How to build your own furniture and live like a nomad


In 1974, way before Marie Condo and the KonMari Method, there were 2 hippie designers who wrote a book called Nomadic Furniture. The two authors are Victor Papanek who was born in Vienna and James Hennessy an American designer. The book is entirely made by hand from the sketching to the text. Event the book publishing house branding at the beginning of the book is done by hand almost as a statement of self reliance and independence which are 2 ideas exhuming from the book.

Before showing some great examples of smart design, they first wanted to show that the objects you own can be easily grouped in 3 piles:

  1. the things you need
  2. the things you don’t need (things you could do without)
  3. things of sentimental value, that you owe because they mean something to you, not because you need them.


Underneath, some of their designs that I think are absolutely awesome. Here are the reasons why they are awesome:

  1. They use minimum new resources and use a lot of elements that already exist in a household like trays of planks of wood
  2. They think about the entire lifecycle of the product: what resources would you use, how difficult it is to produce each part, how difficult it is to put it together, how easy it is to stack the parts and save space in a transportation wagon, how comfortable and easy to use they are, how easy it is to disassemble them and recycle the parts?
  3. The use of raw materials that can be found anywhere and recycled after use.

Here are my favourite designs:

Their “Living cube”idea which is kind of a “indoor tent” . It offers great flexibility and independence from the environment in which you exist. Here are some variations on how you could use it.

Another 2 favourite designs of mine are the “Slide in” table and chair. They use no glue or bolts and only flat planks of wood that lock in together. They are easy to disassemble and transport as well as recycle. The production time and process is minimal and the lost material equally so. Brilliant!


Finally a table made of 2 frames and trays of different depths. IT is highly flexible and can be used for a variety of situations from eating to turntable.


A lot of their resourceful ideas can be seen in some of the IKEA furniture designs today so they were not completely lost but it’s a pity that in 40 years, their ideas have not been more widespread.

The simplest way to cut down storage is to own less.

Unfortunately Victor died, but James is still talking about these ideas. One of the exhibitions he made was at MAK (Museum of Angewandte Kunst) in Vienna: Nomadic Furniture 

There are other designers that have been inspired by their ideas. Very similar is this book by Van-Bo Le-Mentzel, an architect and designer based out of Berlin. He has a blog called Harzt IV Moebel . He puts freely online plans and “How to” blog posts about building your own furniture and even has designs for a 1sq m house. Here are my favourite designs.