The Etsy Blog

Guest Curator: Design Research with Alexandra Lange

Etsy.com handmade and vintage goods

bio_lange.jpgAlexandra Lange is a critic, journalist and architectural historian based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in The Architect’s Newspaper, Icon, Metropolis, New York Magazine and The New York Times. You can find her writing about architecture, parenting, film and much more on her blog, hosted by Design Observer. Her most recent book, Design Research: The Store That Brought American Living to Modern Homes, is a beautiful history of how common items in our homes were introduced to America by one man.

Architect Benjamin Thompson initially practiced as a member of The Architects Collaborative — a firm created with Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius — designing a number of small, modern houses for families in the Boston suburbs in the 1940s and early 1950s. As he helped his clients furnish their homes, he realized they needed a place to buy the sofas, tables and china that would suit their new, open-plan lifestyle. He began buying his favorite pieces in Europe and America, and his small showroom in Cambridge, Massachusetts grew into the first Design Research store (more colloquially known by its abbreviation, D/R) in 1953. He would later open stores on 57th Street in New York City and Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco, each filling a striking building with more items for the contemporary home of the time.

GC_DR_store.jpgThe Design Research store in Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1969. Image from Ezra Stoller/Esto

As I researched the book with my co-author Jane Thompson — Ben Thompson’s widow and partner in his architecture and planning firm — I found myself wanting many of the objects. One chapter in the book, “A General Store of Good Design,” reads like the most fabulous catalog of all time. Though you can’t completely recreate the atmosphere of the D/R stores, you can still find many of the store’s wares on Etsy.

GC_DR_2b.jpg[Clockwise from top left: Marimekko patchwork silkscreened shirt from 123plie, Marimekko Jokapoika Shirt from cheapopulence, Marimekko Picnic Blanket from SewnNatural]

If people know D/R for nothing else, they know it for Marimekko. Ben Thompson saw the brightly patterned cotton dresses and fabrics at the Finnish Pavilion at the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels. He imported them to the USA the next year. There they coincided with the incipient feminist movement, freeing women from girdles and pantyhose, serving as an unofficial pregnancy uniform for many women in Cambridge. There’s lots of Marimekko on Etsy and most of it new. I usually prefer the vintage pieces — the quality of the cotton is much higher — and the vintage patterns, which are more graphic.

GC_DR_3.jpg[Clockwise from top left: Butterflies baby/toddler booties by cazhoffy, lula dress by mette, Amy Butler Lotus Fabric from fancypantsfabric]

Marimekko is still in business and creating new patterns, some of which have the verve of the old designs. The company has also inspired many contemporary designers, including Anna Sui, Amy Butler, Alexander Henry, and others working with large-scale prints and bright colors.

GC_DR_6.jpg[From top: Tapio Wirkkala Festivo Candlestick Holders from fabulousmess, Tapio Wirkalla Ultima Thule Glass Bowls from fabulousmess]

GC_DR_4b.jpg[From left: Finel Mushroom Enamelware Bowl from alamodern, Small Finnel Kettle from FoundVintageStyle]

Along with Marimekko, D/R also imported a number of other Finnish products, including Finel’s classic enameled kitchenwares and lots of Iittala glassware. I love Tapio Wirkkala’s Ultima Thule line, which looks like glasses have melted out of blocks of ice, giving it a quirky natural quality.

GC_DR_5.jpg[Four Petal Red Enamel Earrings by jewelrybymichal]

You can see Finel (and Marimekko’s) influence in much of the enamel jewelry that turns up on Etsy today, making use of bright colors and bold shapes.

GC_DR_7.jpg[From top: Mid Century Danish Modern Armchair from artebella, Teak Wood Salad Set from lynneamariedesigns]

In the 1950s D/R was also known for its import of Danish design, which included many teak accessories and bentwood furniture by Hans Wegner. Benjamin Thompson mixed the soft Danish teak with harder-edged American furniture made by Knoll and Herman Miller.

GC_DR_8b.jpg[From left: Dansk Jens Quistgaard Tiny Taper Holder from Recy, Arabia of Finland Marmalade Jar from Pliable Trade]

Comfort was always important to Thompson, along with the quirks of handmade objects. He particularly liked the Arabia Valencia china pattern, which looks like folk art but was designed in 1960 by Ulla Procope. Dansk, an American company that employed Danish designer Jens Quistgaard, also capitalized on the Scandinavian craze with lines of teak, enamel and metal housewares.

