If you think cardboard furniture sounds about as much use as a chocolate teapot, then Nicola Russell would urge you to think again.
She said: “It’s extremely sturdy as well as being light. And the beauty of it is that it uses recycled material.”
Her enterprise, Cardboard Creations, makes bowls and mirrors as well, but she loves furniture making because it provides a bigger canvas for her imagination.
The former arts publicist learned how to make it in France, where she and her husband Teddy Hutton moved in 1997 to open an arts activities centre.
“We sold the business a few years ago and stayed on for a while.
“We had always done silly little arty things and belonged to a walking group. One day we walked to an old linen factory with a model village and discovered a workshop where a woman was creating this remarkable furniture.
“I was completely gobsmacked that using recycled cardboard was possible.
“It took me three months to learn the technique.
“We had to do everything from the concept and design through to the painting.
“After I had learned everything, I went back for a top-up session, because it is quite complicated. It’s not something that you can do in a day.
“You have to learn how to use it and how to make something that is structurally sound.”
She works at her home in Hill Top Road, Oxford, mainly on commissions, often from friends and family.
The process takes about two weeks, even when she is working on it full-time.
Before moving abroad, she had worked in Oxford for almost 20 years as an arts publicist, after starting her career in the advertising department of London listings magazine Time Out.
Having landed a job at Birmingham Repertory Theatre, she moved to Oxford Playhouse, then the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon.
After going freelance while her children were young, she worked for Music at Oxford and Garsington Opera as well as the Playhouse, plus Welsh National Opera, Cheltenham Festival of Literature and the Royal National Theatre.
Meanwhile, Teddy’s hobby of wood sculpting was taking more of his time.
He left his job after 25 years teaching children excluded from mainstream schools – and in 1994 they bought a derelict French mansion, transforming it into a centre for courses from opera singing to yoga, sculpture and jazz.
Mrs Russell, 64, said: “It was wonderful, but such hard work.
“After we sold up, we realised that living in France when you’re not working wasn’t quite the same, so we moved back.”