You’re probably familiar with Josh Owen’s cast iron menorah for Areaware, which we believe is on its way to iconic status. Owen, who is currently based in Rochester New York and teaches at Rochester Institute of Technology, turns out some pretty amazing clean-lined designs. Most recently he debuted the WC Line for Kontextur, a series comprising a plunger, toilet brush, and waste bin that elevates the mundane. As you can see from this week’s Friday Five, Owen revels in the functional and simple.
1. On feet: Converse Chuck Taylor All Star Sneakers
This shoe evolved from a similar precursor created in 1917 by the Converse Rubber Shoe Company, which was started by Marquis Mills Converse in 1908 in Malden, Massachusetts. The design we see today was developed with modifications made by basketball player Charles Taylor shortly after the introduction of the original. I have worn these shoes since I was four-years-old, and while I have tried others, I always return to the comfort of these. I wear them for nearly every occasion, except during Rochester winters, when I mix in Canadian-designed Sorel boots. If I can’t go barefoot, I wear Chuck Taylors. No false-promises with air inserts or foam arches to destroy nature’s design, just a thin slab for protection below with a skin to bind above — more or less what we’ve been using for thousands of years. The design keeps us connected to the ground. These shoes are relatively inexpensive and hopefully will be around for a long time, disregarding the whims of trends. There is a quietness and an almost invisible quality about the design, thanks to its place in the pantheon of ubiquitous, time-tested products.
2. In pocket: Lacie iamaKey USB Flash Drive
Designed by 5.5 Designers, this flash drive is a contemporary icon. As long as we continue to need our analog keys in their current range of forms, we will continue to have the problem of carrying them with us. Many designed items use this condition as an opportunity — a keyring flashlight, a keyring bottle opener. They’re all based on the notion that if we must have our keys with us then why not add another, unrelated tool to add bulge to our pockets? This digital key does more than riff off of a related tool’s form — it equates access to data with access to a physical space. This binds an emotional connection to a banal one. I will not lose my data because I will not lose my keys. I find this item the exact right fit for the right moment in an evolving landscape of interrelated needs; a useful and appropriate tool.
3. In hand: Muji Ballpoint Pen & Mechanical Pencil
I have been using this item for many years as a staple and I am rarely found without one on hand. With a simple twisting action, this modest-looking, milky-white polypropylene instrument deploys a black-ink ballpoint pen or a push-pencil with HB 0.3mm graphite. The ability to switch rapidly between the two mark-making types is important for me, as I prefer to sketch in pencil, but find I also need a pen on a regular basis for making more permanent marks. The ink cartridge is replaceable as is the graphite and the eraser, making this a sustainably oriented object. The translucent nature of the plastic allows one to see the level of ink and graphite sticks left. The combination of intelligent and sympathetic features is what I look for in a well considered utensil.
4. On wrist: Uniform Wares 200 Series Watch
When mobile phones arrived on the scene, I stopped wearing a watch. It seemed to me to be redundant to carry more than one item on one’s person which displayed the time. I now wear a watch so that I do not have to take my smart phone out of my pocket. This is because I do not wish to create the impression that I am checking messages on my phone, when I would have merely been using it as a time piece. Gazing at a watch to judge the time seems to me to be far more civil in the context of today’s behaviors. The Uniform Wares 200 series watch is, in my opinion, the best minimalist watch on the market. It has clear and precise markings which reference industrial equipment made for performance, not for making a fashion statement. Fine details like the bold (but not too bold) display graphics, arrow-tip distinction on the hour-hand, and the date display make it overtly functional and without unnecessary ornament. Also, I find the overall size of the item exactly right for seeing the time. As for variations in finish, I prefer the polished stainless case. This avoids any scratches which might appear in a brushed or painted treatment. I outfit the watch with one of UW’s durable rubber straps. I find them more long-lasting and resistant than the leather version offered.
5. On head: Wool Watchman’s Cap
I’ve worn this kind of hat on and off for most of my life. It is a knitted, brimless, wool cap that can be rolled to be worn for warmth on the top of the head or unraveled to protect the tops of the ears in particularly cold situations. It was designed to provide warmth in winter but since I’ve been wearing my hair very short, I have found it to be quite comfortable in a variety of weather conditions, due to the unique qualities of wool which wicks away moisture in warm conditions and retains heat in cooler ones. A version of this item seems to be visible in almost all cold-weather cultures. I buy mine in an army-navy surplus shop.
Josh Owen portrait by Elizabeth Lamark.