Even though I’m a writer by trade, I’ve always been a design geek, especially home design. When I moved out of my parents’ house, one of my first purchases was the landmark 1950’s handbook, The Guide to Easier Living by industrial design pioneers Mary and Russel Wright. Their goal back then was to introduce the masses to a more streamlined, informal way of living and although some of the advice is outdated by today’s standards (like get a telephone extension in the kitchen), most of the efficiency tips and innovative design ideas are as relevant as ever. Like use clever storage furniture to subdivide a room.
As much as I’d love to fill my home with many of the now-classic furniture pieces of the mid-century design movement (Eames chairs, a George Nelson bubble lamp), it’s just not realistic with three kids hellbent on devouring Cheez-Its and grape juice in the living room—but hope is not lost. Thanks to these clever, design-forward, and budget-friendly houseware brands, I still have plenty to freak out over on the regular.
I loathe spending time in the kitchen, but this brand’s cunning rainbow assortment of products makes menial tasks easier and HAPPIER. Everything is so thoughtful, it’s like someone sat down and had a glass of wine while I was cooking and wrote down all the things that made me want to scream, then invented a shrewd and cheerful-looking way around it.
My first Joseph Joseph purchase (still one of my favorites) is the Elevate Carousel Set of color-coded cooking utensils. They add punch and personality to my countertop and each tool features a unique weighted handle that eliminates the need for a spoon rest. My latest purchase is equally as beloved—the long-handled Scoop and Pick for getting antipasti from jars. The design surprise du jour—hidden inside the handle is a second snap-in tool, a sharp fork to use on those olives and pickles if desired.
If there was ever an object I was not going to go ga-ga over it would be the toilet plunger, but simplehuman ignited a passion I didn’t know I was capable of. Not only does this stainless plunger come with a discreet holder that’s as sleek as sleek can be, the holder is MAGNETIC, so when you have to drag the damn thing to the upstairs bathroom and back down again, you aren’t dripping god-knows-what all over the house.
Also check out their rechargeable Sensor Magnification Mirror with an automatic light system that simulates real sunlight, and the rare stainless steel dishrack that includes a sensible, very necessary wine glass holder.
I’ve been an Umbra fan for nearly 20 years and I’ve often marveled at the brand’s ability to finish my sentences. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought, “If only there was a (insert household quandary here)” only to realize that not only does Umbra make the solution to that problem, it’s as beautiful as it is functional.
I’m talking about the skinny garbage can that fits the awkward space between my vanity and the wall. The work-of-art wall mirror made of wires that also (nearly everything Umbra makes comes with a genius “that also” disclaimer) can be used to hang your accessories. The spinning art mobile photo display that looks straight out of a Don Draper-goes-to-California fever dream—or the MOMA.
There’s even an OMG-gotta-have-it assortment of things you really don’t need, but are so adorable, you can’t resist, like this house tissue box-holder. “Why is this necessary?” my husband will ask. “Are you kidding?” I’ll say. “The tissue looks like a puff of smoke coming from the chimney!” A fight will ensue, but I…err, good design… will prevail. It always does.