In honor of Sight Unseen’s first anniversary, we, the editors, decided to turn the lens on ourselves, revealing what inspires us as writers about and champions of design and art. If you’re an especially devoted reader of Sight Unseen, you might have noticed that Monica — who spent her childhood putting bugs under a kiddie microscope and was at the head of her high-school calculus class — often tends towards subjects inspired by geometry and science, while Jill — whose love for color and pattern likely began with an uncommonly large novelty earring collection — favors maximalist, throw-every-color-at-the-wall-and-see-if-it-sticks types. We were interested to see how those formative experiences would play out in a documention of our own reference points. Here’s a closer look at eight of Jill’s editor’s picks.
Things Organized Neatly: A Tumblr with this name launched earlier this year (this great picture of what looks like rugelach in the making was snagged from there) and it’s the most perfect title I could ever dream of. I’m obsessed with things organized neatly, and if you’re reading this site, there's a chance you are, too. For me, it’s a combination of an urge for control (otherwise known as a Type A personality), an indoctrination by a series of art directors fond of Swiss graphic design, and the fact that things organized neatly look awfully pretty.
Things Organized Neatly: It actually goes somewhat against what we’re about at Sight Unseen. When we shoot a studio or a factory, we hardly ever move things into place or prop scenes unless there’s a lighting issue. We are champions of messiness. But there is admittedly a little frisson of excitement that happens when you find a vignette where things are organized just so. (Photo © Joseph O. Holmes)
Things Organized Neatly: It’s also likely why I love flea markets, where you can often find random spots of order among the chaos, like these colorful yarn spindles I photographed last year at Brimfield.
The Human Body: When I was a kid, I was in love with this 1983 pop-up anatomy book, by Jonathan Miller and David Pelham. It had movable flaps that could demonstrate how, say, light is refracted by the human eye or how joints move within their sockets. I would spend hours opening and closing the front cover to make the jaw hinge up and down or playing with layered spreads, where you first lifted up the musculature, then the ribcage, then the lungs to reveal a bisected heart.
The Human Body: I think it’s safe to say this was an early introduction to the idea of deconstruction, which is at the heart of any writer’s practice. But even more, it’s probably where I first became fascinated by how things are made. You can watch a video of the book in action here.
Henrik Vibskov: Unlike my cohort, I tend to wear a lot of color and pattern, and while I could point to a dozen designers whose prints I love, I’ve been drawn lately to those by Danish fashion designer Henrik Vibskov, whose gorgeous colorblock scarf I picked up at Reward in Philly. The umbrella above is part of a collection he created for the Canadian kids’ line Quinny, which also included strollers, footmuffs, and blankets. I like the idea of starting kids early on good design.
Foreign supermarkets: When we travel, our first stop is often the local grocery store. It’s a good way to get to know a city and the language, but it’s also where a lot of beautiful graphic design happens.
Foreign supermarkets: The best story we never got a chance to publish at I.D. was on generic packaging from around the world, and the best things we’ve ever found were a racist chocolate candy in Spain and this Italian household cleaning agent from the Corso Genova Punto in Milan. Why Quasar?
Office supplies: The other stop I should be making when I travel but never seem to have the time to is the stationery store. I love the everyday utility and iconic forms of office supplies — tape, tape dispensers, staples, staplers, pencils, scissors, and the like — but I’ve been relying on our friends at Kiosk, Alisa Grifo and Marco Romeny, to source the best ones for me (though the stapler pictured in my collection above is from Jasper Morrison’s shop in London). They're great to collect as well, because you actually end up using them, rather then keeping them for show in a little cabinet of curiosities.
Office supplies: I fear for my wallet if I ever make it to Japan.
Photographs of water: I grew up a swimmer, which could explain why I find myself so attracted to pictures of massive bodies of water: pools, oceans, fjords, beaches — you name it. But whatever the reason, the very first piece of art I ever bought was from Jen Bekman's 20x200 series: an 11x14 print by New Zealand photographer Carlo Van de Roer that depicts three swimmers in an Icelandic lagoon. I love the pale blue of it, and its stillness, but it would be even better on a massive scale. That’s why I’m saving up to buy a huge print from the Beach series by Italian photographer Massimo Vitali (above)…
… or the equally amazing "Chateau Pool" by our friend, the Brooklyn photographer Gregory Krum. I saw it full-sized at 30x40 when I photographed his house for Sight Unseen earlier this year and have coveted it ever since.
Dansk Kobenstyle Enamel Cookware: I have a pretty healthy obsession with vintage kitchenware — I hate most anything with plastic grips besides my Chef’n Palm Peeler — but I tend to stick with the things I grew up with: footed metal colanders with star-shaped perforations, cornflower Corning Ware, and Russel Wright ceramics (my grandmother had a set in the loveliest shade of gray).
Dansk Kobenstyle Enamel Cookware: But at Brimfield last year, I found the perfect casserole dish — a never-before-used, bright-red example of the classic design by Dansk co-founder Jens Quistgaard — and have since scoured Etsy and eBay for other unchipped pieces to complete my set. The pronged handles are such a beautiful, understated detail.
RA: I’d heard of this Antwerp store, started last year by two graduates of that city’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts, but it wasn’t until I visited on vacation just last week that I understood how terrific their vision is. On blogs, RA is often mentioned in the same breath as other intimidatingly high-end concept shops, but despite carrying similarly priced clothes, RA feels less like a museum and more like a playground — which could be because of its kooky site-specific installations. You feel like you could don some Linda Farrow sunglasses, wrap yourself in a vintage Guy Laroche fur, and plop down on this cozy woven carpet by artist Irene Alvarez, which was inspired by Incan art and features cartoons, monsters, and weird microchip patterns.
RA: Humor is an element of all my favorite stores — TenOverSix, The Future Perfect, SCP, Kiosk, etc. Case in point: When I visited RA, the featured exhibition was Brooklyn-based Joshua Ben-Longo's toothy monsters and oddly butt-like sculptures. The store also features a thatched-hut cash desk by Mathieu Lehanneur, mirrored jewelry cases by BCXSY, and these amazing human-sized dolls by Chinese knitwear designer Misu (right) and Danish collective Moon Spoon Saloon (left).