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 is 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 making furniture because it provides a bigger canvas for her imagination.

The former arts publicist learned how to make the furniture 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 learnt everything, I went back for a top-up session because it is quite complicated. It is 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. The great thing is to align it in the right direction."

She works mainly on commissions, often from friends and family and the process can take about two weeks from start to finish, even when she is working on it full time, and depending on whether it is painted or covered with collage.

It is covered with several coats of clear sealant for protection and she says its sturdiness is proved by the amount of cardboard furniture they managed to move back to Oxford when they sold up in France.

Before moving abroad she had lived in Oxford for almost 20 years, forging a career as an arts publicist after starting 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 at Stratford-upon-Avon.

She became a familiar figure in the Oxford arts scene after going freelance while her children were young, working 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 found his hobby of wood sculpting was taking more and more of his time.

He left his job — he had spent 25 years teaching children excluded from mainstream schools — and in 1994 they bought a derelict wine grower’s mansion in the Languedoc region and spent three years renovating and transforming it into a centre for cultural activities, offering courses from opera singing to script writing to yoga, sculpture, pottery, painting, comedy and jazz.

It became an artist’s retreat, playing host to painters, dancers, actors, sculptors and writers from all over the world.

Ms Russell, 64, said: “It was wonderful, but such hard work. After we sold up we realised that living in France when you are not working was not quite the same."

They returned to Oxford in 2012, moving to HIll Top Road, where they soon made their mark on the area with an array of wooden penguins on the shed roof.

“We are not trying to compete with the Headington shark," she insisted.

Nicola has discovered cardboard furniture is even less well known in Britain than it is in France. “Nobody here has heard of it. It's not that common in France, but people have heard of it. I want to spearhead a cardboard recycling movement.

"My problem is that you need really thick cardboard, and it is not easy to get hold of. I did a child's desk for someone just before Christmas and I had to double up thinner cardboard because I couldn't get hold of the right stuff.

"We do not have nearly as much space here as we did in France, so I need a commission and then I have to find the right kind of cardboard that will suit it."

While she usually works with cardboard and Teddy with walnut and fibre-board, they are both happy to try other materials.

A 'time flies' clock is a joint effort, featuring a bird with cardboard wings and papier mâché beak, while children, grandchildren, friends and neighbours have contributed to a collection of decorative snails in their front garden.

And the tree just outside the kitchen window seems to be growing a collection of exotic fruit.

"We have a pineapple, grapes and oranges, and people now send us bits of fruit. We got one parcel the other day full of cherries and tomatoes. “It is all plastic I am afraid," she admitted.