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.