Following their recent three-year $90-million mega-renovation, the Cooper-Hewitt has been going all out to raise the game of their recently relaunched all important museum SHOP. As part of their efforts, curator Chad Phillips has allegedly commissioned a number of home-grown designers to create a range of "exciting new products that are covetable, gift-worthy, and affordable" to stock the shelves, inspired by collections at the museum.
One such object comes from Brooklyn based studio UM Project (standing for "Users and Makers" as their homepage will tell you), who contributed a range of mallets in a range of incongruous materials including brass, copper, marble-esque delrin and maple given a range of tasteful powder coating and lacquer finishes. Pretty and beautifully crafted though these "Mad Mallets" undoubtedly are (presumedly inspired at least in part by the museum's Memphis collections), we have to wonder—what is the sense in these faux-functional luxury tool toys?
The postmodern multi-material mallets could well be explained away as the simple whim of some over-zealous Brooklyn furniture designers, were it not for signs of similar stuff happening elsewhere. Beirut-based designer Stephanie Moussallem recently launched this range of handmade rolling pins (above) at the SMO Gallery Beirut (hmm, note the white wall natural habitats of these particular products) in a less colourful, but similarly luxuriously eclectic material palette.So, what are we to make of this trend for lux-craft implements? Are these shiny a-functional exhibition pieces just the latest evolution of the hand-painted "rural design vernacular" we've witnessed in the last few years (think axes, paddles and, erm, plungers)—the maker movement now clashing with design trends towards colour-blocking and luxury material touches like warm metals and tongue-in-cheek marble. Or, perhaps, are these unusably ostentatious ornamen-tools simply easily consumable (and, in the case of Ms Moussallem's rolling pins, literally accompanied by their own purpose-made pedestals) tributes to the Western world's new favourite virtue—craft.
Sam Dunne is a designer, strategist and writer based in London. Sam is founder of design strategy agency Cohere and Contributing Editor at Core77—reporting broadly on design, technology, food and object culture.