Nomadic Furniture

Image: Domus.

Image: Domus.

The 1970s was a golden era for DIY furniture manuals. One of the best is Nomadic Furniture, a 1973 book by designers Victor Papanek and James Hennessy. 

Papanek and Hennessy are gifted designers. Nomadic Furniture contains instructions for cardboard seats, bookshelves, lamps made from milk jugs, hexagonal dining sets as well as a two page hymn to the waterbed (ok, not sure about that thoughtstyling). The subtitle of the book sums it up, “how to build and where to buy lightweight furniture that folds, inflates, knocks down, stacks, or is disposable and can be recycled.” You can see more of their work thanks to a recent retrospective of their work in Vienna.


My favorite project in the book is the series of “knock-down living cubes” made from 2 x Douglas fir and plywood. There’s one for kids, one for work, another for entertaining (which features quadraphonic speakers!) and, my favorite, the relaxation cube.

To decorate our 1920s bungalow with furniture this kind of groovy furniture would be like taking grandma shopping at American Apparel–cool in a cognitive dissonance sort of way, but a bit too edgy to wrap my head around. A set of hexagonal stools, on the other hand, might make a nice addition to my new hexagonal garden beds.

Many thanks to Kendra for giving me a copy of this book. I should also note that there is a Nomadic Furniture 2 and 3. And you can watch a lecture by Hennessy:

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  1. I have copies of both volumes 1 and 2. A real blast to thumb through these and imagine days when finding a place to store your vinyl collection was a real concern.

    In college I built the structure where you construct a V-shaped frame and hang various living components off of it. The idea was great and people loved looking at it, but in practice it was a pain in the rear end.

    It’s nice to see other people enjoyed these books as much as I did nearly forty years later.

  2. Having just swapped coasts twice, the idea of nomadic furniture is dear to my heart at the moment, even if this exact style isn’t my cup of tea.

  3. 1973~~I had a neighbor who made all his furniture. His wife insisted I come tour the home. It was hard to stay positive and not show the pain on my face. However, I do admire the ingenuity and industry of these people. The key to these–sandpaper, sandpaper, sandpaper.

    • Ha! There was a similar reaction to the couch I built that was quietly replaced with something from Ikea.

  4. I wonder if the reactions here run along gender lines i.e. the men think its wonderful to be inventive and practical with this non-traditional approach to furniture vs the ladies who won’t looked beyond the first (superficial) impressions? I’d built many items at home and was proud of my inventions … but my wife’s first reaction invariably was …. “it’s ugly!” (never mind the problems they solved). I think woman prefer beauty over function (e.g. makeup, high-heels, handbags etc) , and men prefer the opposite (tools, hikers, backpacks etc.).

  5. Hi everyone,

    Wondering if anyone has plans for the reading cube pictured at the top of the page? I have Nomadic 1. The plan does not appear in it and I’ve not had any luck with Google. The basic structure seems pretty simple to replicate from the photo but I’m curious as to the construction of the seating. Any help would be much appreciated. Cheers!

    • I couldn’t find the cube but I did find the desk in the Sketchup warehouse. Knowing how these two architects worked I’d guess that the cube is 4-feet square.

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