The Arrangement of Stuff

We’ve all got stuff in our lives. Designers usually have enough great stuff to fill countless museums. Some designers even have important stuff — collections of furniture, fashion, pictures, artwork and more valued artifacts. British designer David King collected so many Russian revolutionary posters that a gallery is devoted to them at the Tate Modern in London. Yet most of us possess modest stuff, like trinkets, curios, oddities, ephemera and other collectible junk — the kind found in flea markets, on Ebay or Etsy. The stuff we have has more value to us and, perhaps, to a few covetous others, than to the general public. Our stuff garners interest from our peers when posted on the online scrapbooks. Designer stuff is eye-candy or visual-vitamins, tokens or totems. So, what do we do with our stuff?

Some people store it, others sell it. Hunter Bee, designer Kent Hunter and Jonathan Bee’s antique store in Millerton, New York, is an outlet but also a masterpiece of the art of juxtaposition and display. And display is the operative act here. It is one thing to have stuff and another to collect it. It is one thing to accumulate stuff and another to exhibit it. What’s the point in just keeping stuff in drawers, out of view? Stuff is/are trophies, evidence of championship hoarding — finding the perfect rarity that no one else has found. Collecting stuff can be competitive, even if only in the mind. Therefore, showing one’s bounty is essential to having stuff. So the vehicle for display is just as essential as the objects themselves.

While some people are content with virtual online display (Flickr, Fotki, Imageshack, Imgur), stuff is best served and savored in the flesh, so to speak (thank you MoMA Design Collection and Wolfsonian Museum). It is second nature for designers to arrange their stuff on shelves, vitrines or, my case, vintage barber and medical cabinets and razor blade counter displays. Back when they were made, who would have thought they’d have a second life? These containers are the perfect reliquaries for stuff, which can be as sacred to the collector as religious icons are to the faithful.

While disciplined arrangement according to some overarching theme — color, shape, function, etc.– is engaging, the more ad hoc approach allows for more serendipity. Stuff is best served as a surprise. Here are a few of my stuff-a-ramas, where disparate objects are stuffed and schmutzed together resulting in a pleasing clash of type, image and shape.

7 thoughts on “The Arrangement of Stuff

  1. Rabbitt

    THANK YOU! Though I must admit to being more in line with Elwood’s habits than yours, my heart is in the right place. I loved seeing your “stuff” and having my “pack-rat” status elevated to “designer/collector.” My husband wishes for the dumpster and shovel. Being an assemblage/collage artist and painter, EVERYTHING looks like art materials to me. And then there are all my “friends” with whom I can not bear to part. Alas, I do appreciate your musings and a wee bit of validation.  😉

  2. Russell Flinchum

    Just a quick note to point out that in the first image, upper left corner, we have a Walter Dorwin Teague package design for Corning, an early and huge account (although how successful the collaboration was for Corning is open to debate). I think this may be a 2nd iteration as the first one (which I know from a PR photograph featuring the “before redesign” package) used the vertical “fluting” of its corrugated cardboard wrapper for its allusion to a classical column. It appears that this version is imitating the appearance of that “fluting” through color and shading…but only in the upper half of the package.

  3. Sally

    You’ve got some cool stuff, Steven! Thanks for sharing. I’ve got some cool stuff, too – much of it arranged similarly to yours. Isn’t it fun? Sure gets dusty, though. 

  4. Elwood

    I love stuff and I wish the part of my personality that is neat & tidy would organize my stuff just like it is shown in the photos of your shelves, Steve, and those of the Hunter Bee collections. Alas, the piggish side of me tends to my stuff and it is a heap of crap. I intend one day to get a dumpster and a large shovel and clean out my studio. End this madness once and for all. But right now, I need to go on eBay and get that nifty vintage fountain pen set. And that 1950s Gibson guitar catalog. And…

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