ByChase Ezell

Sep 22, 2015

Renowned French architect Jean Prouvé once said, “Never design anything that cannot be made.” A simple statement on its surface, there appears to be much more going on behind — a passion for sustainability principles, perhaps.

Prouvé passed away in 1984, but furniture hacker Will Holman is carrying that same torch of resourcefulness deep into the 21st century. That DIY ethos is personified in Holman’s latest book, Guerilla Furniture Design: How to Build Lean, Modern Furniture With Salvaged Materials (published by Storey Publishing).

Guerilla Furniture Design: How to Build Lean, Modern Furniture With Salvaged Materials

So just what exactly is guerilla design? Holman defines guerilla design as a set of tactics for building lean, modern furniture out of salvaged materials.  The guerilla philosophy is anchored by four core components — economy, honesty, utility and beauty.

The education of a guerilla

Holman graduated from Virginia Tech in May 2007 with a degree in architecture. He then spent that summer searching for work in Baltimore, but ultimately came up empty-handed. Backpack in the backseat of his ’98 Corolla, Holman headed west to Arizona.  Go west, young man.

It was there that he landed and lived the following year at Arcosanti (Arco), an experimental community an hour north of Phoenix. Founded by Italian architect Paolo Soleri in 1970, Arco is described as a prototype dense urban system designed to produce its own food and energy.  Holman spent his time there digging around Arco’s four decades worth of construction debris, scrap metal, scaffolding and old cars.  It was there that Holman would weld, hammer and construct furniture using what others may consider to be waste. Disposable culture?  Not on Holman’s watch.

After a year at Arco, Holman headed back to Baltimore in search of work (again) ultimately landing at a custom cabinetry shop.  Holman describes his design sense as being ‘shaped by nomadism, recessionary economics, and a great abundance of America’s waste stream.’

Inventive design meets scrappy spirit

Pill Bottle Lamp

Guerilla Furniture Design spans 180 well laid out pages with chapters covering reuse and design using paper, wood, plastic and metal.  Using only low-tech tools and creative techniques, Holman outlines in beautiful illustrative detail how to recreate projects like:

  • A chair constructed of laminated cardboard sheets
  • A milk crate credenza
  • A pill bottle lamp (we love, love, love this one)
  • A scrap wood table
  • A license plate fruit bowl

Holman’s reuse of cardboard is particularly resourceful. When one thinks of cardboard, chair is generally not the first thing that comes to mind.  To construct it, he first takes corrugated cardboard and laminates it to Masonite sheets with wheat paste, producing a hybrid load-bearing assembly. The two parallel frames are then bridged with cardboard tubes forming his inspiring Cardboard Cantilever 3.0 chair.

Each of his bold, inventive pieces are functional, easy to assemble, economical and simple to break down and move – perfect for apartment dwellers and homeowners on a budget. Readers will likely begin seeing exciting opportunities for creative reuse in the materials otherwise cluttering the landscape around us. All it takes is a guerilla’s eye!

Holman is so passionate about reusing materials that he’s made the plans for many of his designs available for free on Instructables.

All imagery by (c) Kip Dawkins Photography. Used with permission of Storey Publishing.

By Chase Ezell

Chase has served in various public relations, communications and sustainability roles. He is a former managing editor for