GC_DR_9.jpg[Clockwise from top: White Joe Colombo Boby Cart from thevintagedesignco, Seven Super Heller Massimo Vignelli Bowls from bitofbutter, Vintage Tupperware Mugs from queenofthegypsies]

In the 1960s, the warm modernism of Scandinavia had become widely known, and Thompson and his team moved on to the next new thing — Italian design. The products he chose were just as cleanly designed — casual and useful as the pieces from the north, but made of modern plastics, rather than wood. Many of the lines he sold, in china, wood and plastic, stacked for greatest efficiency, like these Heller melamine bowls designed by Massimo and Lella Vignelli.

GC_Lange_Chemex_2.jpg[Chemex Pyrex Carafe from Avant Garage]

GC_DR_11.jpg[Vintage Plastic Amac Boxes from Cosasraras]

Thompson did not believe all good design had to have a pedigree and often picked up inexpensive and useful things at markets from Mexico to Malta. He sold Peter Schlumbohm’s 1941 Chemex coffee maker with a minimum of moving parts (Pyrex carafe, bentwood grip, leather tie). He also carried the plastic boxes that every girl I knew growing up in the 1970s kept on her bureau. They were originally intended for pills.

Under the D/R name, Thompson also designed a line of furniture made in pedestrian butcher block, believing it would hold up in college dormitories for the same reason it made such excellent cutting boards. This furniture rarely turns up for resale, but everyone can use a good-looking cutting board.

GC_DR_12.jpg

Thanks so much to Alexandra for sharing her design insights. Check out her blog and her most recent book, Design Research: The Store That Brought American Living to Modern Homes.

 

 

Past Guest Curators | Shop Vintage

  • kawaiiktsch

    kawaiiktsch says:

    great designs, love the cutting board!

    4 years ago

  • bootmeister

    bootmeister says:

    ooh, I love everything!

    4 years ago

  • choisette

    choisette says:

    suddenly, i find the idea of being an architectural historian strangely appealing.

    4 years ago

  • myvintagecrush

    myvintagecrush says:

    Never knew! Those are some great items there!

    4 years ago

  • sonyarasi

    sonyarasi says:

    Love this! It is so awesome. I knew this wonderful woman who worked there. She later worked with me in Concord MA when I was manager of a store that started to carry Marimekko and iitala.

    4 years ago

  • accentonvintage

    accentonvintage says:

    Great article! Scandinavian design never gets old!

    4 years ago

  • SewnNatural

    SewnNatural says:

    This is a fascinating piece - full of our very favorite designs and influences... we're honored to have one of our picnic blankets included. Thank you!

    4 years ago

  • outofline

    outofline says:

    Love the little lula dress:)

    4 years ago

  • vKnit

    vKnit says:

    wow beautiful things!! xox

    4 years ago

  • CathodeBlue

    CathodeBlue says:

    This is amazing! Never knew about that store! Great article/info.

    4 years ago

  • vakvar

    vakvar says:

    I used to wander around that D/R store in Cambridge! I wanted everything! Still do! Great to see it, again. Thanks so very much!!

    4 years ago

  • vitamini

    vitamini says:

    What a great article! I love Marimekko (and everything else Scandinavian, for that matter)!

    4 years ago

  • MegansMenagerie

    MegansMenagerie says:

    Great finds! Thanks so much for sharing!

    4 years ago

  • hypericumfragile

    hypericumfragile says:

    Great items! I love Tiny Holder Taper!

    4 years ago

  • polkadotmagpie

    polkadotmagpie says:

    Absolutely my bag. Some many designs that so good they are timeless. Fabulous finds. Thanks!

    4 years ago

  • CarryTheWord

    CarryTheWord says:

    Wonderful things!

    4 years ago

  • TheAndersonGuild

    TheAndersonGuild says:

    My mother would love this article.

    4 years ago

  • baconsquarefarm

    baconsquarefarm says:

    Nice look...great finds too.

    4 years ago

  • paramountvintage

    paramountvintage says:

    i absolutely love the thule glass bowls and danish chair. great picks!!!

    4 years ago

  • grandmamarievintage

    grandmamarievintage says:

    What a beautiful building! I love how bold all of these pieces are! Great stuff, indeed.

    4 years ago

  • dinosaurdrygoods

    dinosaurdrygoods says:

    My parents loved this stuff when I was a kid and they have now given me several of those very same items for my own home. Cool!

    4 years ago

  • Mclovebuddy

    Mclovebuddy says:

    wonderfuln - love slick modern especially joe colombo's strong lines, glossy finish, and high practicality in home items. thanks for the article. :)

    4 years ago

  • TheVintageDesignShop

    TheVintageDesignShop says:

    Great article by Alexandra Lange on Design Research and its influence. So many beautiful, inspiring design objects in this piece! :)

    4 years ago

  • Parachute425

    Parachute425 says:

    Wonderful article, Alexandra. Book marking your blog. So many of these pieces are so familiar to me. Fun stuff.

