Ground Condition #10

Lukewarm gossip and holiday shopping

What Did Small Wooden Stools Ever Do To You?

Design world spats made public are infrequent—partially because it’s a close-knit scene and partially because coverage tends to skew towards championing things rather than criticizing them. A couple of weeks ago, writer Max Lakin threw down the gauntlet in a piece for SSENSE, maligning the design cognoscenti’s predilection for collecting small stools and other folk art. (Diana Budds recapped the drama well, ICYMI.)

I’m not going to get into it* except to say that I am always fascinated by discussions of value. Value is inherently subjective, and while one person may consider $650 for a “set of vessels” to be price-gouging, another person may consider those pieces of handcraft akin to fine art—and priced as such. Lakin himself links to an $800 giclée print peddled by Crate & Barrel that purports to find inspiration from “ancient artifacts.” Shelling out that same budget at Ssense might get you a tassel keychain, a Margiela beret, or a men’s parka.

If you want to be an accountant about it, one way to look at something’s worth involves potential resale value. Is there a secondary market for a piece of handcrafted furniture? What about a secondhand designer-label hat? An unsigned, mass-produced art print?

To me, relative worth looks like a multi-dimensional axis plotting numerous highly subjective value points: scarcity of said object, length of time pining for it, recent design research rabbitholes, emotional reaction for or against current trends. The things I treasure most in my own sphere represent a constellation of points along those axes: the Noguchi lamp I have yet to find in our moving boxes, a leather Fogia armchair, my great-grandmother’s bar glasses, an Italian comic book of furniture (literally titled Humor Furniture Graphic) from 1963.

Ultimately, there’s no set market value for such treasures. So why try to dunk on someone enamored with small wooden stools, unless you lack a serious passion of your own?

*OK just one thing: While the screed in question first read as a hit piece on two gallerists in particular, upon further review this reader feels like the author is more Mad At Instagram™️ than anything??? Discuss.

(Holiday) Shopping

And now, a short and sweet gift guide. I’m sure each of you lovely, virtuous people is making and requesting donations, volunteering on the holidays, and sending handwritten notes to far-flung loved ones. But if you enjoy elf-ing as much I do, here are a few modest things to give and receive this season—or any season.

Candles are one of those things you always wish you had bought for yourself but never bother to. HAY’s spiral tapers ($28) are a festive, frothy iteration in shades of icy green.

Totes may not be the most earth-shatteringly inventive present out there, but have you ever stashed one away thinking, This is just too nice to use? Unlikely. Ergo, a solid gift every time. This denim number ($38) from Chaparral Studio is my current fave since 🙃 is both my favorite emoji and a generally apt pictogram for 2020.

The MoMA Design Store is a motherlode for gifts both precious and playful. I’m partial to these visual measuring cups ($26) designed by Pam Daniels (honestly, ingenious) and a “smush” crayon ($6) that comes in three different artist palettes (go for the Alma Thomas).

I am powerless to resist a Christmas tree bedecked with food ornaments, and this caviar blini by Chefanie ($45) is so perfectly frivolous I can’t stand it. Vestige, out of Philly, always has a delectable selection of food ornaments; this year I’m eyeing the purple cabbage and sardine tin ($18 each).

I love Bormioli (we rotate among three heights of the flat-bottom drinking glass at our house) and these sturdy, stackable wine glasses (a set of six for $36!) are blowing me away. Food52’s product selection blows me away in general, so do peruse.

I’ve already mentioned how obsessed I am with Phaidon’s The Best of NEST compendium ($70 on sale at ABC Home). Consider another Phaidon title for the informed architecture skeptic in your life: Radical Architecture for the Future, by former Metropolitan Museum curator Beatrice Galilee, which promises “surprising, beautiful, outrageous, and sometimes even frightening” projects whose merits you can happily debate. On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, I just received Standard Manual’s Parks book ($55 from Parks Project) as a gift and boy howdy, does it deliver!

Listen, I put a doormat on my wedding registry so I don’t think it’s at all strange to give someone something to wipe their dirty feet on. A new homeowner, perhaps! This dash-printed semi-circle version ($30) from West Elm is appropriately affordable and on-trend.

Finally, for your pal who enjoys online drama and/or gravitates toward the rustic, Etsy has a boatload of small wooden stools. Just sayin’.

And what do I most want this holiday season? I’ll start with better image formatting and photo captioning in Substack, thankyousomuch. I’m also lusting after Philippe Malouin’s Arca lamp, which Matter has introduced in an irresistible, portable mini LED version ($275):

Programming Note

Some news: This Monday, I’ll be starting a new job as Global Editorial Director at Herman Miller. (Following in the footsteps of many a former Dwell staffer who have worked at the Michigan-based company!) A few years back, I got to know Herman Miller once my pal Amy Auscherman came onboard as corporate archivist. And in 2016, I visited HM headquarters for Curbed; you can read that feature story here. I’ll continue writing on an occasional basis—including this newsletter and other freelance assignments—though bear with me, since adjusting to full-time work with a toddler in the house is going to require some recalibration.

Odds and Ends

Speaking of Herman Miller, Amy brought some Big Archive Energy to gonzo fashun newsletter Blackbird Spyplane this week. Design writer Sarah Archer launched a newsletter of her own, America at Home, which you should absolutely subscribe to. Salone 2021 is pushed back until early September… and what with recent vaccine developments, I’m optimistic this may actually happen!? As far as gift guides go, Everyday Oil’s under-$30 indie picks are surefire winners. And Thanksgiving may be over, but attack turkeys are forever.

Take care out there,
Kelsey