It’s hard to put a finger on just how the New York store Kiosk — which peddles quirky housewares from around the world, one country at a time — vaulted from cherished destination of a few to the kind of place Jasper Morrison, London’s best-known everyday-object apologist, feels obliged to check out when he’s rolling through town. But while the 4-year-old Soho shop has begun to shed its air of secrecy, it has never lost its charm. Climbing a set of graffiti-covered stairs to its second-floor entrance, you never know what you’re going to find at the top — it could be two Brooklyn girls selling cookies, or a wall full of vintage Christmas cards, or something like a stapler from Hestra, Sweden, or a saucepan from Kowloon, that once you bring it home you aren’t quite sure how you ever lived without it.
Kiosk’s chaotic energy — and its amazingly curated collection — come from its owners, Alisa Grifo and husband Marco Romeny, whose travels have taken them from Mexico to Finland to bring back beautiful, practical, locally produced wares from each featured country. In November, the pair debuted Portugal, their ninth geographical collection, after spending six weeks this fall getting to know the tiny nation, which is about the size of Ohio.
Why Portugal? “It was on a shortlist I’d written two years ago of places I wanted to go,” says Grifo. “Turkey, Calcutta, Hong Kong, Vietnam — Portugal just started coming together.” A friend turned them on to a likeminded store in Lisbon, whose proprietor in turn hooked them up with two weeks of free housing. What started as a path of least resistance soon turned into a full-blown love affair: “Three weeks turned into six, one visit into two,” says Grifo. “We were at the furthest west point in Portugal, Cabo da Roca, and sitting there, you really feel like you’re on the edge of something. It’s the very end of the world. It’s one of these magical places.”
In Portugal, Grifo and Romeny did what they do: They ate the local food (“Marco was like, ‘No, I can’t go to another pastry store!’”), they nipped into hardware stores and specialty shops, and they chatted up residents and retailers who could lead them to objects that were beautiful and inexpensive but also translatable to an American market. They came back to New York with their largest collection to date, and one that may keep growing. “Normally we would move on, but I don’t know if I want to do that anymore,” says Grifo. “It’s irresponsible with the waste we create to just churn through a place.” A small collection of Icelandic candy is in the works, but for now at least, Grifo is abandoning her globe-trotting agenda to focus on producing a few products in collaboration with manufacturers Kiosk has worked with in the past. In the meantime, Portugal will rule the shelves. Grifo gave us an inside look at the thinking behind the current collection: what she and Romeny bought, what they left behind, and why it matters.