Furniture that makes sense

Nomadic FurnitureNomadic Furniture
Hennessey and Papanek

Submitter: I’ve been enjoying the posts on your blog, and have recently come across a little gem of my own in my collection: Nomadic Furniture by James Hennessey and Victor Papanek (1973).  The early-70’s designs and the difficult-to-read handwritten text are bad enough, but what really tipped me over the edge was the instructions for making a car seat out of cardboard.  “We felt that a car-safety seat for tots, made of cardboard, would make sense….Jim simplified it so that you can build it with no hassle”.   Thank goodness, because when it comes to the safety of my children, my primary concern is to not have a lot of hassle!

Holly: Just when I thought I’d seen it all.

homemade car seat

  1. This is not as bad as it seems, it’s using Nomadic, Recycable materials…. I’ve read it, it needs a update, But if you in a post apocayliptic world this book is a must…. think steampunk…

    1. Agreed,
      We own both the first and second edition of this book. In fact we have three copies. The Baby car seat idea is outdated, but what they are imploring readers are to think out side the box with regards to recycling and design.

      As for the handwriting script,
      Designers are visual learners. They are not text based. As Librarians, or other text based people, it can be hard to read this type of design. My students excel with this way of expression. You see this in their portfolios.

      Some of the current design books today have the text in three different color half on an image and maybe the rest of the side of the page. Our college did a study and showed a very large number of students in the arts field have some sort of Dyslexia.

      1. Coming from the world of comics, where the study of combining words and pictures to convey information is a big deal, I have to disagree with you on the lettering. Here, it’s just bad – cramped, hard to read, and with some very messy placement. Hand lettering is fine. Even most of the set fonts artists use in comics to save time are derived from hand lettering. The lettering on those pages are amateurish and harder to read than it needs to be.

      2. I too disagree about the handwriting – hand-written is okay, but I would expect it to be in standard architect’s print. This writing is too slanted and angular and NONSTANDARD, and the way the D’s go down under the line is just obnoxious.

      1. Safer than no child seat at all, possibly. It could at least reduce seatbelt injuries. No, I wouldn’t even think about using one today; but it’s a step up from the backseat crib/cages from a decade or two before this.

        Also, the pattern could be scaled down to make a doll’s carseat.

  2. This book has been recently reprinted. Don’t know if cardboard car seat is still included, though. I hope not!

  3. while i would actually really enjoy reading this book, i feel the need to point out cardboard boy isn’t wearing a seatbelt either. how many tickets would the parents have these days?

  4. I can’t figure out how that homemade car seat even protects the child. I was born in ’73, and I am racking my brain trying to think of a way in which my parents or anyone back then would have used this for “safety” purposes. The only thing I can come up with is that it would keep the kid from rolling into the floor behind the seats–yeah, he’ll go flying through the windshield instead.

    That said, I never wore a seat belt as a toddler. I’d usually sit on mom’s lap, or in the seat between her and Dad (bench seats are awesome!). When I was a little older, I’d lie on the back seat, or sometimes even on the window ledge. Short stops usually did result in me rolling into the floor behind the seats.

    1. See, my parents had these seat that easily came out and became a carrier. Dad would lug me around on his back until I got too big.

      I can still see that bright blue canvas and the metal tubing it was made from, and how it strapped to the seat in such a way that I sat up high enough to see out the windows.

      Course I was born in 1976 so this would’ve been late 70s/early 80s.

    2. Car seats back then weren’t for protection. They were meant to elevate the child so they could see out the window.

  5. Ha, I remember seeing this book in the Hampshire College Library — not a bad book for any college student though!

  6. These days you aren’t even supposed to use an infant car seat again if you gotten into a minor fender bender, let alone make your own out of recyclable materials. Color me horrified at the thought.

    But I must confess, I love DIY furniture, and would probably love the rest of the book!

  7. Well, we can’t use that design, there isn’t a slot for a seatbelt.

    When you consider what passed for child car seats back in the day at least its something.

  8. Cardboard child safety seat? Why didn’t I think of that? Now I feel like a sucker spending all that money on seats from Target. Dang.

