their primary market: students. Needham is confident not only on the viability of the idea, but its durability.

“I’ve been using some of the storage units as book shelves and clothes drawers for two years now,” Needham said. “I’ve met some co-op students at Waterloo who have bought some of the desks that we sold and they said they’ve been using it for three to four terms in a row.”

Room in a Box is not actually being sold yet — the company has launched a crowdsourcing campaign which they hope will get the project to market, but it hasn’t gotten off to a great start.

“The way we’re proposing to manufacture it involves a lot of manufacturing dyes. Those are expensive, so there is a big upfront cost,” Needham said. “We want to test the market and see what people say before committing to this, and based on our result of the crowdsourcing we may have to go back to the drawing board to figure out a cheaper way of manufacturing.”

The makers of Room in a Box have also had the opportunity to work with Pan Am game organizers in Toronto by providing anything from cardboard furniture to mail sorters for organizing mail and administrative correspondence.

Needham left the door open to the possibility of having a retail location in Waterloo where students can purchase their own Room in a Box.

“We would be excited to set up a retail opportunity in Waterloo. The product is recyclable, it’s made in Ontario, and in a way it was designed for Waterloo students,” Needham said. “It makes a lot of sense moving forward [that] we would have a more physical presence in Waterloo.”

Right now students can purchase Room in a Box for $149 as part of the company’s kickstarter campaign, and if sold widely, students will have the opportunity to purchase it for $249 including shipping.

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