    4 years ago

  • crystalworld

    crystalworld says:

    This is amazing!

    4 years ago

  • itbaus

    itbaus says:

    True design and arts is forever contemporary!

    4 years ago

  • itbaus

    itbaus says:

    masterpieces are timeless no matter what!

    4 years ago

  • paperdesigner

    paperdesigner says:

    beautiful things!!

    4 years ago

  • lindaketelhut

    lindaketelhut says:

    Very interesting + insightful read. The store looks wonderful - would have loved to have seen that! Will love to explore this book. Thank you!

    4 years ago

  • theroyal

    theroyal says:

    this stuff is totally radical dude!

    4 years ago

  • SavoyFaire

    SavoyFaire says:

    Love the house and story of this great visionary!

    4 years ago

  • blueskyclouds

    blueskyclouds says:

    I can't wait to read this article a little later when I have time....

    4 years ago

  • Evajune

    Evajune says:

    I love The Design Research store in Cambridge.

    4 years ago

  • daydreamjewels

    daydreamjewels says:

    Love everything!!! Thanks for sharing :)

    4 years ago

  • customwatch

    customwatch says:

    very cool design.... I Like it!

    4 years ago

  • overthemeadow

    overthemeadow says:

    Very interesting and fun post. Thanks for the great info!

    4 years ago

  • overthemeadow

    overthemeadow says:

    That cutting board is gorgeous!

    4 years ago

  • knitfitt

    knitfitt says:

    It was an inspiring store for a young artist like me back then. Part of what made Cambridge the epitome of intellectual hipness.

    4 years ago

  • odiliafu

    odiliafu says:

    I love Marimekko. Scandinavian designs are always modern and neat.

    4 years ago

  • coolstuffartgallery

    coolstuffartgallery says:

    Great Article! Cool designs.

    4 years ago

  • hankietankie

    hankietankie says:

    Aaaah, the refinement of simplicity, more work than meets the eye! Lovely article & picks! xox

    4 years ago

  • Floreal

    Floreal says:

    Great article.....brought back the good ol days in Architecture school.. ahh! :)

    4 years ago

  • SunnyDayVintage

    SunnyDayVintage says:

    Good design is timeless. 'Nuff said!

    4 years ago

  • DalkullanJewelry

    DalkullanJewelry says:

    Arabia of Finland makes lovely things, I've inherited some pieces from my mother and aunt, and greatly treasure them! Thanks for a wonderful article!

    4 years ago

  • bigDAYpartyshop

    bigDAYpartyshop says:

    I'll be adding the book (and some of the Etsy items) to my wishlist! Great article!

    4 years ago

  • strawberryluna

    strawberryluna says:

    Great GREAT article, thank you so much. Marimekko is my ultimate all time favorite, and this concise but very detailed history of the D/R genesis is really illuminating. Great choices to illustrate your article and points as well. Thanks bunches!

    4 years ago

  • modernrepeat

    modernrepeat says:

    Great design selections!

    4 years ago

  • Jusadreamin

    Jusadreamin says:

    GREAT I LOVE EVERYTHING THANKS

    4 years ago

  • strawberryluna

    strawberryluna says:

    ps - i grew up in the 1980s and i had those little boxes too, loved them!

    4 years ago

  • salvageshop

    salvageshop says:

    what a wonderful read. reminds me why i decided to study architecture :)

    4 years ago

  • diaxeirosjg

    diaxeirosjg says:

    reminds me mostly of modern art, Nice store!

    4 years ago

  • dasweetzpot

    dasweetzpot says:

    I love the photographs! Great story! Good luck in everything you do.

    4 years ago

  • KrisHandmadeDesigns

    KrisHandmadeDesigns says:

    Great looking cutting boards!

    4 years ago

  • WorkDayDesign

    WorkDayDesign says:

    Everything is just so beautiful... oh my this article has made me happy XD love the Finel mushroom bowl :P lovely stuff... Thanks so much for this article :) loved it

    4 years ago

  • ikabags

    ikabags says:

    This is amazing!

    4 years ago

  • SchneiderGallery

    SchneiderGallery says:

    Fantastic ideas, so creative!

    4 years ago

  • pipapiep

    pipapiep says:

    Very nice!

    4 years ago

  • LittleWrenPottery

    LittleWrenPottery says:

    Great style I love finnish design! Its so simple and striking beautiful :)

    4 years ago

  • DesiCloe

    DesiCloe says:

    lovely designs!

