Build your own recyclable furniture with Grid Beam

Over the years, I’ve moved at least a dozen times. Assembling, disassembling and reassembling desks, bed frames, and bookshelves–most of which was never meant to be disassembled. Frequent relocation like this isn’t uncommon, especially for younger people moving out on their own for the first time.

Entire businesses have been built around selling furniture that people assemble themselves, and only expect to use for a few years. Sure, you may take it with you to your next apartment. It might even survive two moves. But eventually, you’ll replace it with either another inexpensive piece, or something more permanent. The dumpsters in the alley behind my apartment usually have a couple discarded tables or bookshelves.

But there may be a more economical way.

The idea has been around since the 70’s, but seems to be gaining more popularity now. The concept is that you use a few standard modular components that can be assembled, disassembled, and reconfigured in numerous ways to create whatever structure you need at the moment. When you’re finished with the item, you take it apart and easily store, give away, or construct something else with the pieces. An erector set on a human scale.

There are numerous possibilities. Everything from temporary furniture to animatronic holiday decorations, and just about any other temporary structure you can think of.

If you have younger kids, you can help them build a fort in the back yard. A teenager going off to college or getting a first apartment can easily construct a portable bed, desk, or shelving unit. A young couple buying a first house can quickly and inexpensively furnish several rooms with pieces to be replaced with nicer furniture over time.

Admittedly, it’s not for everyone, but if you’re interested in learning more, check out the Gridbeamers website, or the book, How to Build with Grid Beam.

20 Comments for “Build your own recyclable furniture with Grid Beam”

  1. posted by Mike on

    I think we all know who will probably take the lead in selling this excellent new modular furniture…

    “Ikea! (Ikea!)
    Just some oak and some pine
    And a handful of Norsemen.
    Ikea! (Ikea!)
    Selling furniture for
    College kids and divorced men.
    Everyone has a home,
    But if you don’t have a home,
    You can buy one there!”

    -Jonathan Coulton, “Ikea”, 2004

  2. posted by Tim on

    How very depressing and dreary. It looks like some sort of totalitarian government program that rations you a certain amount of lumber and hardware on your eighteenth birthday for you to construct your life’s possessions. “Explain this decadent, uni-tasking, non-modular, upholstered chair, comrade? Can you do anything but sit on it? Are you so selfish that you would deny the state these valuable recourses when the glorious republic has issued you a more than generous pile of sticks and screws? You have enough material to make a desk OR a chair if you wish. I suppose next you will want two spoons for your household. Sniff! Such luxury! Such waste! I bet you have three pairs of pants.”

  3. posted by Sheryl on

    While it might work out OK for that fort in the back yard or a dorm room, it just doesn’t scream “homey” or “comfortable” to me.

    “A young couple buying a first house can quickly and inexpensively furnish several rooms with pieces to be replaced with nicer furniture over time.”

    Yuck. No.

    I’d rather go the thrift store and buy some comfy, cheap used furniture and “recycle” it when I don’t want it any more, than use this ugly “pile o’ sticks” stuff.

  4. posted by Rue on

    Am I the only one who doesn’t dissamble furniture when I move? The only thing I’ve ever actually taken apart was the bed frame, just because it’s too big and awkward to actually move while put together!

  5. posted by Sheryl on

    @ Tim – LOL!!!

  6. posted by Ruth on

    There is nothing about Ikea furniture that means it has to be thrown away after a few years. Irresponsible people will always buy more than what they need and dispose of what’s left in an irresponsible manner. That’s because they are irresponsible.

    “A young couple buying a first house can quickly and inexpensively furnish several rooms with pieces to be replaced with nicer furniture over time.”

    How is this different to how many people use Ikea furniture, then?

    Basically, I don’t understand how this is different to building your own fit-for-purpose but kinda ugly furniture (which is not terribly harder than putting together Ikea furniture, in my experience). I originally misunderstood the parts and thought that you purchased them pre-drilled. But why drill all the holes in advance? It just makes the furniture ugly while it is being used (and it has a cluttered appearance!). There is nothing stopping anyone dismantling furniture they don’t want any more and rebuilding it into something they do want, even if they didn’t design the original furniture for that purpose.

