Friday, March 15, 2019

Chemex 1976 (Part 2)

Part of the 1976 Chemex booklet I recently found was focused on Chemex-related merchandise for sale. There was no shortage of Chemex accessories back in the day! It's probably easiest just to let the pictures do the talking here. All I will say is they need to bring back the Chemex Cosy Collar.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Chemex 1976 (Part 1)

Tucked away inside a vintage Chemex coffeemaker I found recently was an instructional brochure and mail order pamphlet with a print date of 1976. I am a sucker for this kind of ephemera.

The late seventies were an interesting time for the Chemex coffeemaker. It was still a popular design object, of course, AND it was still known to be a great way to brew coffee. But it faced competition from the increasing popularity and accessibility of automatic drip coffee makers, and in the 1980s the French press exploded on the scene. It wasn't until 2010 and beyond, with the resurgent coffee culture, that the Chemex began regaining its standing as a coffeemaker of choice.

Here are the pages with brewing instructions. If you were intimidated out of using a Chemex by the intensity and precision of today's coffee aficionados, these friendly 1970s instructions should allow you to relax a bit and just enjoy a damn cup of coffee.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Chemex: The Original Design-Lover's Coffeemaker

Recently I was excited to find a vintage Chemex coffeemaker from the 1970s. We sell the Chemex line at the store, and I have a small 3-cup version I use myself, but this vintage one was the older style with the sharp angles - like the one included in the MoMA collection and the handmade version currently in production.

The Chemex Coffeemaker was designed in 1941 by Peter Schlumbohm. He was a chemist and used his scientific knowledge to develop the functional aspect of the design. The aesthetic aspect was inspired by the German Bauhaus, specifically their work with heat-resistant borosilicate glass (see the famous glass teapot designed by Wilhelm Wagenfeld).

For over 30 years it was the only real design-forward coffeemaker. Photos of architectural interiors through the 50s and 60s would regularly feature a Chemex in the kitchen, and it was often featured in popular media. Even James Bond, obviously better known for his specifications with a martini, preferred his coffee made in a Chemex. It wasn't until Braun introduced the famous KF 20 in 1972 that another coffeemaker was deemed worthy of discussion as a design object (a great overview of *that* over at Core77).

Mary Richards knew what's what.

Looks aside, Chemex would never have endured if it didn't make an outstanding cup of coffee. In many ways it is the original pour-over, but the combination of that method with the bonded paper filter is what really made it better than the others.

As both a design object and a way to brew a connoisseur's cup of coffee it endured well into the 80s. As often happens, trends emerge and it fell out of favor. Advances in the technology of the very convenient drip coffeemaker as well as the emergence of the stylish French press relegated Chemex to the back burner (so to speak) for a while.

From a 1982 Naugahyde ad in Playboy.

Of course today it has found renewed popularity, and deservedly so. It comes in two styles, both of which I sell at Hugh (links take you to the website) - the handmade version, which is identical to the Chemex as it was originally designed, and the "Chemex Classic," which has had a few tweaks to make it easier to mechanically produce.

Handmade (L) and Chemex Classic (R)

The handmade has a bit more heft and the subtle elegance that is the characteristic of mouth-blown glass. As the "original" version, it is often preferred by design lovers and for special occasions. The Chemex Classic is less expensive and a great everyday coffeemaker. But both function identically - that is to say, brilliantly. If you haven't tried coffee made in a Chemex, you owe it to yourself to give it a try.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Block Chromatics

For years and years I have come across pieces of a dinnerware pattern called Chromatics made by the Block China company. I even got a full set, still in boxes, as part of a lot I bought from a design professor friend back in 2001. It's just so cool and always been a favorite, and oddly it has not been well-documented online.

Graphic, stackable and of obviously high quality, the Chromatics dinnerware pattern is one of the most stunning modern dinnerware patterns to come out of the late mid-century period. Introduced in 1970 by Block China, it consisted of boldly-colored sculptural pieces in porcelain that were designed to stack and fit together with their concave and convex edges. It also had coordinating stainless steel flatware and glassware, which are harder to find but if you get the set ... so good (I got the set). The pattern came in several complementary color combinations - Brown/Gold, Black/Beige, Blue/Green, Red/Lavender, and an unusual black/white pattern called Games.

Block Chromatics was designed by Gerald Gulotta, an American industrial designer and educator who, among other accomplishments, studied under modern master Eva Zeisel at Pratt and eventually took over teaching her ceramics class when she retired. The dinnerware was produced at Porzellanfabrik Arzberg in Germany, one of the great Bavarian porcelain manufacturers (you may be familiar with their wonderful white porcelain relief vases).

It represents an real evolution in thinking about the dinnerware service for 1970, and today you can see the spirit of it in other dinnerware patterns such as Hasami dinnerware from Japan. Architectural, sophisticated and and incredibly cool - it's as good a design choice today as it was in 1970!

Here are some pics of the great starter set we had at the store a while back, still in the box from Hudson's Department Store. A total wedding gift.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Nordiska Treasury of Rya Rugs

A recent find: two catalogs, Nordiskas Design, published by Nordiska Industri AB, a Swedish manufacturer of rya rugs. One from 1967, one from 1968.

The rya rug sometimes gets lumped in with the general "shag" rug trend of the 60s and 70s, but it is an age-old textile technique that goes back thousands of years. From the catalog:
As a warming quilt it was found during most the 18th century in the homes of the nobility as well as in simple peasant cottages. It belonged to the standard equipment at sea until the end of the last century.
During the 18th century a new rya was introduced, now with the pile turned upwards. Beautiful rugs with many colours. Family emblems were knotted in, so were initials together with the number of the year and other kinds of decorative designs. The technique was also used for wall tapestries, cushions and stool covers. Many are still preserved.
Since 1879 Nordiska has carried on this old tradition. Everything has been preserved in our ryas. The design, however, is still in keeping, following with today's modern requirements.
Nordiska appears to have produced both completed rya rugs as well as rug kits to be knotted at home.

A good rya rug today is a great find. Here are a whole slew of highlights from the catalogs (even more after the jump.)

Isblomma, design Aappo Härkönen 

Mila, design Gerd Stenberg-Allert

Symfoni, design Maud Johanneson

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Richard Nissen

There were many companies producing teak housewares in the latter half of the 20th century, and the biggest by far was Dansk Designs. The originality and quality of the designs produced made them a sensation from their introduction in the 1950s well into the 1980s (and of course again today). The history of the company and the designer, Jens Quistgaard, is well-documented.

Less is written about the other companies that followed that trend. Companies such as Digsmed, Laurids Lonborg, Ernest Sohn and others all made interesting designs in teak over the years, but in my experience the company that really hit the mark on quality rivaling that of Dansk was Richard Nissen of Denmark. So I guess I shouldn't have been surprised to discover that they were, in manufacturing at least, the same company.

Nissen ice bucket and bowl, at the 2nd Hugh pop-up, 2010.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Den Permanente Catalog 1972 (Selections)

As a follow-up to my post about Den Permanente, here are some pages from the 1972 catalog.

Den Permanente catalog 1972

Borge Mogensen sofa, chair, trolley and table, Kvadrat rug, 

Top: H. Vestergaard Jensen sideboard and dining table, Larsen & Madsen chairs.
Bottom: Hans Wegner everything, Nanna Ditzel nursery chair.