In Quarantine, Some of Our Favorite Products Are Hardly Products At All

In terms of how we find content here at Sight Unseen, there’s almost always a lull in new projects after the holidays. In a typical year, that lull would turn into a full-on swell by virtue of the first fairs of the year, which are usually many: Maison & Objet in Paris, IMM Cologne, the FOG fair in San Francisco, and more. But of course this isn’t a typical year, and to be honest, we’ve been struggling to be inspired to post, which can be hard for someone in the “inspiration business” to admit. There are no fairs, there are no studio visits, there are no parties, there are no exhibition openings, and, in many cases, there are no new products to speak of anyway. The drive to create is much less propulsive when no one is exactly sure when we’ll be able to see each other and the things we’ve made again (not to mention the individual financial, familial, and news cycle–related struggles that we are all dealing with). When I posted about feeling uninspired on Instagram (basically the only avenue to the outside world at this point), the floodgates opened. “Creativity switch has been OFF since March 2020 ?,” said one textile artist in Brooklyn. “Have stopped feeling guilty or even lazy and instead am trying to embrace this time we’ll never have again,” said a product designer in Seattle. “Isolation definitely cuts the flow of the creative community,” said another.

So why am I writing this here? Well, for one, it’s important for us all to know that we’re going through the same thing, and that it’s completely valid and not shameful. But it’s also occurred to me that some of the more interesting submissions we’ve gotten lately have existed outside the boundaries of what we typically think of as a product. Number one amongst these is a series of vases by Dutch designer Willem van Hooff, which were commissioned as holiday gifts for the EDHV design studio and Dutch Invertuals teams in Eindhoven, each vase based on the personal characteristics of its recipient and meant as a way to honor each team member in this difficult year of working remotely. These are great, and would obviously be successful as a commercial product (and in fact van Hooff sells similar ones on his website). But they also show that as much as being thrown off the treadmill of the design calendar has been de-centering and disconcerting, it can also potentially open the door to things that might never had existed otherwise.