What They Bought
Kiosk's Portugal collection

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.

toilet paper

Some Kiosk products are the result of painstaking research or long drives on back roads in rented cars. And some are found totally by chance. “We were at this shop in Porto that sells only rubber goods, and I noticed this beautiful twine they were using for packaging,” says Grifo. “I asked where they’d gotten it, and they walked us over to a wholesale paper goods shop. That’s where we found the toilet paper.” Unfortunately the twine wasn’t meant to be — it’s not produced in Portugal — and neither was the TP: “With importing, you pay for volume. This would be like an $8 roll of toilet paper.”

twine

The aforementioned twine.

knocker

In Foz Do Sousa, a small town just outside Porto, these cast-iron door knockers are made by Cif, a factory that puts out everything from pots to city lampposts to the cast-iron ovens typically found in the French countryside. “It’s how I imagine a factory would be in India,” says Grifo. “There’s no safety gear — they’re wearing T-shirts and a pair of gloves and working with molten iron. It feels like standard regulations and rules haven’t entirely caught up in Portugal, but it was so beautiful and primitive.” Grifo and Romeny originally found the knocker at a hardware store in Lisbon, but even after tracking down its maker, they never could find anyone to explain the significance of a hand holding what looks to be a soccer ball.

fios de ovos

On the left is a stainless-steel device used to harvest the pulp from inside a melon squash, later to be used in marmalades and compotes. On the right is an inox vessel used to make Fios de Ovos, a stringy sugar-and-egg confection that goes inside or on top of glazed Portuguese pastries. “I thought both of these were really fascinating kitchen tools, but they’re too specific to Portugal,” says Grifo. Instead, Grifo brought in stainless-steel ½ liter and ¼ liter measuring cups produced by the same company. “Great for when you’re making European recipes!” she says.

shovel

“This shovel is one of those multipurpose tools you see all around Portugal,” Grifo says. It's primarily used to clear away charcoal from underneath outdoor fish grills or to scoop salt in the bins where tuna and other fish are salted and cured. “But again, I couldn’t find a reason for people here to have this, so I’m still thinking about it,” says Grifo. “When we have things that are just interesting objects, it defeats our purpose. I want things that people will use. I don’t want something that people will put on their shelf because it looks cool.”

tray + sugar

Grifo fell immediately in love with this red sugar bowl, produced in Leiria by a small family-run company — one of the last two melamine producers in Europe. ("The melamine there is amazing, held to a completely different standard than in Asia," Grifo marvels.) Kiosk also stocks a bird waterer made by same company. But the plastic tray also pictured here got the boot. “These are in all the bakeries, with the pastries lined up, tray after tray after tray. It serves a definite purpose in Portugal, but here it seems a bit antiquated.”

trivet + hook

The Portugal collection is heavy on aluminum products: olive-oil dispensers, funnels, frying drying dishes. Grifo has a particular fondness for the material — “basically, I would love to open an aluminum shop,” she says — but its manufacturing is also quite prevalent in Portugal. In the ’60s and ’70s, when most countries were switching to steel, dictator-led Portugal didn’t have the money to modernize. As for this hook and trivet, neither is marked; “branding hasn’t really taken off yet in Portugal,” says Grifo, and while that makes for a refreshing lack of street advertisements, it also makes it really hard to find things. “We sent photos of the hook and trivet to random aluminum manufacturers until we finally found the right one.”

cookies

Portugal’s version of a berliner is a bola de berlim — a sugar-covered donut slashed open to reveal its creamy yellow center. “I’d read about this place in Viana do Castelo that made the best ones, and I’d wanted to go anyway because the town is known for its embroidery and its regional costume museum,” Grifo says. "I had one hot out of the oven and whoa — they couldn’t get rid of me! They sold this bag of biscuits there as well, and I thought it summed up the town nicely since the woman on the package is wearing the local costume. We called to ask if we could have some sent, and they said no, they don’t need that type of business. I'll bring these cookies in eventually, but it will require us going there to get them, which I will gladly do because I want to eat that donut again.”

notebook + pencils

Grifo and Romeny were accompanied for much of the trip by Nuno Neves, the graphic designer behind Serrote, a company outside Lisbon that makes limited-edition letterpress notebooks like the one on the left. On the right is a box of colored pencils by Viarco, the last pencil manufacturer in Portugal. Grifo has plans to produce a collaboration between the two. “We don’t have much money so it’s hard, but I’d like to give more attention and care to some of the companies we work with. Viarco used to make these pencils that have a roller-stamped image on them. Nuno wants to use this technique — basically a letterpress for a pencil — with his images, and then he’ll produce a matching notebook as well.”

kiosk lair

A glimpse inside Kiosk's back-office lair.