Ah, the impotence of the urban dweller. Ever since the Best Made Company axe debuted this spring, you’d be hard-pressed to find a New Yorker who isn’t dying to snap open that wooden case and heave the Tennessee hickory–handled thing at… well, what, exactly? “At first I thought a lot of New Yorkers would buy them,” says Peter Buchanan-Smith, the New York–based graphic designer who founded the company along with his childhood pal Graeme Cameron. But it turns out the best audience for an axe — even one with a handle saturated in gorgeous shades of spray paint — is a person who actually might use an axe. “A woman from Flin Flon, Manitoba, called us up a couple of months ago and ordered six axes for her six sons,” says Buchanan-Smith. “Now she’s going be a contributor to our blog.”
For Buchanan-Smith and Cameron, Best Made was never about making a showpiece for urban hipsters, though that’s the demographic that’s been swooning over the pieces in print and onblogs. But the axes were always meant to be shown. “An axe shouldn’t be kept in some dark corner of a tool shed,” says Best Made’s website. “Best Made axes are beautiful objects and timeless instruments: they will inspire for generations, they are to be collected, treasured, and used to chop wood or limb some branches.” Buchanan-Smith should know: He grew up on a farm an hour outside of Toronto and met Cameron in the early ’80s at Camp Ahmek, an all-boys camp in Northern Ontario’s Algonquin Park. “That camp wasn’t about keeping kids distracted, it was about skills,” says Buchanan-Smith. “God help you if you lost your axe on a canoe trip.” Growing up, Buchanan-Smith’s father kept an axe with a yellow safety band covering its throat, and that splash of color is what gave the Best Made axe its original inspiration.
In his short career, Buchanan-Smith has been the designer responsible for some major pop artifacts — book covers for Maira Kalman, lookbooks and branding for Isaac Mizrahi, the redesign of Paper magazine, the New York Times Op-Ed page, and Wilco’s Grammy Award–winning A Ghost is Born album cover. But with Best Made, he says, “I feel like I’m scratching an itch that needed to be scratched.” Buchanan-Smith recently took time out to lead me around the studio for an inside look at the making of the Best Made axe.
When most of us get a package in the mail, it’s the book we ordered from Amazon, or a birthday gift from our parents. When Bec Brittain gets a package, it’s usually full of dead bugs. She orders them in bulk off the internet for a dollar a pop, then chops them into pieces and transforms them into hybrid bug-monsters.
As I walked the Tendence gift fair in Frankfurt this summer, Iris Maschek appeared to me like an oasis of glam in a desert of practicality. There she was, surrounded by clocks and soaps and clever ceramic jugs with customizable chalkboard labels, dressed all in black and perched in a cool mid-century rattan chair against this gorgeously baroque Rorschach-like backdrop: A specimen from her very first wallpaper collection.
This story was originally published on November 3, 2009. A year and a half later, Dror Benshetrit unveiled at the New Museum a simple, scalable structural joint system called QuaDror, which just may turn out to be his magnum opus. It takes obvious inspiration from the kinds of toys he shared with Sight Unseen here. // Some furniture expands if you’re having extra dinner guests, or folds if you’re schlepping it to a picnic. But most of it just sits there, content to be rather than do. This drives New York–based designer Dror Benshetrit crazy. “Static freaks me out,” he’s said, and so the Design Academy Eindhoven graduate has spent the entirety of his young career making things that either capture a state of transformation (his progressively shattered series of vases for Rosenthal) or actually transform themselves (the Pick Chair and Folding Sofa that flatten using simple mechanics). When I first saw Dror’s latest project, a trivet for Alessi whose concentric metal arcs are magnetized so they can be reconfigured endlessly — and even, the designer enthusiasticaly suggests, worn as a necklace — I thought: If he can’t even let a trivet sit still then his fascination with movement must be more than a design philosophy, it’s probably coded in his DNA. I was right. Dror has been obsessed with kinetic toys since he was a child.