  7. posted by tabatha on

    i kinda of like these, i guess i’m the only one. i had to take apart the few pieces of furniture i brought with me on my last move b/c they had to fit in my car or my boyfriends car, everything else i gave away. i did trash two bookshelves that were falling apart b/c no one wanted them, but they had been given to me when my mom got nicer ones and they got plenty of use.

  8. posted by patty on

    In addition to Isaacs at the same time another book was published; Nomadic Furniture. Not much better looking stuff, but a little.
    When I first graduated college my job required me to move every three or four months. My dad designed and built some furniture based on British Campaign furniture and safari furniture which lasted years and was quite good looking. Plus my whole apartment fit in a small U-Haul when I moved and could be set back up in one long day.

  9. posted by Mikey's mom on

    Antiques = Used furniture = recycling = cheap & will increase in value

  10. posted by chacha1 on

    Well, I happen to think it’s clever, and that there may well be a certain population for whom this is a very good solution. Let’s face it – we don’t NEED furniture at all. Millions of people live without it.

    The aesthetic objections to Gridbeam are valid, but utilitarian products are by definition designed for optimal utility, not optimal loveliness. It would be very easy to dress this stuff up to suit the individual’s taste.

  11. posted by joss on

    @ Rue I don’t take my stuff apart either other than the bed frame for the same reason you gave

    @ Ruth I agree. We’ve had a love seat from IKEA since Feb 2003 that’s only just now starting to get a little less comfortable (it’s been our only seating not counting 4 dining chairs) and it’s been with us in 6 different residences. In fact the only IKEA furniture that hasn’t survived is two dressers, one because the drawers warped and the other was a casualty of moving (dropped down a flight of outdoor stairs. Whoops.)

  12. posted by Heron on

    Hey – I remember that decade!

    What is actually rather clever about this stuff is the way the three-member connections should (if the holes are drilled VERY accurately) result in a stable construction with out using diagonal braces.

    The aesthetics, of course, suck. Might look a bit less tooth-picky with 2x3s, though that may mess up the proportions/joints.

  13. posted by Richard | RichardShelmerdine.com on

    I was thinking “Ikea” all the way through this article. It’s really great, minimal looking (which is nice) and pretty cheap too. Fill your boots!

  14. posted by Greenhoof » Blog Archive » Gridbeam: The Ultimate in Recycling, Reuse and Downloadable Design on

    […] of stuff. We have looked at recycling and repurposing and reusing things in different ways. But the Unclutterer reminds us of a fascinating idea from the seventies: building everything out of a standard […]

  15. posted by Beth on

    I’m really digging this concept. I have to get this book!

    When I was a kid, Legos and Tinkertoys were my favorite toys, and now that I’m a mom, they definitely still are. Newer modular toys like Automoblox, Trio and Zoobs also have a prominent presence in our home.

    I see no reason not to tweak the specs of the gridbeam basics if you don’t like the look of them. Imagine a deck/pirate ship/rocket/etc built outside using 4x4s. Picture a non-weight bearing buiding kit (marble run or toy castle?) put together using PVC tubes. Why not cover the framing pieces using rubber cement and wallpaper, wood veneer, craft paper, fake fur, or whatever suits your taste (or lack of it)? The unlimited build and finishing possibilities are quite thrilling to consider.

    I must be a gridbeamer at heart.

  16. posted by Gridbeam: The Ultimate in Recycling, Reuse and Downloadable Design : Green Resouces on

    […] of stuff. We have looked at recycling and repurposing and reusing things in different ways. But the Unclutterer reminds us of a fascinating idea from the seventies: building everything out of a standard […]

  17. posted by Shalin on

    Love it! :) I think I’ve got ideas for some front/back patio furniture now! :)

  18. posted by Feed2Flash » Gridbeam: The Ultimate in Recycling, Reuse and Downloadable Design on

    […] of stuff. We have looked at recycling and repurposing and reusing things in different ways. But the Unclutterer reminds us of a fascinating idea from the seventies: building everything out of a standard […]

  19. posted by Bill on

    I really like this idea. Can’t get it out of my mind. Anyone can build their own stuff beds, houses. Yes I want to build a house out of gridbeam and alumimum cans/flashing.

  20. posted by n on

    Actually, this system could use some kind of standardized covering, some kind of grid-beam skin system, something to add a sheer side (rather than holes) or color or texture differences to all that hole-punched wood and steel…

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