Mrs. Easton: Celebrating Beauty in Everyday Objects
There is a familiarity to them, and yet they are completely alien. They are objects of extreme beauty hiding in plain sight.
Melissa Easton is seriously obsessed. And we mean that in a really good way. The Brooklyn-based industrial designer and creator of the design blog Mrs. Easton makes a point of finding beauty in the mundane and making us pay attention to things that might go otherwise unnoticed. Case in point, these amazing to-do lists which are unintentional works of art. On her site you'll also find typography inspiration, grace in garbage, or even art in a trip to Home Depot – and you'll suddenly have a who new appreciation for everyday objects.
Melissa and her site are recent additions to the SAY 100 design channel, so of course we had to ask her about her obsessions, fonts she loves, and other favorite things.
The tagline for your site is "seriously obsessed since 1982." What are you obsessed with and why since 1982? 1982 was the year I moved to NYC to attend art school at The Cooper Union. It was a weird and wonderful place. Not to mention intimidating. It was also the place that made me realize that what often makes people most interesting are their obsessions. Everyone around me at school seemed to have some crazy hobby or activity. One student I knew was a trapeze artist on the weekends. Another classmate spent every second of his free time drawing his own comic books and then coloring them in. Someone else was constantly practicing aloud T. S. Eliot’s poetry while sitting in the stall in the girls’ restroom on the fifth floor. At school they encouraged us to pursue those interests, without necessarily drawing attention to ourselves or feeling self-conscious. I liked that a lot. I translated some of that approach to mean that if you were going to be at all interested in the world, it might be a good idea to find out what drives people to do what they do. And, in the meantime, to embrace your own obsessions without apology. As long as you did no harm.
As for my personal obsessions, well, I’ve got a lot. I am obsessed with anything that appears in multiples. I have a deep affinity for cast off objects that have no apparent meaning to anyone, but that are indescribably magnificent. I am devoted to food in every way. Organization is a big thing in my world. I find great joy in foreign supermarkets and hardware stores. I could go on and on. I think it probably all comes out on the blog. And whatever doesn’t, is probably best left unspoken.
You're an industrial designer. Tell us about what you do – and how it makes you look at things differently? I find that I am most interested in those products that we use on a daily basis. I make every attempt to design things that not only look good and accomplish their job efficiently and expertly, but, even more important, that feel good to use. As a result of what I do I am constantly examining and re-examining my relationship to the things around me: How does this work? Why does it work? Why doesn’t it? Ewww, this looks great but feels terrible! How could it be better? Hmm, what if that radius were a little tighter? Wow, that doesn’t look so good, but it does the job like a pro. I don’t want the product or the experience to be flashy. My goal is for it to fit seamlessly into a life of eating or working or relaxing. If the things with which we surround ourselves are well designed (and manufactured), my fantasy is that we might purchase less because we are finally content with what we have. Life becomes simpler and happier.
This is my own evolving philosophy of sustainability: Carefully consider what I bring into my life. And then, because I love the thing so much and use it all the time, I’ll never ever throw it away. And, I won’t feel the need or the desire to replace it with something else.
What are some of your favorite things that you've designed and why? A couple of years ago I was hired by Tupperware to design a set of food storage containers. The only parameters were to try and solve the lid-body problem. You know ... you’ve just packed up your lunch, you’re trying to get out the door because you’re late for work, and you can’t find the !$%&^* lid!! That problem. I have a friend who refers to it as the “Missing Sock Syndrome.” Oh, and the other requirement was that the largest container had to comfortably fit a whole chicken. That request came from the Europeans. At first I was skeptical about taking the job because it meant working in plastic, which these days can be a dirty word. That said, I love Tupperware’s history, and I was frustrated by my own hodgepodge of food storage containers. The more I looked into it, the more I realized that no one EVER throws out their Tupperware. Including myself. On eBay there are 273 pages of used Tupperware for sale. I also figured that it could be an opportunity to put into practice, on a somewhat larger scale, what I have been ruminating about for so long. I was despairing at the industry’s attempt to answer food storage issues with cheap and ultimately throwaway products. I didn’t want to contribute to that mass of stuff. I wanted to find a compact, elegant and permanent solution to replace my cabinet full of mismatched disposable clutter. I ended up designing a set of five nesting containers, whereby each lid rests below its corresponding container, and then inside the next larger unit. As a result, the lids and containers remain together and are immediately accessible. No searching or cursing necessary. The entire set occupies less than one square foot of shelf space and has a lifetime guarantee. That last part is what got me. Tupperware was willing to stand behind their products. Forever. What’s made me happiest is that they are a successful design. People buy them and use them. I gave away all of my other containers, with the exception of a few glass bowls, and now only use the Tupperware.
