When Lisa S. Roberts graduated from architecture school in 1977, it was a difficult moment in the profession. Interest rates were at an all-time high, construction rates were down, and there was little work, even for established practitioners. During those fallow times, she noticed that her fellow architects, unable to build, began to apply their design talents to everyday objects, such as toasters, potato peelers, pepper shakers, and even toilet brushes.
Feeling that these goods, like any changing fashion, reflected a particular mood and place, Roberts—now a product and graphic designer, as well as a trustee at the Philadelphia Museum of Art—began collecting them. "I realized I might never be able to afford a building designed by Michael Graves," she says, referring to the avant-garde architect, "but I could certainly own the Whistling Bird Tea Kettle he made for Alessi." Now, having amassed over 300 of what she dubs the "icons of our time," Roberts has chronicled them in Antiques of the Future ($30; Stewart, Tabori & Chang). Each of the six-dozen pieces covered in the book features a brief history of the object, and lists its designer, manufacturer, year of introduction, size, and price Roberts paid for it.
"I'm smart about being a collector—I research, I go to exhibitions, I read the trade journals, and I talk to experts," she says. To be included in Roberts' collection, the item must have been exhibited in museums or included in a permanent museum collection, designed by a notable architect or designer, manufactured by a design-oriented company, received a major design award, or published in a magazine or a book.
She admits she takes her time when evaluating whether to acquire a product. "I'll wait to see how the industry reacts, see the kind of comments it receives. Sometimes I'll put something into my collection that's six or seven years old, because I want to see first if it will stand the test of time."
As for her favorite piece, Roberts stands by the Knotted Chair that Marcel Wanders created for Droog Design in 1995. "It has this wonderful historic reference, using a macrame-looking material that is actually a high-tech fiber," she says. "It seems like there's no way it could hold an adult, but it does. And it weighs less than three pounds. It's so complex, yet seemingly so simple. It has it all." Antiquesofthefuture.com —GreenGenes
Antiques of the Future ($30; Stewart, Tabori & Chang) amasses six dozen products that the author bets will become the collectibles of tomorrow.
Made of rope that has been dipped in epoxy resin and hardened, the Knotted Chair, created in 1995 by Marcel Wanders for Droog Design, weighs less than three pounds.
Design doesn't have to be rarefied, as proven by the Merdolino, a toilet brush by Stefano Giovannoni issued by Alessi (1993).
The Whistling Bird Tea Kettle, designed by Michael Graves for Alessi, is one of the original examples of a high-end American architect creating products for a mass market. Since 1985, over $200 million worth of the kettles have been sold worldwide.
Josh Owen created this simple, portable, and affordable XOX table for Bozart (2002).
A graphic and product designer, Lisa S. Roberts is the author of Antiques of the Future.