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The Weird Things Design Pros Collect
Architects and interior designers on the quirky objects they gathered obsessively as kids and what they amass today.
NOT SURPRISINGLY architects and designers tend to amass visual artifacts early. New York artist and landscape designer Paula Hayes made snowballs and tiny snowmen that she stored year round in a corner of her family’s freezer “like a little town.” Nunturat Robbamrung, now associate design director at Wilson Associates’ New York studio, accumulated fruit seeds—fascinated by their shape—and organized them by size. Here, eight design pros on their youthful hoarding habits, and the collections they focus on today.
THEN “I collected little fur mice with very specific outfits,” said Lora Appleton, founder of kinder Modern, a children’s furniture gallery in New York. “There was a king and queen, bride and groom, one in a yellow gingham dress…. I still have them. I loved the diminutive quality, how all the detail in their attire and their faces was so real.”
NOW “Vintage children’s furniture is amazing,” said Ms. Appleton. “I love the discovery, bringing it home, cherishing and then displaying.”
THEN “I always had a lot of building toys and blocks,” said New York architect David Rockwell. “I even made Lincoln Log houses for my hamsters. Our family moved around quite a bit, and this allowed me to have control over creating something and to mediate the world.”
NOW “Since my 30s, I’ve amassed a collection of more than 35 kaleidoscopes,” said Mr. Rockwell. “They are objects of art in their own right but are meant to be used and enjoyed. The endless shifting patterns they form are a personal mini spectacle.”
THEN “At our beach house on Long Island, we put on bathing suits in the morning, wore them all day and emptied them of sand at night,” said New York designer Susan Petrie. “At 5, I began saving the suits I wore year to year, and they became a collection.”
NOW “I found a 1920s wool infant’s bathing suit that fascinated me. Who would put an infant in a wet wool suit?” said Ms. Petrie. “I mounted it in a shadow box and hung it. I still collect antique suits—the fabric, pattern, color, weight interest me—and use them in projects.”
THEN “At around 9, I started collecting silver spoons from places I’d go on vacation. I loved the designs on the handles and bowl, with little icons and charms unique to each place,” said Allison Spampanato, SVP of Product Design at Pottery Barn Kids and PBteen.
NOW “A groom would give his bride-to-be a bracelet at engagement, and a matching one on their wedding day,” said Ms. Spampanato of the Victorian wedding bracelets she seeks out and wears every day. “I think of the woman who wore them and what her life was like.”
THEN “I collected stamps, the most curious of which were from countries like Nigeria that idolized American cultural icons—Graham Bell, JFK—by putting them on their stamps,” said designer Michael Suomi, a principal with New York firm Stonehill Taylor. “I imagined I would be worshiped as a god if I ever visited those lands.”
NOW “Antique door pulls that I install, Russell Wright midcentury American pottery that I eat off. Early 20th-century art I reframe.”
THEN “My family would gift silver to me: my baby cup, filigree baskets, trays,” said MA AlIen, a designer in Raleigh, N.C. “I would display them all on my bookshelves, as I’ve always been drawn to having odds and ends mixed together with books.”
NOW “Italian brass bug ashtrays. I love brass objects and since they were once a functional object, it makes them interesting.”
THEN ”I loved to arrange my Muffy Bears and Madame Alexander dolls in creative ways,” said New York designer CeCe Barfield Thompson. “One of my best arrangements was a talk-show seating tableau I created on top of my armoire. I was about 8 and obsessed with talk shows even though they weren’t allowed. I watched Ricky Lake every day after school on a tiny TV in my armoire before my mom got home.”
NOW “I’ve become enamored of 19th-century Lustre- and Transferware, beautiful vessels with interesting historical connections and narratives.”
THEN “As a teenager, I became obsessed with these very odd little figurines they sold in Chinatown. The term of art is Chinese Baby-doll Pencil Sharpeners,” said architect M. Brian Tichenor, of Tichenor & Thorp, in Los Angeles. “Some bemused child festively arrayed on a giant peach with a cheap pencil sharpener glued into a cavity below, or a cartoony domestic mammal looking surprised to be so co-joined.”
NOW “My wife and I just keep building more buildings to house our out-of-print garden and architecture books, as well as stringed instruments. It’s now six libraries, each focused around a general area of interest. This is probably a problem, but we are unrepentant.”