    4 years ago

  • 711laurakay

    711laurakay says:

    nice and simple does it!

    4 years ago

  • lovelygifts

    lovelygifts says:

    Very nice!

    4 years ago

  • TheWinglessDesigns
  • Baymut

    Baymut says:

    love all designs!!! Soo pretty!

    4 years ago

  • thestapeliacompany

    thestapeliacompany says:

    The Design Research Store looks like my high school... only cooler. Love it.

    4 years ago

  • thelittlemarket

    thelittlemarket says:

    Wonderful article with so many great items featured!!! Thanks you!!

    4 years ago

  • Colettesboutique

    Colettesboutique says:

    So many great designs! I love the cutting board.

    4 years ago

  • jarabas

    jarabas says:

    Thank you for a good read and some memories. I have wondered through the DR store many times back in the good old Harvard Square days of the seventies.

    4 years ago

  • tinyearsjewelry

    tinyearsjewelry says:

    the Danish armchair is really cool! Casey @ tin years

    4 years ago

  • cazhoffy

    cazhoffy says:

    What a great article!! Really interesting and some great designs included, i love the wood salad set!!

    4 years ago

  • carlossantiago

    carlossantiago says:

    i love the store in cambridge, I wish it was a designer's market destination during the winter. it is beautiful building.

    4 years ago

  • pinkbijou

    pinkbijou says:

    Amazing!

    4 years ago

  • thevintagesupplyco

    thevintagesupplyco says:

    I love it! So happy to be included in this article!

    4 years ago

  • PaperAndBooks

    PaperAndBooks says:

    Simple, clean and it feels so right.

    4 years ago

  • PaperAndBooks

    PaperAndBooks says:

    Simple, clean and it feels so right.

    4 years ago

  • breadandroses2

    breadandroses2 says:

    Fabulous! I agree that vintage Marimekko is far superior both in quality of their quite substantial weight cotton fabrics and graphic design. I made a baby quilt in the 80s from early 70s Marimekko fabric bought in their Rochester, NY store. It's seen heavy use as a floor mat, crib quilt and has been a dragged about blankie. It still looks nearly new and the saturated hues are unfaded after many machine washings, too. Simply amazing. Quality vintage trumps new reproductions every time!

    4 years ago

  • gretchenmist

    gretchenmist says:

    great article + finds ~ can completely understand how you'd be wanting things! sounds like a fun book to have worked on :)

    4 years ago

  • jackiedretroboutique

    jackiedretroboutique says:

    Mildly interesting article and comes up a little short on insight. Despite throwing in some photos from etsy sellers, this posting reads like one long advertisement for the author's book (the title of which is incredibly bombastic.. but that's another story). I'm not impressed. Just my 2 cents.

    4 years ago

  • kdfein

    kdfein says:

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    4 years ago

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    4 years ago

  • kdfein

    kdfein says:

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    4 years ago

  • BlkSheepProductions

    BlkSheepProductions says:

    thanks for the intro in general but, especially to the marimekko fabric prints! beautiful!

    4 years ago

  • kmwatkins

    kmwatkins says:

    Great choices!

    4 years ago

  • NaturalBamboo

    NaturalBamboo says:

    nice item,nice design!!!

    4 years ago

  • surfandsand

    surfandsand says:

    Love the Danish modern chair!

    4 years ago

  • GreeteH

    GreeteH says:

    Love those items!:)

    4 years ago

  • GreeteH

    GreeteH says:

    Love those items!:)

    4 years ago

  • yangyuqi

    yangyuqi says:

    Design is very interesting!

    4 years ago

  • FoundVintageStyle

    FoundVintageStyle says:

    I couldn't be happier, appearing in this article! thank you~

    4 years ago

  • kudfue

    kudfue says:

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    4 years ago

  • GracefullyGirly

    GracefullyGirly says:

    I loved those little boxes when I was a kid! I'm STILL kicking myself for getting rid of our Danish modern chairs that I didn't realize were worth a pretty penny.

    4 years ago

  • FavreBijoux

    FavreBijoux says:

    Loved that store. It was always on the list of places to go whenever I visited NYC.

    4 years ago

  • MadebyLinLin

    MadebyLinLin says:

    very cool products! www.madebylinlin.etsy.com

    4 years ago

  • BackyardBrand

    BackyardBrand says:

    Hey, I've got that coffee carafe! But the leather rotted and broke. Hope I saved the wood parts...

    4 years ago

  • Ebrown2503

    Ebrown2503 says:

    A really well written and entertaining article for the new year! Invite Alexandra more often!

    4 years ago

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    147 days ago