Design Your Life: The Pleasures and Perils of Everyday Things
Last Thursday, dazed by the crushing realism of Christmas shopping in New York, I found myself standing in front of a glass case stocked with dozens of stainless steel objects in the Cooper-Hewitt Design Shop—salt shakers, letter openers, garlic crushers, and an amazing tray made by “rumpling” a single flat sheet of gleaming metal into a cratered surface for displaying tapas. Whether designed in Italy, Finland, or western Connecticut, anything crafted from stainless steel looks like Design, with a capital D. Who needs curlicue-encrusted silver plate when you can serve up your salad with sleek steel flatware conceived by the likes of Achille Castiglioni?
Then, my eye fell on a tiny match safe, arranged in a vignette with a variety of “smoking accessories”—ash trays, cigar cutters, and the like. (The doom-and-gloom of the financial crisis may be bringing the world’s favorite addiction back in style in NYC.) I don’t smoke, but I do use a lot of matches. This little German match safe, less than half an inch thick, is made from stainless steel bonded with leather. Designed to slip into a gentleman’s pocket, it holds a dozen or so wooden matches. Standing there in my shitty winter coat, I imagined myself on Christmas Eve, gliding around my living/dining area before the guests arrive, banishing some doom here and some gloom over there as I light tea candles scattered tastefully among sprigs of evergreen and steel platters laden with tiny, handcrafted hors d’oeuvres.
At sixty-five bucks, surely the match safe constitutes one of the “affordable luxuries” that people are still buying this year, along with iPods, eau de cologne, and cartons of Marlboro Lights. But before asking the white-gloved attendant to fetch me a match safe from the locked case, I thought again. Is not the simple cardboard matchbox with the little drawer that opens and the sheets of flint paper glued to its sides one of the great design icons of the twentieth century? Is it not a piece of supremely functional packaging, serving not only as shipping carton and marketing device but also as a tool intrinsic to the use of the object inside? Did not this brilliant little piece of ephemera not obviate match safes altogether, relegating them to the world of gentlemanly preciousness? Is it not joyous enough to light candles on Christmas eve with matches from a cardboard box?
Indeed it is.— Ellen Lupton · 2008-12-21