  9. This book has long been a personal favorite of mine! I swiped my dad’s copy of this and its sequel years ago. While I agree that the homemade car seat is not a good solution, many of the designs in this book are ideas whose time has come again with the latest incarnation of the green movement. I don’t know of anything like it published recently, so depending on your patrons, some may still find this useful. (Yes, I am a little biased.)

  10. That car seat would make anyone cringe today, but keep in mind that in the 1970’s, infant car seats weren’t mandatory and were not particularly common, and toddler car seats were very rare. It’s hard to say whether a cardboard car seat is better than nothing, but it probably wasn’t *worse* than nothing. It looks like the main thing this seat does is get the kid up where she can see out the window…which is basically what commercial toddler seats in that era did.

  11. A cardboard carseat is just plain scary, but it would make a pretty cool kiddie chair for the living room.

    1. Hah! That’s a great idea, making this into a nifty kiddie chair for inside the home. I definitely wouldn’t use it as a car seat though ^_^

  12. That’s a great book. Not the carseat, of course. But a lot of the things are creative and very cool then and now. “Edgeboard,” heh. I’ve got a cat scratching pad made of that.

  13. I wonder if that car seat is ASTM certified?

    Agreed, the book overall isn’t kind of interesting in a post-apocalyptic way, but I agree with the submitter that it needs to be weeded on the basis of safety alone.

  14. It seems clear from this post that neither the submitter nor the site’s authors understand neither this book nor the load-bearing potential of corrugated cardboard, and we are all less fortunate for it.

    First, corrugated is enormously strong if configured correctly, as the book’s authors have done. If you use the suggested two-ply, the car seat pictured here will be–still with me?–EVERY bit as strong as a manufactured car seat. But because it doesn’t come from a factory and isn’t made from a polymer, people have visions of paper tearing to shreds in the event of a crash. Fair enough–after all, the book was written to educate everyone about new ideas and show them that that isn’t the case.

    Unfortunately for the denizens of the library system in which the submitter works (and for the rest of us inhabitants of this planet concerned with waste), they will never have that chance, simply because the librarian who removed it did not understand basic principles of physics.

    I have this book and I can assure anyone who is interested that it is much more relevant today than it was when it was published, now that many more people than just us whole-earth engineer types are interested in conservation.

    How often does a librarian’s cursory knowledge of what “seems right” (i.e., that which seems plausible based on his or her understanding of the world) cause them to inadvertently shut down people’s access to new ideas?

    1. Yep, cause that’s what we librarians LOVE to do is shut down ideas, creativity, thought, investigation, research, education, reading, blah blah blah. I’ll be sure to tell that to my MIT educated engineer husband…

      When I worked at the public library, nothing made me more excited than weeding the content willy-nilly without paying attention to any sort of standards of collection development. Nope, I zeroed in on things that I thought might improve the human condition, arbitrarily pulled it, and then sent it to the dumpster without even thinking of recycling it. (Mwahahhaha!)

      Please don’t insult us, or our profession. We wouldn’t tell you how to do your job, still with me?

    2. MSM, as great a construction material carboard is, the authors failed to take into account the juice/bodily fluid factor. A few days with my nephew and a “spill proof” sippy cup would turn any cardboard creation into a mass of paper pulp. Even the creator acknowledged this by calling it a disposable car seat.
      The car seat would probably fall to shreds in the event of a car wreck due to the fact that it would most likely follow the child through the front windshield, seeing as it is not secured to the car in any way.
      The design flaw that no one has yet discussed is that the seat does not have a head rest, so even if there was a minor accident the child would have some serious neck injuries.
      … and no cup holders. 🙂

  15. I should also add that this book is back in print (3rd edition, 2008), cardboard car seat and all.

  16. I was, oh, about the age of the kid in the picture in 1973. My parents were strange in that 1) we had seatbelts in the backseat; and 2) they wouldn’t start the car unless we had them fastened. Only lap belts, but still. Weirdos!

    My little sister even had a real car seat that buckled in and it had shoulder straps. It was a bit of a hazard anyway, because it had lots of exposed metal bits. She tore her fingernail off on one when she was about 2. Maybe we should have made her a cardboard one instead.

