In 1965, French furniture designer Olivier Mourgue created the Djinn chair, a futuristic, wave-like design that sat low to the ground. The chair gained fame after it was prominently featured in Stanley Kubrick’s movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Now his son Mikael is making waves with a completely different chair, this one made of cardboard and aimed at the 3-and-above set, and sold coast to coast through Rona stores. His father was definitely an inspiration. “From an early age, he made us learn what would be a good design and what’s a bad design.”
Mikael Mourgue moved to Montreal from Paris seven years ago because he didn’t think it was creative or social enough. He founded Toytoy, a line of recyclable cardboard chairs, tables and storage units, with his wife, game designer Salomé Strappazzon, with whom he has four-year-old twins.
The furniture, marketed as eco-friendly, is made in Canada from recycled cardboard and printed with water-based ink. Like Ikea, you have to put it together yourself, but it ships flat and makes for easy storage in small spaces. “It’s like origami,” he says of the design. “The idea was looking to cardboard because of the structure and the different density you get. We can bring an extra value to something with no value at all.”
Not only is the furniture more environmentally friendly than plastic kiddie chairs, Mourgue says it encourages creativity since the pieces can be drawn on, and kids can help put them together. It’s the kind of versatility Mourgue wanted as a parent. “When you have young kids, twins especially, you need to have some fun and cheap and responsible products, and you don’t want to spend money,” he says. “The real concept is that they can really play with it.”
The pieces aren’t intended to last forever—“If it gets wet, you buy a new one,” Mourgue says—but it’s cheap enough to buy twice. They aren’t what you would call sturdy, and can only support 50 lb. at most. The three products cost between $15 and $25 each. For about the same price, you can get a plastic or pine kiddie options from Ikea, but not made of recycled material.
The furniture is sure to be popular among parents, but recycling isn’t always 100 per cent green. “The question of, ‘Is this recyclable?’ is different from ‘Is this eco-friendly?’ ” says Jo-Anne St. Godard, executive director for the Recycling Council of Ontario. “Where were the raw resources extracted to make this product? How far did it travel? Did it come from China? Did it come by boat, by train, by plane?” And recycling isn’t always the best option. “Avoiding [a purchase] and refusing it, that’s number one,” she says, because reducing consumption is the best way to protect the environment. Reusing what you already have is a close second. “Recycling is almost your last resort.”
Still, wooden chairs are often more expensive, and plastic products are non-recyclable and aren’t biodegradable. Mourgue says the furniture teaches children to be thoughtful about their environmental footprint. “It has some education for the kids.”
Seema Khasgiwale, a Toronto dentist with two boys, age 3 and 5, isn’t sure how the Toytoy furniture would stand up to the hands and flying feet of her children. “I think my three-year-old would probably destroy it,” she says. “But I also think there’s a difference between girls and boys. Girls will sit at a table and draw whereas these guys will use their chairs to pretend they’re trains or trucks.” The furniture is designed for play, as the pieces have cubbyholes and shelves, but rough play could turn a Toytoy table into a pile of cardboard ready for the blue bin. She likes the design, as well as the fact it is easy to store in her condo.
For Mourgue, the product is for parents concerned about their environmental footprint but who don’t want to break the bank. “The only thing [kids] have is the ‘made in China’ chair. It’s bad quality,” he says. Mourgue, at least, has his father’s seal of approval. “He likes when it’s simple, light, not expensive, and new,” he says.