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.