  17. cardboard car seats would have been better than those flimsy plastic lounge chairs, this was the only available seating for an infant back in 1976, and no it wasn’t belted in. back in the late 70’s, early 80’s a newborn went home in the car in the parent’s arms, today, you can’t leave the hospital unless you have an infant car seat, and they make sure you have one in the car at discharge.

    1. My dad insisted my mum sit in the back seat with me when they left the hospital in 1978, because it was safer. Apparently, the nurses thought he was weird!

  18. That cover is giving me bad flashbacks to the manga “The Engima of Amigara Fault.”

      1. I’m… I’m not sure I want to know. But I bet it’d need a lot more cardboard to make a seat for it….

  19. I remember making cardboard furniture in my teens. Good fun and actually almost usable. I’d almost agree that a cardboard child seat, if properly fashioned, would have the strength of a regular plastic preformed one, but the one depicted doesn’t support the back and neck as much as I’d like.

    I wonder which burns faster, plastic or cardboard?

    Which causes most damage to the seat through continued compression?

    Which handles a spilt juice box, or leaky diaper better?

    Of course, how would you use the LATCH/ISOFIX hard mount points with a cardboard version?

  20. MSM, I have to admit I’m not as versed in the engineering properties of cardboard as you are, but even if cardboard is a safe material for car seats to be made out of (and yes, for all I know it may be), the fact that this seat has no harness and there’s no indication that the design has been crash-tested is still a problem. A car safety seat is really not something people should be whipping up at home. (No idea on the rest of the projects in the book, since I haven’t seen them–I have just requested my library system’s copy, so I’ll soon find out.)

  21. Whether or not the cardboard child seat is actually sturdy, will the police officer who pulls you over think that it meets legal safety requirements? They’ll probably take one look at it and call Child Protective Services.

  22. I think a few of you are taking this thing a little too seriously!

    The load bearing properties of cardboard may be ideal for a car seat, or not, but that isn’t relevant to this blog. Can we get one thing straight here: a book that is appropriate for a specialized audience (eg. engineers) may not be appropriate for Joe Public. Therefore, a book that is appropriate for an engineering or design school library may not be appropriate for a public library! MSM, your concern about “a librarian’s cursory knowledge of what “seems right”” shouldn’t worry you, because the public librarians are judging what seems right on their knowledge of the people in their community, as much as on the content of the book.

    But I digress… I think the submitter included this just as much for a laugh about how things have changed since the 70s. The kid in that picture might be strapping their own *grandkid* into a car seat today!

    1. actually, this book is for Joe Public! It’s for normal people to make furniture that is easily taken apart and moved. It’s a fun idea* and also a groovy flash back to hippie ideals.

      I have a similar book put out by Sunset Publishing which features a chair made of balloons and a cardboard box! and chairs made of car inner tubes (yeah, remember those?)

      *car seat totally excluded!

  23. That car seat has no head support. That tot would surely suffer a severe case of whiplash in an accident.

  24. To sum up the conversation so far
    1. Cardboard may be as strong as Plastic if used properly
    2. This book has neat ideas
    3. The car seat unfortunately not one of them.

    It shocks me that the publishers just didn’t remove that project from the new editions of this book, or just tweek it a bit by making it into a child’s chair instead of a carseat. It would be an easy enough fix.

  25. The overall concept is pretty cool. But it’s clear that the car seats of the 70’s (the few that were available) were just boosters so little kids could see out the window, not for safety.

    1. And yet it’s called a “safety” seat. That’s what I can’t exactly figure out. It isn’t even strapped in with seat belts, as best I can tell! I know there were slightly less safe concepts of safety in the ’70’s (my Mom rode me on her lap on a motorcycle when I was a tot), but I still don’t get it.

  26. of course the next logical step is to make the children *themselves* out of cardboard: it would be more “no hassle”

  27. Being a hippie-type myself, I actually really like the idea of this book but the cardboard carseat!! GAH!! So awful!

  28. It’s hard to believe that anyone over 50 is still alive, since we all rode in cars before there were car seats, or even seat belts. I can remember as a child in the ’60s riding in the back of my parents’ station wagon with the tailgate window open, waving at other drivers! That being said, I don’t start my car nowadays until all the passengers have fastened their seat belts.

