When nowadays we ascribe messianic significance to the arrival of the latest smartphone, it's easy to forget the simpler products in life. Such is the pleasure of Tools for Living: A Sourcebook of Iconic Designs for the Home by Charlotte and Peter Fiell. A flagship title for the husband-and-wife team's publishing house, it's a hall of fame for those household objects we could not live without, showcasing "ultimate" examples of everything from beds and baths to staplers and salad servers.
So what are the measures of an "ultimate" design, exactly? Elegance and functionality, of course, but above all it's a matter of durability, as Peter explains. "The book was really predicated on one maxim: 'If you buy cheap, you buy twice.' Patently, products that are intended to last a lifetime give you better value for money, but you're also likely to derive greater joy through their use. And then the undisputed fact is that if you double the life cycle of any product, you halve its net environmental impact, which is the only way we're going to achieve sustainability in terms of consumption."
Running to 768 pages, Tools for Living is a dizzyingly comprehensive tome, and few could have been better qualified to assemble it than the couple, leading authorities on contemporary design for the past 20 years. "A lot of the stuff we own ourselves and we use on a daily basis," Peter says. "And [many other products] we already had the full story on, from the initial concept to seeing them evolve to the final product coming out in the manufacturer's facility."
Still, the two years they spent researching the book found them wading into less familiar territory: spending days getting their heads around the relative merits of secateurs, for instance. "We had to become a little OCD," Peter notes wryly.
Just as interesting as the products themselves was their provenance. "[Take the] ultimate ice-cream scoop, which is called Zeroll – it's made in the US by this 'mom and pop' business, which is three generations old, and it's all they make. Even if you go to the best gelateria in Rome, that's what they're using."
Historical import aside, the book serves as a bountiful font of furnishing inspiration, whatever the depth of your pockets. "Cost was not one of our criteria," Peter explains. "If people do some research, they will find our selections tend towards the highest end of the price range. But it was important to us to include things that, even though they're the best of their kind, are still very [financially] accessible." So for every multi-thousand-pound fridge, there's items such as the Le Parfait Super jars (see right), which you can buy from your average homeware store with change from a fiver.
And if Tools for Living is predicated on a second maxim, it's that no object is too trivial to forgo caring about. "There's a potato peeler we included that you might think is pretty banal, but actually it appears on a stamp in Switzerland," says Peter. "As Charlotte says, she uses a potato peeler practically every day and by god you know when you've got a crap one – it's a misery. But when you've a got a good one, it brings a little ray of sunshine into your life."
'Tools for Living' is published by Fiell, priced £29.95Reuse content