You're opposed to stuff for stuff's sake. What products or tools are you enjoying / inspired by right now and why? Let’s see. Well, I am always appreciative of my favorite fork. It looks like it’s from an old camping gear set. I use it every day because it has the perfect weight and effortlessly impales even the most wilted salad greens. And there is this serving spoon designed by Antonio Citterio and Glen Oliver Low, for Iitala, that I’m pretty sure is the only serving spoon you’ll ever need. The spoon passes the all-important couscous test. Meaning, when you use it to scoop couscous, it doesn’t end up all over the floor. And I have to sing the praises of my beautiful, strong and always reliable stapler. It’s made in Italy by Zenith. The staples are only 1/4” long and very unobtrusive. Stapling is now a pleasure. More than you could ever imagine. I also recently bought a couple of books about East German industrial design. I had to wangle my way through German Amazon to get them, but it was worth it. I am reveling in how familiar, and yet completely unfamiliar, all of the household objects are.
Well-designed fonts – we love them too. What are some current favorites and why? My taste in fonts runs the gamut from spare to decorative. I am a huge fan of Gothic font family. Preferably slightly condensed and a little on the bold side. Highway Gothic, News Gothic, Trade Gothic. I like them because they are old and yet very fresh. They are highly readable but never boring. They are not trendy. They have been around for a long time, and for good reason. Swissmiss posted something a long time ago about Brauer Neue, which is simply fantastic. It is in that Gothic family, but the corners are a little rounded which gives it an entirely different feel.
I have also recently come to appreciate a bifurcated serif font such as Bujardet Freres. It is both frilly and imperfect. And feels as though it’s going to a party. It’s also fun to say “bifucated serif” around your friends. Another font in that same family, which I have come to know and appreciate, is Pomodori. It was created by Jake Tilson, a British designer/chef/artist and friend of a friend. He found a can of tomatoes in Italy, where his family has a house, and ended up designing a whole font based upon the six characters that spelled out the word “tomato” in Italian. The story alone is enough for me. Cooper Black. It is what it is. And it reminds me of a lot of growing up in the seventies. Give me a lower case Garamond “g” and I am happy.
What design blogs are you obsessed with? It goes without saying that I read Swissmiss every day! I also owe her a tremendous debt of thanks for putting Mrs. Easton on the proverbial map. Other than that, I have so many blogs in a steady rotation that it’s hard to answer in short form. Here are a few from my regular roster: Old Chum, An Ambitious Project Collapsing, Present & Correct, Stiknord, Cabin Porn, Brainpickings, Brilliant Arrogance, Design Observer, Feasting Never Stops, Ancient Industries, Bibliodyssey, William Brown Project, Things Organized Neatly.
What are your all-time most popular posts – and what do you think it says about what resonates with your readers? Hands down, the most popular all-time posts are of my brother’s to do lists. You have to see them to believe them. They are all hand written on legal paper, but he doesn’t follow the lines at all. He uses different colored pens and creates his own columns. By the time I get them (after a lot of begging, he now saves them for me) all of the items have been scribbled out. They are absolutely stunning and crazy and obsessive. I think they capture people's imagination in part because they are so analog in our increasingly digital world. But it’s more than that. Most of us make to do lists of some kind or another, but typically they get tossed in the trash. (Although lately there have been a few books and exhibits and websites devoted to the form.) There is a familiarity to them, and yet they are completely alien. They are objects of extreme beauty hiding in plain sight.
What's something your readers would be surprised to learn about you? I speak fluent ubbi dubbi.
What's next? One thing I am completely obsessed with right now is designing some flatware and dinnerware that will be the last of either that you will ever buy. I know, not a great business model in the short term, but if the designs are good and work well, they will be around for a long time. I have been looking for the right flatware and coffee mug for years and have never been able to find something that is functional, affordable and compelling. So, along with fellow designer, Fabian Monsalve, we are finally getting around to doing it ourselves. This project kicks off a long running theme for both of us.
Follow Melissa on Twitter @Mrs_Easton.