Design Research, Cambridge


Before stores like Design Within Reach, IKEA, Crate & Barrel, and Habitat brought design to the masses, there was the Design Research store in Cambridge.  In it you could buy anything from design objects by Charles and Ray Eames, Alvar Aalto and Arne Jacobsen to eclectic folk materials and textiles from around the world (including Marimekko).

The founder of the store, Ben Thompson, wanted people/consumers to think about how to use and experience the spaces they lived in.  His goal was to create a store that would help customers get ideas about how to put things together in their home and develop a modern style.  Mission accomplished.







My What Good Design you Have!

In 1949 the Detroit Institute of Arts put on an Exhibition for Modern Living.  The show was curated by Alexander Girard, and its goal was to put good design on display for the masses.  It featured custom room installations by the likes of modern masters including Alvar Aalto, Florence Knoll, George Nelson, Charles and Ray Eames, in addition to countless others … lucky for all of us more than 60 years later, the exhibition catalogue is equally beautiful with the most incredible illustrations by Saul Steinberg!

The Eames’

Charles & Ray Eames had many talents; they produced museum exhibitions, architecture, logotypes, toys, slide-shows, furniture, books, photography, paintings, and over 100 lesser-known films.  They reason why these shorts are not more well-known is that they are quite hard to come by, but here are the few that I could scramble up from the depths of YouTube … enjoy!

Charles and Ray Eames: House of Cards

I don’t know if you have ever tried to build a house of cards, but it is not easy.  In order to be successful you need art, science, balance, and a whole lot of luck and patience on your side.  The good news is Charles and Ray Eames created a much easier solution in their House of Cards from 1952.  It’s a picture deck of cards made with 6 slots that allow for endless possibilities.  With this set you don’t have to worry about balance or delicacy, you can just imagine and create.

Each card is printed with a different photo of what the Eameses call “the good stuff,” close-ups of common objects from the animal, vegetable, and mineral worlds.  As you were hopefully told as a child with your building blocks, there is no wrong way to build.  So whether you choose to go modern or traditional, high-rise or low-rise, just start building!

The original deck was the small size (the size of playing cards). There is also a medium deck, a Giant House of Cards (1953), a Computer House of Cards (1970) and Newton House of Cards for the 1974 Nobel Laureates.  Click here to buy them on Amazon.

Playing Cards by Famous Artists

Playing cards have been around for along time, and they are just about the perfect play thing.  They are easy to carry, internationally known, and they allow one to play countless games just about anywhere.  Playing cards are just plain good.  But they are even better when they look cool…

Salvador Dali, 1967

Salvador Dali, 1967


Sonia Delaunay, 1964

Tauba Auerbach, 2009

Donald Sultan, 1989

kenny scharf, 1998


George Condo, 2011



Eames Solar-Powered Do Nothing Machine

In the spirit of contraptions, I bring you the most extreme one ever – a solar-powered Do Nothing Machine.  Yes, that’s right, this intricate contraption does absolutely nothing, except look really cool that is!  The Do Nothing was created in the late 1950’s for the Alcoa company.

This toy was special in many ways, but the most unique aspect was the fact that Charles Eames was interested in creating a toy that did nothing.  Now, despite its name, this contraption is not a boring one.  Every piece in it moves, and looks quite beautiful while in motion, but the toy doesn’t actually have a use or a purpose beyond its cool design.  Now that’s thinking outside of the box.

Check out the Do Nothing Machine in action in the video clip below.