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Guest Curator: Design Research with Alexandra Lange

Dec 22, 2010

by apl212

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

marimekko jokapoika shirt
marimekko jokapoika shirt
Sold
Beautiful butterflies baby shoes/booties
Beautiful butterflies baby shoes/booties
Sold
lula : modern girl dress
lula : modern girl dress
$56.00 USD
Reserved listing for mintdesign
Reserved listing for mintdesign
Sold
60s Mid Century Modern TAPIO WIRKKALA Set of 5 FESTIVO CANDLE STICK Holders
60s Mid Century Modern TAPIO WIRKKALA Set of 5 FESTIVO CANDLE STICK Holders
Sold
60s TAPIO WIRKKALA Ultima Thule GLASS BOWLS
60s TAPIO WIRKKALA Ultima Thule GLASS BOWLS
Sold
Finel Kaj Franck Mushroom Finland Bowl Arabia Vintage
Finel Kaj Franck Mushroom Finland Bowl Arabia Vintage
Sold
Sold
Reserved for RIGATO ANNA  yellow Earrings Flower Resin and Sterling Silver-Four Petal
Reserved for RIGATO ANNA yellow Earrings Flower Resin and Sterling Silver-Four Petal
Sold
Dansk Jens Quistgaard Tiny Taper Holder - Cast Iron
Dansk Jens Quistgaard Tiny Taper Holder - Cast Iron
Sold
Vintage Mid Century Modern White Joe Colombo Boby Cart
Vintage Mid Century Modern White Joe Colombo Boby Cart
Sold
Vintage Tupperware Mugs UNUSED Harvest Colors Stackable
Vintage Tupperware Mugs UNUSED Harvest Colors Stackable
Sold
Chemex Pyrex Carafe by Dr. Peter Schlumbohm
Chemex Pyrex Carafe by Dr. Peter Schlumbohm
Sold

95 comments

  • kawaiiktsch

    kawaiiktsch said 6 years ago

    great designs, love the cutting board!

  • bootmeister

    bootmeister said 6 years ago

    ooh, I love everything!

  • choisette

    choisette said 6 years ago

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

  • myvintagecrush

    myvintagecrush said 6 years ago

    Never knew! Those are some great items there!

  • sonyarasi

    sonyarasi said 6 years ago

    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.

  • accentonvintage

    accentonvintage said 6 years ago

    Great article! Scandinavian design never gets old!

  • SewnNatural

    SewnNatural said 6 years ago

    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!

  • outofline

    outofline said 6 years ago

    Love the little lula dress:)

  • vKnit

    vKnit said 6 years ago

    wow beautiful things!! xox

  • CathodeBlue

    CathodeBlue said 6 years ago

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

  • vakvar

    vakvar said 6 years ago

    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!!

  • vitamini

    vitamini said 6 years ago

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

  • MegansMenagerie

    MegansMenagerie said 6 years ago

    Great finds! Thanks so much for sharing!

  • hypericumfragile

    hypericumfragile said 6 years ago

    Great items! I love Tiny Holder Taper!

  • polkadotmagpie

    polkadotmagpie said 6 years ago

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

  • CarryTheWord

    CarryTheWord said 6 years ago

    Wonderful things!

  • TheAndersonGuild

    TheAndersonGuild said 6 years ago

    My mother would love this article.

  • baconsquarefarm

    baconsquarefarm said 6 years ago

    Nice look...great finds too.

  • paramountvintage

    paramountvintage said 6 years ago

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

  • grandmamarievintage

    grandmamarievintage said 6 years ago

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

  • dinosaurdrygoods

    dinosaurdrygoods said 6 years ago

    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!

  • Mclovebuddy

    Mclovebuddy said 6 years ago

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

  • TheVintageDesignShop

    TheVintageDesignShop said 6 years ago

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

  • Parachute425

    Parachute425 said 6 years ago

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

  • crystalworld

    crystalworld said 6 years ago

    This is amazing!

  • itbaus

    itbaus said 6 years ago

    True design and arts is forever contemporary!

  • itbaus

    itbaus said 6 years ago

    masterpieces are timeless no matter what!

  • paperdesigner

    paperdesigner said 6 years ago

    beautiful things!!

  • lindaketelhut

    lindaketelhut said 6 years ago

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

  • theroyal

    theroyal said 6 years ago

    this stuff is totally radical dude!

  • SavoyFaire

    SavoyFaire said 6 years ago

    Love the house and story of this great visionary!

  • blueskyclouds

    blueskyclouds said 6 years ago

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

  • Evajune

    Evajune said 6 years ago

    I love The Design Research store in Cambridge.

