"High Tech," a new book by Joan Kron and Suzanne Slesin, aims to show you how to find the right heavy-duty, restaurant-model can opener to take the lid off the brave new world.
It always happens this way in the last decades of the century -- everybody goes out looking for futuristic answers to the problems of the day. In politics, the fin-de-sicle brings on revolution. In design, a new style.
As we stand on the edge of the '80s, design is clearly eclectic. In architecture, the move is to diversity. Even the practicioners of the international style, the mechanistic movement, born of Bauhaus, have come to announce its demise. So all of this makes "High Tech" -- subtitled "The Industrial Style and Source Book for the Home" seem a throwback to an earlier day.
To those of us, who in the '50s were told that clean-lined design -- carafes in the kitchen, canvas in the living room, stainless steel in the bath -- would make us honest and healthy, High Tech seems rather like the place where we came in.
Even so the book is riveting. Think of it: a flexible fence used for street repairs turned into a bathroom towel rack; a garage lamp hanging over your dining table, file cabinets turned into banquettes; bucket seats from your sports car used as lounge chairs; metal lockers as room-divider closets; fourposter beds made of erector sets (complete with a support arm for the television); comforters made from moving company pallets; library stacks for bookcases; and coffee tables from truck wheels (without the tires).
Their theory is that industrial and commercial products are a "better value" than most retail products -- sturdier, longer lasting, better looking, if not less expensive. To this end, they have documented people using such products and produced a guide to where to buy them.
Joan Kron claims she first thought of High Tech several years ago when she was writing for Philadelphia magazine and working as an interior designer on the side. When she and Slesin were writing for New York magazine, they found New York stuffed with manufacturers and wholesalers, who, with some persuasion, would sell a single item instead of the gross that commercial and industrial products come in.
In a year of hard work, Kron and Slesin together with researcher Nancy Klein, came up with 42 pages of sources and 240 pages of pictures of pre-fab parts elegantly used, all in a magnificent graphic design -- each page looks like an art poster -- by Walter Bernard. The book is a triumph of design -- all the information about each object pictured is contained on the same page or double spread.
By the time you're finished reading the book, you're so carried away with the possibilities -- so persuasive are Kron/Slesin, their witty words, seductive sets, slick photographs and graphics -- that you're all for selling your Empire sofa and your Hepplewhite chest and moving into the nearest prefabricated parts factory.
The influence of the book has already been strong -- New York High Tech boutiques, carrying cleaning lady carts, restaurant china, and factory lamps are opening every day. In Washington, places like Hechinger, Bon Marche, the Door Store, the Design Store, Scan, have always carried a few such items. Now they have more. Meanwhile large department stores like The Hecht Co., Wood-ward & Lothrop and Bloomingdale's are beginning to carry such items. Kron and Slesin maintain that the best source for industrial and commercial objects remains the telephone book.
So it seems only fair to ask, "How has the book affected Kron and Slesin and the way they live? In other words, do they practice what they preach?" And what can ordinary mortals learn from them?