This week, the Museum of Modern Art’s Design Store welcomed journalists into its Soho location in New York to preview the latest haul of one-of-a-kind tchotchkes that it plans to sell this coming spring.
This twice-a-year tradition is pretty much the opposite of the Consumer Electronics Show. The MoMA store has no interest in convincing you that you need a 4K TV or a self-driving car. But the collection does pride itself on finding all the strange, utterly impractical, and artistically inspired household items made by independent designers that may have slipped through the cracks while mainstream brands were busy comparing pixels.
Below is a brief sampling of some of our favorites, picked for their simplicity, humor, relation to House of Cards, or unconventional rearing. Look for them online and in stores this spring.
1. David Shrigley Frisbee: $22
(Photos by Darren Weaver/Yahoo Tech)
British visual artist David Shrigley is well known for the wry messages that accompany his entertaining sketches. This one, printed on a frisbee that resembles a vinyl record, is just as clever. Buy it for your favorite music snob as a reminder that there’s more to life than rare Prince records.
2. My New Flame: $600
If someday all the world’s bees die and we no longer have access to wax, you’ll at least have this thing to light your dinner table. My New Flame, an unconventional centerpiece by German/British designer Moritz Waldemeyer, is cut from raw circuit board, complete with microprocessors that power a 256-LED screen at the tip of the object. The display is meant to mimic a real candle flame, using an algorithm that programs it to reproduce a natural flicker of fire that won’t repeat the same movement twice.
(Wonderful digital light art is one of Waldemeyer’s specialties. Check out some of his work here). The latest edition is USB rechargeable, too. Welcome to the 21st century, candlelight.
3. Cake Server: $35
Cake cutting is an art, though no matter how delicately you handle a serving knife, it always seems as though your dessert’s elegance crumbles by the time it reaches your plate. No longer, with this genius little tool: Squeeze the handle to brace the sides, and transfer your perfectly-cut slice to your plate. Ingenuity never tasted this good.
4. Butter Up Knife: $20
Once a Kickstarter project that earned a whopping $360,286 in donations on its $38,000 goal, Butter Up Knife is now its own independent product, bringing slippery, fatty joy to anyone willing to fork over an Andrew Jackson for a piece of silverware. In case you’re wondering, it grates the butter like so, for easier spreading:
(Courtesy of Butter Up)
5. Reflex: $120
The ’80s are over, but new iterations of its ill-advised accessories will keep the era’s spirit going forever! The Reflex is a rubber, waterproof watch that can be straightened out flat, but it’s really meant to be slapped onto your wrist. When you press the On button, a square will light up next to each individual digit until it arrives at the current time.
It’s made by a company based in L.A., but I can’t help but think that it’s some sort of lost prototype that Doc made for Marty in Back to the Future.
6. Blaze Bike Light: $200
Yet another little-known Kickstarter that has been welcomed into the MoMA family, the Blaze bike light is a project conceived by a former Oxford University physicist. It’s able to project a green laser bike symbol about 20 feet ahead of your bike, so drivers don’t just see a light; they also see a sign that they should watch out for cyclists.
It works from any perspective and also comes with a 300-lumen LED light that functions with or without the laser. Overall, an essential Mom-calming accessory for any frequent bike commuter.
7. Smartphone Film Scanner: $60
Pretty much any human who owned a camera pre-digital revolution is probably sitting on stacks of envelopes filled with old negatives. The Lomography Smartphone Film Scanner will eliminate that particular storage sink nicely, scanning your film and sending it straight to your phone via its iOS or Android apps at the highest resolution possible. Basically, you no longer have to take a photo of an old photo for your #throwbackthursday fodder. Now you’ll have the real thing.
8. Ototo Musical Invention Kit: $145
Made by London-based design studio Dentaku, this little circuit board comes with a built-in speaker, preprogrammed sounds, and three different sensors. You can use wiring to connect almost any object — vegetables, cardboard, balloons — and turn it into a musical instrument. One of the funkier DIY projects out there! This, too, came from a successful Kickstarter project. Noticing a pattern here?
9. Telescope Flashlight: $18
Here’s an item you need; you just don’t know it yet: an extendable, bendable flashlight with a magnet on its head. It’s happened to us all before: You drop a tack in a dark corner, an earring in a vast field, a tiny screw in a small crack. Rather than getting on all fours and spraining a muscle trying to reach into those difficult spaces, you can simply use this very malleable tool to take care of the task. I’m telling you, this thing will be the hero of your household. I hope Pixar makes a short film about it.
10. hyperLip: $10
Selfie stick not quite cutting it? Look no further than the hyperLip.
Originally displayed in MoMA’s 2011 Talk to Me exhibition in New York, this prosthetic lip mold was made by French artist Sascha Nordmeyer. Now MoMA has introduced it as a commercial product to its store, as an “accessory to the selfie era.” One thing’s for sure: It’ll definitely set you apart from the crowd.
11. Crookes Radiometer: $55
Though this little glass bulb is merely a decoration, it stands as a monument to the history of modern engineering. It doesn’t have Bluetooth or batteries; it’s simply run by sunlight. Based on a design created in the 1800s, the center panels of the bulb rotate based on their exposure to sunlight. The brighter the day, the faster they go. Just like the human race.
12. WaterRower: $1,500
Anyone interested in channeling his inner Frank Underwood might consider an investment in this walnut-made WaterRower. (This is actually the same make of the one the devilish politician uses on House of Cards.) The Rhode Island-made machine requires no readjusting or new settings no matter who’s using it, and the digital monitor attached to it will tell you your stroke rate, speed, total distance — the works. You can connect it to the machine’s WeRow software and even compete against friends. Not to mention that working against water is very poetic.
13. 3Doodler: Approximately $99
Last week, while we were running around like beheaded chickens at CES, 3Doodler announced an update to its 3D-printing pen. Its Kickstarter campaign is already astonishingly overfunded, so you can expect these slimmer prototypes to be out by early spring. MoMA sold about 4,000 of the original last year, so it’s planning on leading workshops for customers once the second iteration is out. According to Rachel Goldsmith, a 3Doodler artist who has tried out the latest, its smaller size will expand the possibilities of what you can do with the tool.
14. Seaboard Grand: $2,999
This instrument may look like a keyboard, but it’s much cooler than that. Handmade in London, Roli’s Seaboard Grand is made of soft, rubbery keys that allow musicians to manipulate the vibrato of different notes, like so:
Its range of sound is just astounding. I can’t wait to see my girl Taylor get hold of one of these.
15. Endless Flow Rocking Chair: $2,200
Finally, we have a funky green rocking chair. But this isn’t just any old rocking chair. This piece is 3D-printed from old recycled refrigerator parts! And it’s comfortable to boot.