written by:
illustrated by:
August 12, 2009
Originally published in The City Life

Good design isn’t inextricably wed to a high price tag. These classic designs run the gamut of types and prices. 

holder andrew shelf

Under $100

Biopac biodegradable plates, biopac.co.uk

The United States produces a staggering 693,150 tons of garbage every day—– about 250 million tons a year. Twenty-five percent of this waste by volume is polystyrene, an industrial polymer used to make, among other things, the petroleum-based plastic commonly known as Styrofoam. Scientists can’t agree on how long it will take Styrofoam to degrade; a good guess is between 500 years and never. Whatever the number, it’s clear we need a useful, cheap, environmentally conscious alternative to Styrofoam.

In response, British-based company Biopac has produced vegetable-starch-eating disposable plates (along with biodegradable plastics for medical supplies and horticulture products). Biopac’s organic shapes and simulated woodgrain finishes make the line of fully decomposing, food-oriented disposables not only beautiful but essential to earth-minded picnickers.

Over $100

Technics SL-1200 turntable, panasonic.com

In the 1960s and early 1970s, playing an LP on a turntable was a tenuous affair: At higher volumes feedback often resonated through the tone arms; some motors played too fast, others too slow, and there was no way of adjusting the speed; vibrations from even walking a few feet from some players could be enough for needles to pop and skip. Turntables were generally noisy, temperamental, and difficult.

In response to these common complaints, Japanese company Matsushita (which became Panasonic) released the first SL-1200 turntables in 1972. The SL-1200 included a heavy base to greatly minimize skipping and feedback; a magnetic direct-drive system to avoid wear and slippage; and a revolutionary variable pitch control to allow adjustment of the record’s speed. The result was a turntable that played quieter, cleaner, and more accurately than any of its competitors. Soon after its introduction, the SL-1200 became the industry standard for radio and the de rigueur accessory for audiophiles.

The SL-1200 has remained in continuous production for 37 years as the world’s best-selling turntable because it is easy to use, striking to look at, and ridiculously durable. Just ask your local DJ.

Over $1000

606 Universal Shelving System by Dieter Rams for Vitsoe, vitsoe.com

Dieter Rams, one of the world’s most influential product designers, was at a crisis in the early 1980s. He saw in the world around him nothing but “an impenetrable confusion of forms, colors, and noises.” The result of his malaise was his now-famous ten commandments of good product design. Rams argued design must be innovative, useful, aesthetic, unobtrusive, honest, durable, and thorough to the last detail; help a product be understood; be concerned with the environment; and be designed as little as possible.

Though articulated later in his career, these commandments are strikingly presaged in this 1960 shelving system. Easy to install, fully portable, and modular, the Universal Shelving System is customizable with a series of adjustable-depth shelves, multiuse cabinets, wall-mounting, and compressed-feet stabilizers. Twiggy-thin and streamlined, Rams’s design cuts a striking profile, lending any interior a razor-sharp focus and freshness.

The 606 Universal Shelving System has been in continual production for nearly 50 years for a reason, actually many reasons. It is built to last forever and can be easily moved from location to location, and its “anti-waste” and “anti-style” design ensures its appeal in the next century as it has in the past.

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