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How the MoMA Store Finds Kitchen Stuff Cool Enough for the MoMA Store

The secret is in the museum, according to the store’s top buyer

Getty Images for Surface Media

Like the best home products, the items at the MoMA Design Store are a most delightful combination of form and function. Most items lining the store’s shelves have a practical purpose, particularly the kitchen stuff — a coffee mug, a cutting board, a tea kettle. But with their sneaky design features, bright colors, and unexpected shapes, they’re worlds away from the mugs, cutting boards and tea kettles of Bed Bath & Beyond.

That’s in part because every item found in a MoMA Design Store has to be literally museum-worthy.

“Every product sold at the shop has to be reviewed and approved by curators of the Museum of Modern Art,” says Emmanuel Plat, MoMA’s director of merchandising. Which is to say, there’s a higher bar to clear than your average home or design store. Plat and his team are always on the hunt — at trade shows, on blogs, at small local shops in cities across the world — for items that will pass muster.

So what kinds of cooking and home goods do curators approve of? For one, stuff that’s already in the museum.

“MoMA has been collecting architecture and design objects for decades,” says Plat. That means that some of the items you see on the shelf at the MoMA shop are also sitting in a display case over at the museum, presented as art objects that people pay to look at. This teak cutlery set by iconic Danish brand Dansk is in the museum’s permanent collection, as are these sleek crystal Champagne glasses and this Screwpull corkscrew.

Sometimes the exact item isn’t featured in the museum, but the brand is. “Is the designer or the manufacturer in the MoMA permanent collection?” says Plat. “That could be a reason why we’d be interested in certain products.” This stainless steel “matrix” bowl or these groovy vases? They’re manufactured by Georg Jensen, a brand that pops up in no fewer than seven MoMA exhibitions.

Potential products that don’t have a preexisting museum connection need to deliver in other ways, which is where many of the kitchen and cooking products come in. Plat says they look for particularly innovative products, or ones that offer a clever solution to a real everyday problem — and, of course, have a great look.

This Dutch oven, for example, has an authentic rustic aesthetic, thanks to being made of real train tracks; it also, in a stroke of radical convenience, features a built-in thermometer on the outside, so you don’t need to constantly open up your cooking food and stick a thermometer in. This three-in-one peeler solves multiple problems at once while still looking sleek. And this dish draining rack has the kind of minimalist, pastel look that would fit right in any chic 2018 boutique, yet is also modular and easy to clean.

And sometimes, the problem a product can solve is to make the everyday and the mundane a little more delightful.

“We brought these sponges from Germany that are made of some kind of plastic material, but they’re very soft... and they’re simply very tactile, and very colorful,” says Plat. “We sell thousands of those.”

Same goes for kitchen and home products by Danish brand Hay, which MoMA now stocks.

“You can feel, when you see the Hay collection, that you just want to own some of these objects,” says Plat. “You may not really need it — like, you may have a cutting board at home. But you see the one in this bright yellow or in this red, and you say, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen anything like that, I want it!’”

Because everyone could use a cutting board, or a peeler, or a silverware set. But it’s way more fun to have ones that look so cool, they could truly belong in a museum.

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