  29. The car seat had me laughing yesterday when I first saw it, but suddenly became very relevant today when I opened Kidwrangling by Kaz Cooke and my eyes lighted upon questions #9 in the Parent Quiz : When a child weighs approximately 20 kilos, a safe car restraint should:
    a) be buckled up by someone in a less cranky mood than me
    b) come in a recent-model Mercedes provided by the government
    c) be constructed entirely from plastic dinosaurs that go “Raaarrghhh”
    d) be slightly less expensive than an aircraft carrier

    Unfortunately no, All-of-the-Above- but-Especially-b Option.
    Funnily enough nothing about cardboard kid seats either.

  30. What exactly is ‘nomadic’ about this furniture? Does it move around the house with the seasons?

    1. AlexB, it’s “nomadic” because it’s easy to build and lightweight or collapsible enough to move from place to place, or cheap/easy enough to discard and re-create in your new location. The authors had done a lot of overseas moving.

  31. Okay. So we all agree that the car seat idea wouldn’t meet the standards of Our Respective Cities’ Finest.

    I just went and looked at my library’s copy and I have to say – there was a good deal of useful stuff in there. I’ve seen some of their design ideas at the local IKEA, especially the “cubes” (as they call them) that show an office, a bedroom, an entertaining room or a kid’s play room well-organized into a small space. And several of the other designs could have been lifted straight off of During the period of my life that I moved every 2 years, this would have been an amazing resource.

    Not a weeder, IMHO.

  32. I absolutely adore this book!
    But I would totally weed this book from any public library collection, due to age, condition, relevance, and the need for space for new books. Although if its usage statistics were high I would look for a new edition, and fortuitously there is one. I certainly wouldn’t weed it based on a value judgement about the content though.
    Small public libraries are not meant to be the repositories of all human knowledge that is what the Library of Congress is for.

  33. I _do_ think I see a seat belt on the photo which passes from the inside of the seat to the outside of the seat and then goes inside again after an inch or so. The photo does not match the drawing (which was simplified by Jim). Therefore, on the drawing there’s a trapezoid shape on the “ends” pieces that appear to be made for a seat belt. That’s quite similar to some more recent designs for safety seats.

  34. There are 2 aspects to child safety seats. This is certainly not a capsule which you’d use with an infant but it could serve as a booster. The boosters aren’t just for the view, they are recommended these days up to 12 years old(!) so that seat belts go around the chest rather than the throat. Looking at this car though there are a bunch of safety issues. Not even the front seats have head support to counter whiplash of a rear-end collision! And the rear seats are more than likely equipped with only lap belts, if anything.

  35. I’d love to see more pictures of the designs,simply because some of these would be worthwhile. (certainly not the child’s car seat) Art and design classes still use these types of projects to design things like furniture and shelves,practical things for the home.
    It’s the cheap materials,and a great problem solving project.

  36. I bet it could be updated to get a lap/shoulder belt combo across and through. It’s pretty ingenious, really. As long as the toddler doesn’t have any pottying accidents…things could get mushy fast.

  37. Usually I love this site, but this made me really sad to see on here. My husband and I are in our late 20s and have both of these books and love them! We are DIYers and the step-by-step furniture instructions offered by these is awesome. There are some really great projects and illustrations in these. The author traveled a lot and gives helpful solutions to not having too much that is difficult to pack and having flexible furniture for small spaces. Of course the submitter would take the one super-dated project out of all of them to show it off. It is insulting that you think people who have a valid driver’s license would think this is safe. Seatbelts haven’t always been required or known to be necessary but seriously, don’t ruin this book because of one dated project. Also, I’m a graphic designer in a creative studio and everyone I’ve shown these books to love the so called “early-70′s designs and the difficult-to-read handwritten text.”

    And I’d like to point out that some people do actually like Ikea products. Check your facts. They aren’t all crap. We know people who have had Ikea couches for 20+ years and they are in better shape than the “namebrand” one my parent’s paid way too much for. Good design comes in all prices.

  38. -It is insulting that you think people who have a valid driver’s license would think this is safe.-

    Really? Judging by the way many people drive, a valid driver’s license isn’t indicative of intelligence (or lack thereof) in any way, shape or form.

    I do love my Ikea furniture, though!