This Little Piggy’s House – From the moment I saw their creative cardboard architecture I was determined to discover the origins of this eco-friendly company. This company is a great example of people who persevere and make their inspirational ideas come to life. Meet Waibun Lee, he’s an architect, small business owner and…Papa Piggy! – Tee
When and how did This little piggy’s house begin? Who came up with the design of the playhouses?
It began when my son was 9 months and I was home taking care of him. I cut open a cardboard box for him to crawl in and out of. Of course I wasn’t going to let him have all the fun, so I started adding things to the box, like a chimney and a mailbox. He looked on in amazement as I started making these other parts. I thought that if both of us could have so much fun with this box, other parents and their kids might too.
Why cardboard and what is the process of designing one of your playhouses?
I love cardboard. We used cardboard to create models when I was in Architecture School at UC Berkeley. It is strong, and when placed the right way, can hold a great deal of weight. At the same time, it is lightweight and can be very easy to cut with a matte knife. The corrugated edges are my favorite part – visually beautiful and functionally robust. Another appealing aspect is that it can be recycled once the project is done!
What testing did you go through to make sure that the playhouses would withstand the rough hands of little ones?
My son and my friends’ children and their playgroups were given the prototypes to “test.”
Does your child love to draw and build? Has he drawn on the house?
My son has drawn all over our cardboard playhouse (as well as the walls of our own home). I’ve come to realize that nothing is sacred in our house, everything is a canvas. At first, my wife and I would discourage him from drawing on the walls, to keep his scribbles on (relatively) small sheets of paper. When we aren’t watching, of course, he always chooses the walls, and it’s refreshing for us to see how very proud he is of his creations. With that in mind, he seems to have enjoyed having a large cardboard canvas of his own to decorate. And, when his cardboard house needs repair, it offers an opportunity for me to show him how to fix the playhouse (like how Daddy fixes things around our real house), and/or even add on to it.
What childhood hobbies did you have?
My sisters and I didn’t have many toys growing up, so we played with what was around us: boxes, pipes, improvising with everyday objects. My favorite thing to do was to build models of planes/ships/etc., then put them through simulated disasters. My sisters didn’t enjoy the last part as much.
With work, This Little Piggys House and your family life, you must be busy. What does an average day consist of?
I have a day job, I work at DES Architects + Engineers in Redwood City. I head the Visual Communications department. We make the ideas of our designers come to life in images and videos, so that clients can visualize and experience the finished design. My wife and I both have demanding schedules, but life is made easier with grandparents close by who help us tremendously.
I’m always thinking, “Why didn’t I think of that?” Most of my ideas never come to fruition. What advice would you give to moms and dads that need that extra push to follow through with their ideas?
I would say that fear of failure is probably the greatest obstacle to overcome. In my experience, success takes practice, practice, more practice, dedication and a lot of sweat equity. Knowing that there will be pitfalls along the way keeps me sane. When I run into pitfalls, I try to remember to reassess the situation, re-adjust my plan, and then move forward.
What are the stresses and pressures involved in running your own business?
I’m involved in every aspect of my business, and I’ve found that the most important thing in running a small business is delivering excellent customer service, and that is probably the greatest pressure of all. Despite the pressure, I’ve learned that small businesses are truly a vital part of our country’s economy, and I am proud to participate in this way. Especially during these difficult economic times, small businesses like mine can put many people to work, as we utilize services for shipping, materials manufacturing, advertising, PR and accounting – some of which are also small businesses themselves.
What steps do you take to live a eco-conscious lifestyle? Why was it important to you to create an eco-friendly product?
Living in California, it’s hard not to be eco-conscious. Aside from the everyday recycle and reuse, I drive a Volkswagen Jetta TDI that I fuel with BioDiesel. It gets great gas mileage (44-49 mpg) which offsets our family car – a minivan. We look first to buy things secondhand, and are conscious about finding new products that are made here in the US.
Five percent of all profits are donated to organizations that feed hungry children around the world. Are there specific charities that you donate to and why did you choose those?
I donate to the Feed My Staving Children. Fmsc.org. I chose them because they are able to utilize most of every dollar and have very low overhead. When you start your own business and spend time away from your kids working on it, money becomes ever more valuable. If you are going to donate part of your day to a charity, you want every single minute to go to the recipient.
I chose to focus on hunger because hunger seems like an easy thing to solve. There is so much food in our country. When I drive down Interstate 5 (in California) and see the rows of fruits and vegetables, I can’t believe that every day children die of hunger. Children have no voting power so they should not be punished because of politics.
What part does Lena and Sandy play in This little piggy’s house? Who has influenced you most and been your greatest inspiration?
Lena is my younger sister and Sandy is her best friend. They were an inspiration – they started their own store on etsy.com. I thought it was great that they realized a dream, to sell products that they believe in and make themselves.