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Return to overview 30 April 2024

FestivalChairs in Meeting Magazine!

Technically it’s brilliant, a stool that can carry 223 times its own weight. Yet the greatest strength of FestivalChairs lies not in its – albeit proven – practical utility, but in its marketing value. “If there’s a nice imprint on it, people take them home,” says inventor Tim Várdy. He made cardboard furniture sexy and even if it were to be discarded, it’s fully recyclable.


Text: Aart van der Haagen


Entrepreneurial spirit, a knack for trade, musicality, and creativity rarely come together. The exception to the rule is Tim Várdy, an energetic entrepreneur who conquered the world in the past 25 years with a marvel of ingenious simplicity: a foldable cardboard stool. The FestivalChair. “Actually, that name doesn’t quite cover it anymore, because it’s used for 99 percent at corporate events. Well, given the brand’s recognition, let’s leave it at that. I also find it a funny reference to the origin. In the late nineties, I was studying classical piano at the conservatory in The Hague. For years, I had been a regular visitor to the North Sea Jazz Festival, which was then held in the congress building. I noticed that there were no chairs in various halls and you couldn’t buy them anywhere. The spirit of trade had always been in me, and I thought, ‘What if I have cardboard stools made, suitable for printing?’ I hired an industrial designer, found a manufacturer who produced 6000 units at my request, and rented two stands at the North Sea Jazz Festival 1999, where I stood selling them with my five best friends for three days and three nights.”

Leg broke off

Even then, Várdy noted how the possibility of printing bore fruit. “That’s how I managed to secure the public broadcaster NPS as the main sponsor, to be able to repay the production costs in advance. I really freaked out when one of the stools had a leg break off. What did I know about cardboard anyway? The quality of the production models turned out not to be as strong as that of the prototype. Fortunately, the users showed creativity by tearing off the other three legs so they could still sit on them for hours. Of course, I took this into account in the further development, resulting in a European and American patented version with a load capacity of at least 200 kilos under flat load. You can even stand on it, while the stool itself weighs only 896 grams. You can pick it up with one of the handles and take it to another room. Handy for workshops, for example. Anyway, at some point, Zomercarnaval Rotterdam ordered 4000 units. I only found out much later that it was submitted to the International Festivals & Events Association in America and won an award there as the best marketing tool.”

Red Dot Design Award

It was raining accolades, from winning the prestigious Red Dot Design Award in 2013 to orders from renowned companies like O’Neill, Philips, Nike, and ING, which filled the Amsterdam ArenA with 5000 FestivalChairs. Nowadays, the feather-light stools are popping up all over the world at events, printed in a thousand and one different layouts. Várdy: “That immediately creates a really cool atmosphere and makes a substantial contribution to the overall decoration. Truly super cool, and from a marketing perspective, it naturally provides fantastic opportunities, especially when guests later take the stools home and spread the brand. We also supply them in white and brown, especially for workshops where participants paint them themselves or write a message on them, for example, as part of a team-building activity. It even happened once that the CEO of a large company demonstrated on stage how to assemble the FestivalChair and then hundreds of people in the audience followed that example within a minute. That creates a special dynamic and immediately acts as an icebreaker.”

Golden Rule

In addition to the original Classic model, FestivalChairs has been offering the XL type since 2009, which with its taller construction is suitable for long sits. The cardboard legs seemed to grow up to the sky, but the coronavirus crisis abruptly stalled the demand for the stools. “Fortunately, we had already tapped into the consumer market with the Dutch Design Chair and were in the midst of developing the Dutch Design Storage Box,” says Várdy. “I think you’re doing pretty well as an entrepreneur when one out of six things you try turns into a success, and that was the case here.”

On one front, FestivalChairs didn’t need to reinvent itself: sustainability. “Long before everyone was talking about it, we were already producing stools that are one hundred percent recyclable with an FSC certification, and we have them partly assembled in social workshops. We also show our social commitment by sponsoring music events, with exclusive concerts under the name Jazzclub Ha(a)rlem at our own office, near the Adriaan Windmill. Naturally, everyone sits there on cool stools with matching prints.”

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