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Designing Unique Objects for Museum Shops

Alex Ulam
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Mass production has come to connote outsourcing and soulless factories where workers labor long hours for little pay to produce our furnishings.

The tables, lamps and chairs may sport labels from famous designers, but increasingly for many consumers, the signatures don’t add intrinsic value to mass-produced commodities. It often is unclear where a table was assembled and whether it is solid rosewood or pressed wood. Worst of all is that thanks to FedEx and Amazon, chances are that the seemingly rare vase or the rug that you discovered during your last intercontinental trip is no longer that hard to find.

The increasing uniformity of domestic environments and workspaces throughout the world is fueling a reactionary appetite for limited edition works of design that double as art objects. Indeed, collectible design is all the rage these days. At the Sotheby’s Design auction in London this past November, sales were off the charts. A prototype from an edition of two of Surface Table, a sleek, black-lacquered carbon fiber coffee table by industrial designer Terrence Woodgate and design engineer John Barnard fetched $294,000, more than five times its estimate. A prototype of Gio Cabinet, an elaborately patterned affair from an edition of six, which was crafted from rosewood, bronze, polished brass and glass by Achille Salvagni fetched $139,579, triple its estimate.

An Important Role to Play

In New York, museum stores and new crop of design stores and galleries are getting in on the action. The Museum of Modern Art Design Store, which recently launched a limited edition of Robert Rauschenberg skateboard, is always working to gain exclusive rights to a product and to be the first to launch it. Museum of Modern Art director of merchandising Emmanuel Plat says that one factor driving the increasing appeal of limited editions is the Internet. “With shopping being so easy thanks to the Internet, most people can buy anything, anytime from anywhere,” he says, “Limited editions enable people to own objects that few others have.”

Courtesy of MoMa Design Store
Courtesy of MoMa Design Store

Finding objects that few others have at Atelier Courbet. Courtesy of Atelier Courbet.

Vase by Zaha Hadid for Atelier Courbet. Courtesy of the studio.

Curated by Matylda Krzykowski. Courtesy of Chamber.

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