Whenever Alisa Grifo and Marco ter Haar Romeny arrive in a new place, be it a Greek island or a Swedish town, their eyes are always peeled for the everyday items that make the lives of people in that place run a little easier – or more joyfully. Since setting up Kiosk, an art-cum-retail project in 2005, the couple has amassed an impressive archive of over 1,300 such objects. Among them are Italian tape dispensers, cabbage plates from Portugal, an inexplicably elegant glass ‘bean pot’ and nifty rotational cheese-graters. “I generally find inexpensive things to be more interesting and made from the heart,” Alisa Grifo told us via email. “They come from the right place, being not only focused on your wallet!”
A movable project which once inhabited a store in Soho, New York, Kiosk’s latest iteration has popped-up at ICA, London. There, the objects are laid out as in an exhibition, except you’re welcome to pick them up, turn them in your hands, and buy them too – a novel thing indeed. We spoke to Grifo about collecting some of the world’s favourite everyday objects.
1. Ruler stick, the Netherlands
In the beginning, rulers started out as ‘comparison sticks’, designed to help ordinary people wrap their head around the mind-boggling transition from imperial to metric systems. They’re objects that symbolise precision and control – like the once desperate importance of a straight line drawn in a school exercise book, or weaponry when used interchangeably with the cane. So what do people use them for now? Checking that holdall luggage is fit for size, line-drawing in earnest, and… all sorts of unspeakably cheeky activities.
2. Metal tape dispenser, Italy
“I originally found a version of this dispenser, maker unknown, 18 years ago in Sweden,” says Grifo, “One can still find it in the back of every down-to-earth, “real” shop in Sweden. However, when I went to track it down I was led to the maker in Italy.” A nifty piece of design, this, ahem, indispensable orange accessory is used in workshops, shops and household studies all over Italy and beyond, and it won’t leave you grappling with the end of a roll of tape.
3. Plastic watch, Greece
“I waited and waited for many things in Greece,” says Grifo, “but I didn’t mind. Greeks don’t get punctuality.” With minutes on their mind, it seemed right for Grifo and Ter Haar Romeny to set about finding an affordable timepiece; when they did they realised how long they’d gone without even wearing one. “I find reaching for my phone to check the time incredibly stressful.” Grifo notes, “The phone holds so much, essentially my entire life; grabbing it to check the time has become a momentous experience.”
4. Bike tyre repair kit, the Netherlands
Say you wanted to find the very best kit for repairing a flat tyre, where would you look? The Netherlands, land of the empowered cyclist seems like the right place. Grifo likes that she can “actually repair a bicycle tire” with this teeny pocket-sized kit. Simson, the bicycle accessory brand which makes this kit, started in 1881 and claim that almost every Dutch household has one of these iconic red and white boxes stowed away for the crucial moment.
5. Bubble pipe, Germany
In Tübingen, south-west Germany, there’s a entire factory dedicated to producing plastic bubble-blowing toys in all shapes and sizes. You name it, they’ve probably got it – from little yellow bears to grinning frogs and Freud-like smoking pipes like this one. Much-loved brand PUSTEFIX (founded in the 1940s) even makes anti-slip socks for hyperactive young fans of soap-bubbles, adorned with their trademark logo of an old-fashioned bubble-blowing bear. What is it about retro yet ordinary childrens toys that’s so endlessly appealing?
6. Ashtray, Greece
Sure, cigarettes are now regarded by most as devilish accessories, rather than the chic additive of yesteryear. Perhaps that’s why an ashtray seems almost appealing, in a nostalgic if redundant way. “Sometimes one needs them!” Grifo explains. Whether that’s for your heavily smoking dinner party guests or safely stowing your keys.
7. Red lampshade, Hong Kong
In Hong Kong, these red shades (or “egg lamps”) are ubiquitous, hanging from the ceilings of markets and food stands everywhere. “The orangey light from the lamp makes all those foods look much fresher,” Grifo remembers. “Everything just looks better in the light of a red lampshade from Hong Kong.”
8. Colibri watercolour set, Romania
In Romania, this Smartie-bright Colibri (which means “Hummingbird”) watercolour set belies a curious history. Its manufacturer Combinatul Fondului Plastic was founded during the Communist era as the commercial arm of the Artists’ Union; the production of paint was used to fund the union, and provide artists with the colours of the rainbow (plus that distinctive shade of Soviet brown). During a trip to Bucharest, Grifo and Ter Haar Romeny decided brown is the colour of Romania. “It should be the national colour, it is everywhere. Does any country have a brown flag? They might want to consider.” What makes these so special? “They remind me of easy-going afternoons with my grandmother,” Grifo says.