Interview: Trent Mayol of SmartDeco

The fellas at SmartDeco Furniture are thinking outside the box…no pun intended….taking a material most of us don’t really think about other then when we are packing boxes or ordering a pizza, and have begun making some pretty cool furniture from it. In fact, since cardboard is so lightweight and strong, yes strong, there are tons of things it can be utilized for besides what these guys are doing. Because of the arcs of the corrugated middle layer, there is a major load capacity that cardboard can withstand. And by adding some well thought-out and angles, you can get some pretty amazing, sturdy and cool looking stuff at a VERY affordable price. We caught up with SmartDeco’s Trent Mayol to find out a bit more about how he got started.

How did you get started in building with cardboard? What was the impetus to get you going?

I spent 3 summers working for corrugated fiberboard and paper companies. One, Visy Board, is an international, fully vertically integrated powerhouse based in Australia. The other, Pacific Southwest Container, is our current manufacturer. During this time I gained first hand experience on every step of the process. I studied and tested it in a laboratory, shadowed machine workers, and worked in design. I gained a deep appreciation for the substrate and also a strong understanding that it was terribly underutilized.

The impetus was this belief that paper substrates are underutilized combined with that fact that I couldn’t stand dealing with furniture.

I moved 5 times while I was in college and hated each time more than the next. You get to school and you just want to see your friends and get ready for school. But instead, you have to drive to a giant furniture store, wander around, spend too much money, and then waste hours on tedious assembly. Similarly, when the year is over, the last thing you want to deal with is moving that same furniture. To be honest I would usually just throw my furniture off the roof at the end of the year.

When I came back to school for my final semester, after having spent the summer in Australia immersed in all things cardboard, I realized there was a better solution. SmartDeco was born.

What are some common misconceptions about cardboard that you found through your development? Anything that surprised you?

All cardboard is not created equal. Just as tissue paper is not the same as computer paper, there are also different grades of cardboard with immensely different levels of structural integrity. The difference in all types of paper lies in the length, orientation, and density of fibers as well as the bonding agents and machine processes.

All SmartDeco produces use the highest quality fibers, made on the most technologically advanced machines. It’s like superboard.

If you want to get even deeper, our products aren’t really cardboard. Cardboard is a general term for pieces of paper stuck together. Our collection, and lots of high grade packaging, is made from corrugated fiberboard. The difference lies in a fluted middle liner. Might seem basic, but this small change adds tremendous structural integrity. When standing vertical, the flutes act as columns. This disperses the weight over a larger area and prevents the board from folding over on itself. When lying flat, the flutes act as arches- the strongest way to span a given space. It’s this high grade board that 1000 lb. engine parts are shipped in. Overall, we just want to gain people’s interest so that they might learn what an amazing, sustainable, and strong substrate corrugated fiberboard actually is.

But we still call it cardboard…

How do you accomplish the weight to strength ratio using only cardboard? What is the comparison between cardboard and say wood or particle board?

The weight to strength ratio is a combination of scrutinized engineering and the use of high quality material. We worked with a phenomenal team of designers and engineers with a combined 150 years of experience between them. Every fold, angle, and beam that you see on a piece of SmartDeco went through multiple stages of design, prototyping, and testing.

The weight difference between our products and wood/particle board products is unbelievable. The Intellidesk weighs only 11 lbs. and was tested to hold 580 lbs! Similarly, the SmartDresser weighs just over 20 lbs and holds 620 lbs. So unless you’re walking around in gold plated 600 lb. clothes, which would be awesome, SmartDeco products are more than strong enough to suit your needs.

What is the typical lifespan of a piece of your furniture? Are there any alternatives for what it can be once it’s lifespan is up?

With proper care the lifespan is anywhere from a year and a half to a million years. But we understand college and young/fun lifestyles so we suggest a lifestyle of a year or two. We’ve kept our price points low enough that if you won’t break the bank if you want to just recycle it rather than move it.

US made, recyclable and low-cost look to be your main objectives, which seem like a great thing in today’s economy. How do you think other companies can look at what you guys are doing and possibly transfer that into their own project or business?

Amen! Today’s consumer is smarter. They’re given so many choices and bombarded by so much junk that companies need to find a way to connect with them on a more personal level. We’re proud Americans and we believe there is a certain level of quality and craftsmanship that comes with American made products. Customers who feel the same way want to associate with us. And we’re seeing that happen. The same goes for being eco-friendly. So where other companies might see a slight increase in manufacturing cost or extra work, we see an opportunity to connect with our customers. And we get to do what we think is right. Which is nice.

There are other cardboard furniture companies out there…what makes yours different?

Science and listening to our customers. The intricate engineering that went into the design of our product maxes out the structural integrity and the ease of assembly. But we weren’t settled with what we thought. We released our first line and then stayed connected to our customers to see what they thought. We found there were 2 small steps in the assembly process that some people were having trouble with. We immediately fixed them and released a new line. Now assembly is ridiculously easy. People are loving it and we love hearing it. We’re always interested in having conversations with and getting to know our customers so stop by our Facebook page and say hi!

Any plans for future pieces outside of just furniture?

We love what the guys at www.cardboardsafari.com are doing. But for now, we just want to perfect what we’re doing.

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