From Honeycomb To Paper Art

Design Studio Molo Pushes the Proverbial Envelope with Their Fluid Paper Designs

11 years ago, after Stephanie Forsyth and her husband Tod MacAllen finished architecture school; they ditched their design build work jobs and decided to take a step back from client work. The outcome? An effortlessly beautiful design studio was formed. Molo Design. “We wanted to take time out and become students again, we sold all of our tools we were building houses with, and just started creating.”

What followed next was something the couple wasn’t expecting. After selling their tools as a result of having to get by, Stephanie and Tod began creating tiny models out of paper, as this was the only material they had to hand “We didn’t have the things we usually use when we make things, and we’re makers. It was difficult to begin with.”

As the time came to swap out the paper for more traditional materials, the creation of a freestanding wall made entirely of tissue paper changed everything. “We didn’t expect it to do what it did, it was bout 60 feet long, and we couldn’t believe it!” Despite a shaky start, Stephanie and Tod began to work with more durable paper, and Molo Design was born.

We caught up with Molo’s Stephanie Forsyth during this year’s designjunction in London to get more insight on the humble beginnings of Molo, and just how the designs work.

The Plus: What was the initial concept when creating Molo?
Stephanie Forsyth:
I think one of the things we were really interested in was flexibility in all different types of buildings. For example being able to fold away a bedroom, to give some space back to the family. We were interested in the idea of architecture being about buildings with good bones, but the things inside of them were living and moving and constantly changing. Just like life is constantly evolving. We wanted to create things that were able to shift and transform as people worked or lived in different ways.

TP: You started with tissue paper, what kind of paper do you use now?
The paper we use is 50% recycled cardboard boxes, and 50% northern tree paper, Northern trees have long fibers as they grow slower, which is what gives the pieces such durability. If we used 100% recycled material the fibers would be too short so they would break down.

We have three materials, so in addition to the paper, we have the one we use for the lights, which is polyethylene. They can get wet; they’re extremely resistant and can’t be ripped if you tried. The third material is something we’ve developed that uses PET. It’s the same plastic that’s in water bottles. We try to keep all of the materials we use at 100%, so that at the end of its life it can easily be recycled. Everything is meant to be long term and not a disposable product. We also use a non-toxic salt-based fire retardant on our products.

TP: How do you clean it?
It’s self-cleaning actually, dust usually falls through, or when you fold it up, the air rushes through and pushes dust outwards. The material is also antistatic so it doesn’t attract it. Getting it wet doesn’t destroy it either, it just goes a little wavy but structurally it’s fine.

TP: What are the largest and smallest objects you’ve ever made?
That’s a good question! We’ve built walls that we’ve dry stacked as a structure up to 20 feet. The smallest product we’ve made is probably the smaller lighting fixture we’ve created.

TP: How did you get the idea to use the honeycomb method?
Honeycombing is actually used in many places. However a lot of the honeycomb in the world is hidden, like in the hollow of a door, you won’t see it but it’s doing a very important structural job.

TP: Is the portability a big factor for you?
Yes absolutely. We ourselves were quite nomadic when we were designing it, so that’s another thing. You put value into your space, and you want to be able to take that value with you.

TP: What’s your favorite thing about your work?
I think it’s the fact that while being flexible and versatile, it’s abstract enough too. There are so many people from different aesthetic backgrounds interested in our work. It’s amazing. We’ve sold to the army, to churches of many denominations, to high-end fashion houses. I think creating something that both the army and Hermes would buy is quite fascinating!