Hui Kao’s has created the Paper Pleats furniture collection from paper bound with rice glue, which was developed as a result of the designer’s sensitivity to chemicals and desire to create recyclable products.
The collection includes stools, coffee tables, a dining table set, shelving, a space divider and a ceiling lamp.
Every piece is made from tracing paper that is soaked in rice water that acts like glue, binding the sheets of paper together.
As the paper absorbs the water it shrinks and wrinkles, helping to create a strong, rigid structure once the material dries out.
Hui Kao has developed a series of bespoke tools to shape the paper while it is still wet, including moulds. These allow the designer to retain the wrinkles in the paper and create regular patterns and pleats.
“Paper is made out of fibre and the biological features of a tree partly remain,” the designer told Dezeen.
“Water is a perfect trigger to wake up its self-shaping ability. By controlling key elements of the paper-making procedure, such as humidity and drying temperature, I try to encourage the paper to achieve a certain shape and texture. It’s almost like I’ve learnt how to team up with the material to design the object.”
To create objects that can support significant weight, the designer creates lots of irregular tubes of paper, which are then bound together by the rice water. The final effect is objects that look fragile but are surprisingly strong.
The designer developed the process while studying at Design Academy Eindhoven and has continued to develop it since 2016. The latest pieces, including three stools, were on show at the Collectible design fair in Brussels earlier this month as part of a presentation by Belgian gallery Spazio Nobile.
Hui Kao was drawn to working with paper after discovering she had allergic reactions to a number of chemical ingredients used in other man-made materials, including pigments and coatings. She was also interested in finding a material to work with that would have minimal environmental impact after use.
“From my personal experiences of collaborating with eco-friendly industries, I was aware how a small decision made by designers could affect not only manufacturing process but a whole recycling system,” she said.
“By having a better understanding of how recycling systems work in real life, I tend to investigate a new way of creating objects, and study the relationship between objects, bodies, and recycling systems. Paper is the perfect fit – it’s one of the daily used goods and a really neutral material. Also the making process is relatively simple and clean.”
Other paper-based designs on show at Collectible included the Speckle Lamps by Hannah Bigeleisen, which are made from papier-mache and were among Dezeen’s lighting highlights from the fair.
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