  • daydreamjewels

    daydreamjewels said 6 years ago

    Love everything!!! Thanks for sharing :)

  • customwatch

    customwatch said 6 years ago

    very cool design.... I Like it!

  • overthemeadow

    overthemeadow said 6 years ago

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

  • overthemeadow

    overthemeadow said 6 years ago

    That cutting board is gorgeous!

  • knitfitt

    knitfitt said 6 years ago

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

  • odiliafu

    odiliafu said 6 years ago

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

  • coolstuffartgallery

    coolstuffartgallery said 6 years ago

    Great Article! Cool designs.

  • hankietankie

    hankietankie said 6 years ago

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

  • Floreal

    Floreal said 6 years ago

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

  • SunnyDayVintage

    SunnyDayVintage said 6 years ago

    Good design is timeless. 'Nuff said!

  • DalkullanJewelry

    DalkullanJewelry said 6 years ago

    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!

  • bigDAYpartyshop

    bigDAYpartyshop said 6 years ago

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

  • strawberryluna

    strawberryluna said 6 years ago

    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!

  • modernrepeat

    modernrepeat said 6 years ago

    Great design selections!

  • Jusadreamin

    Jusadreamin said 6 years ago

    GREAT I LOVE EVERYTHING THANKS

  • strawberryluna

    strawberryluna said 6 years ago

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

  • salvageshop

    salvageshop said 6 years ago

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

  • diaxeirosjg

    diaxeirosjg said 6 years ago

    reminds me mostly of modern art, Nice store!

  • dasweetzpot

    dasweetzpot said 6 years ago

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

  • KrisHandmadeDesigns

    KrisHandmadeDesigns said 6 years ago

    Great looking cutting boards!

  • WorkDayDesign

    WorkDayDesign said 6 years ago

    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

  • ikabags

    ikabags said 6 years ago

    This is amazing!

  • SchneiderGallery

    SchneiderGallery said 6 years ago

    Fantastic ideas, so creative!

  • pipapiep

    pipapiep said 6 years ago

    Very nice!

  • LittleWrenPottery

    LittleWrenPottery said 6 years ago

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

  • DesiCloe

    DesiCloe said 6 years ago

    lovely designs!

  • 711laurakay

    711laurakay said 6 years ago

    nice and simple does it!

  • lovelygifts

    lovelygifts said 6 years ago

    Very nice!

  • TheWinglessDesigns
  • Baymut

    Baymut said 6 years ago

    love all designs!!! Soo pretty!

  • thestapeliacompany

    thestapeliacompany said 6 years ago

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

  • thelittlemarket

    thelittlemarket said 6 years ago

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

  • Colettesboutique

    Colettesboutique said 6 years ago

    So many great designs! I love the cutting board.

  • jarabas

    jarabas said 6 years ago

    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.

  • tinyearsjewelry

    tinyearsjewelry said 6 years ago

    the Danish armchair is really cool! Casey @ tin years

  • cazhoffy

    cazhoffy said 6 years ago

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

  • carlossantiago

    carlossantiago said 6 years ago

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

  • pinkbijou

    pinkbijou said 6 years ago

    Amazing!

  • thevintagesupplyco

    thevintagesupplyco said 6 years ago

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

  • PaperAndBooks

    PaperAndBooks said 6 years ago

    Simple, clean and it feels so right.

  • PaperAndBooks

    PaperAndBooks said 6 years ago

    Simple, clean and it feels so right.

  • breadandroses2

    breadandroses2 said 6 years ago

    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!

  • gretchenmist

    gretchenmist said 6 years ago

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

  • jackiedretroboutique

    jackiedretroboutique said 6 years ago

    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.

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  • BlkSheepProductions

    BlkSheepProductions said 6 years ago

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

  • kmwatkins

    kmwatkins said 6 years ago

    Great choices!

  • NaturalBamboo

    NaturalBamboo said 6 years ago

    nice item,nice design!!!

  • surfandsand

    surfandsand said 6 years ago

    Love the Danish modern chair!

  • GreeteH

    GreeteH said 6 years ago

    Love those items!:)

  • GreeteH

    GreeteH said 6 years ago

    Love those items!:)

  • yangyuqi

    yangyuqi said 6 years ago

    Design is very interesting!

  • FoundVintageStyle

    FoundVintageStyle said 6 years ago

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

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  • GracefullyGirly

    GracefullyGirly said 6 years ago

    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.

  • FavreBijoux

    FavreBijoux said 6 years ago

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

  • MadebyLinLin

    MadebyLinLin said 6 years ago

    very cool products! www.madebylinlin.etsy.com

  • BackyardBrand

    BackyardBrand said 6 years ago

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

  • Ebrown2503

    Ebrown2503 said 6 years ago

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

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