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.
In the mountains north of Barcelona, deep in the heart of Catalonia, a renowned gastronomer toils in an experimental food lab, researching and testing dozens of flavors each year. Beloved by his peers, he has thousands of loyal fans. But he is not Ferran Adrìa.
When you're a graphic designer and an aircraft engineer with zero fashion training, and yet you find yourself becoming the go-to clothing line of Melbourne — worn by the likes of Patti Smith, LCD Soundsystem, and Jamie Oliver — you learn to get really good at improvising. And trusting your instincts. So it goes for Alex and Georgie Cleary, the brother-and-sister duo behind Alpha60, who base its designs not on fashion trends but on whatever random pop-culture reference they happen to be into at any given moment.
When Henry David Thoreau took to the woods in 1845 to begin his Walden experiment, it was more of an exercise in social deprivation than an outright attempt to recharge his creative batteries. But his flight from civilization does prove that he — and all the generations of writers and makers who have flocked to sylvan retreats for productivity’s sake — felt every bit as besieged by the distractions of modern life as we do nearly two centuries later. Paging through Arcadia (Gestalten, 2009), a catalog of contemporary architectural hideaways built among trees and mountains, all I could think about was how powerful a tool nature has always been in creative life: We need to be immersed in culture to inform the things we create, but we also desperately need escape to give our minds the space to process it.