A couple of years ago, artist and designer Ian Stell was attending a show on the Memphis Group at New York City's Joe Sheftel gallery when two pieces he'd never seen before caught his eye. They were oddly proportioned roll-top desks designed by the Japanese designer Shiro Kuramata.
"That typology [of a roll-top] was one I’ve never played with," says Stell, who describes his work as typically involving an unusual negotiation between the piece and the user (see his transformable Femten stool or accordion-like Sinan table). "I walked outside the exhibit and looked at roll gates on the shops and thought of the roll-tops—then threw in a roller coaster while I was at it. And that’s how it was born."
Stell is referring to his latest work, RollBottom, a mutable piece of furniture in which the roll-top of the desk also doubles as the seat of a chair. Now on view as a part of Chamber gallery's Progressland show, curated by Andrew Zuckerman, Stell's desk is built on a steel framework that takes its typology from a roller coaster track. When the tambour is opened to expose the desk, it slides along the metal tracks and can be latched to the other end to form the seat of the chair.
Stell, who usually works in wood, wanted the chair to have an industrial quality to it, so that it looked like something that could exist outside. He galvanized the steel in zinc and designed the tambour with leather and metal to look similar to a bullet belt. The most challenging aspect of the design—which took about a year to finalize—was locking the seat in, a problem which he solved with a small array of teeth at the top that keep the chair stable.
The piece will be up at Chamber until August, but, alas, will never be manufactured—Stell says it's a one-off only.