Michael Graves designed a darn fine pasta ladle. You imagined him up all night, pacing the floor, discarding one design after the other, crumpling up drawings and throwing them at the wall in frustration. The handle, it’s all wrong! I want it to feel like the thigh of a fat frog, and they send me this — this — bony pole?
Graves died last week. He will be known to some as a postmodern architect, and known to others as the guy who designed their mop. This isn’t something you can say about many artists. No one talks about the architect of the Empire State Building and adds that he also designed one heck of a toilet plunger. But Graves put his name on all manner of common household tools, and Target reaped chic cred from his name.
Perhaps Graves thought, “I am the titan of modern architecture, and yet I am known to the lowly masses as the designer of a sponge caddy with a trademark blue accent.” But he gave us aesthetically consistent household implements — and that had more impact on people’s lives than a building somewhere else.
Quality varied. The toilet plunger was made of some sort of rubber that began with the pursed tight strength of a prude’s lips at a nudist colony, and after a few years it was like using Mick Jagger’s mouth to seal a fire hydrant. The broom and dustpan were lovely, but the bristles were thick and oddly spaced, so they didn’t sweep up much. It was like using a pitchfork to sweep up sand.
But the spatula? Top quality. It has been spatulating for over a decade. The aforementioned pasta ladle is the most perfect example of the tool I’ve seen, and it’s unbreakable. It will be handed down to my daughter. It is heirloom-quality.
It’s cheap irony to note that he died the week Target had a full-body corporate spasm and shed 1,700 jobs, but you do wonder whether Target’s fortunes might be tied to the dimming of their fashionable rep — if, that is, you’re a newspaper columnist for whom cheap irony is irresistible. But so is cheap style. Graves knew it, which is why news of his death made millions think about a mop they had 10 years ago. Can you name anything like that in the stores today?
Didn’t think so.