Bleeding Edge Furniture Technology
While there’s a certain novelty about space-saving, transforming furniture–dining rooms that tuck into floors, automated, disappearing bedrooms and so on–its impact on architecture can be real and profound. It might double or triple the utility of a given room, leading to diminished real estate needs, leading to less sprawl, leading to less driving, less waste, smaller carbon footprints and a shot of mitigating the profound damage humans have done to the planet (sorry, but it’s true). It’s an impact big enough to warrant big brains and focus, which is exactly what furniture upstart RockPaperRobot is all about. RPR was founded and is run by Jessica Banks, who holds a PhD in robotics from MIT, a pedigree that shows up in RPR’s new Ollie line of transforming furniture.
Previously, RPR had focused mostly on designing and producing high end furniture that, through creative engineering, appeared to defy the laws of physics–tables that seemed to levitate or rest on a pinhead. These pieces also defied most people’s furniture budgets. While they continue to produce these premium products, Banks wanted to make furniture that was more accessible functionally and financially to more people, which is how Ollie was born.
“We saw a number of trends such as urbanization and the desire to live life with less stuff and more experiences,” Banks told me about the Ollie line’s inspiration. She also saw how the phenomenon of FOMO [fear of missing out] could apply to the objects in our lives. “Most furniture is like, “If I buy this, I can’t do this,’” she said. For example, if I have this full-sized dining table, I can’t have open space to do yoga. “We asked ‘Why should furniture prevent us from doing what we want to do?’”
The Ollie line includes a table, stool and chair, all of which effortlessly transforms from full-sized furniture into super slim storing proportions, giving rooms double and triple functionality. The furniture is both lightweight and sturdy (a rare combination I’ve found). Aesthetically, I would call it industrial chic. The customizable slats are easily swapped to match a room’s decorative needs.
Beside the obvious residential applications, Banks told me that they have been discussing using the furniture in commercial spaces in order to optimize for traffic patterns. For example, a coffee shop with a ton of foot traffic in the morning could deploy Ollie tables in the middle of the day for loitering freelancers (the author knows of which he speaks).
I asked Banks if her robotics training helped in designing the collection. “Definitely,” she replied. “The tables are more like a transmission than tables. They’re highly engineered with 60 moving parts and 300 total parts. We had to make everything work together and calculate for forces.”
RPR is currently readying the tables and chairs ready for production and says they will be taking orders in three months for the chairs and six for the tables (they will also do custom manufactured pieces anytime you want).