Furniture that disappears - a profile of CSAIL spin-off Rock Paper Robot

Rock Paper Robot just launched a line of transformable furniture that folds flat.
Rock Paper Robot just launched a line of transformable furniture that folds flat.
Bookmark and Share

Designing chairs and tables isn't exactly rocket science, but Jessica Banks has the creds to make you think that's the case. After earning a master's degree from MIT, where she was in the Humanoid Robotics Group at the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, and teaching in the university's civil and environmental engineering department, she left academia and founded the furniture company Rock Paper Robot.

Banks opened up shop in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and started developing pieces with technical twists. Her Float table, for example, is composed of wood cubes that seemingly hover in air. That bit of visual trickery comes courtesy of tensile cables and what the company describes as "classical physics applied to modern design."

"Furniture was an unchanging genre of artifacts," Banks says of her motivation to add a mechanistic element to tables and chairs. At the most recent International Contemporary Furniture Fair, New York City's annual design show, she introduced two new pieces: the Ollie table and chair.

Far from wanting to design for novelty's sake, Banks set out to solve a common problem when it comes to static objects: versatility. "I was trying to design a surface that someone can use anyway they want or at any length," she says. The Ollie table mounts vertically against a wall, rolls out when it's needed, and discreetly folds back when it's not. When closed, it sticks out less than four inches so it meets ADA requirements for commercial spaces. The frame is made from sturdy and lightweight aluminum and the top can be customized.

The furniture makes the most sense in space-starved apartments is the most obvious, but Banks sees more applications. "Even if you don't have a small place, you might want a humongous banquet table one day or a shorter one the next and for your furniture to accommodate all those situations," she says.

Full story in Fast Company here: