This article titled “Objects of desire: the design delights of my favourite things” was written by Genevieve Fox, Chris Hall, Joanne O’Connor, Kate Finnigan, for The Observer on Sunday 15th April 2018 11.30 Asia/Kolkata
Will Self, writer: ‘This old typewriter used to belong to my mother’
The Olivetti Lettera 22 typewriter This is widely regarded as the greatest typewriter of all time. It’s the best ergonomically; it has a light action on the keyboard, but it still has a rhythm. It has an amazing set of features for a tiny machine. It has a half space insertion so you can delete a five-letter word with Tippex and then type it in again; if it’s one letter longer you can do a half space and squeeze up words. It’s also got much more sophisticated tabulation
I didn’t take possession of this olive green one until 1988 after my mother died. I have two of them and they were both hers. One my eldest brother in America sent to me. I think he had the one with the US keys rather than the UK keys. I move between the two. This one is from the early 50s so it’s nearly 70 years old. That’s a hell of an age for a machine to be in regular use.
As a kid I was always going out to get typewriters. When I started to get obsessed about “writing” when I was nine or 10, you could go to a charity shop and get an old Underwood for a quid, at the point people were getting rid of them.
I used to have a little collection of typewriters. I had three or four Imperial Good Companions, which is the typewriter Beryl Bainbridge used – a beautiful machine from the late 30s that really looks steam punk. Then I got obsessed by Groma Kolibris, which are in the film The Lives of Others. I love the thinness of it. It’s a beautiful machine.
I was seriously thinking of getting a Malling-Hansen Writing Ball – Nietzsche had one. It looks like a porcupine with the keys in a ball all around it. I was becoming obsessed by super-early typewriters, super-tiny typewriters. But then I got rid of them all. I could see the beginning of the end of the whole typewriter shtick. They’re great machines, but they’re old. The Olivettis are the only two I have left.
Shalom Simons really is the last typewriter repairman left in London. I haven’t been in touch with him for three or four years so I’m not even sure if he’s retired. This Olivetti does need work now, and may not last me the next book. I think: “Come on, Will, you’ve got to reconcile yourself with moving on and writing some other way.” It would be fine to write longhand and then type it up on a non-wireless enabled computer.
I never learned to touch-type – I still have to peck to this day. The problem with writing on computers now is that it’s unbounded – you feel that the world is with you in your creative life and that’s not helpful. I like the noise of the typewriter and then the silence. When you work on a computer you have a continual ultrasonic whine of some kind. When you’re working on a typewriter you have these little bursts but then you stop and… silence.
I’m not given to sentiment, but I felt very moved to be working on James Ballard’s old Olympia machine a few years back, to be channelling him to some extent. I’ve written a novel about my mum, How the Dead Live, and I’m always thinking about my mum in one way or another – she’s always lurking around and, just as with our parents we’ve got phrases that come up all the time, I’m sure there are lots of phrases in my novels that relate to her on the typewriter. It’s very evocative.
Ashish Gupta, fashion designer: ‘The tap has quite a Liberace vibe to it’
Solid brass swan kitchen tap I like finding unique things and surrounding myself with objects I’ve collected. A lot of my kitchen, which I renovated myself, is salvage. The cupboards are butterfly cabinets from the Museum of Natural History and the tops are from an old chemistry lab – there’s a section that has some rude graffiti on it, which I love. I got the handmade Portuguese tiles while I was in Lisbon. They were once in the Ritz Hotel there.
When the kitchen was nearly finished, everything was held up by the tap. I didn’t have one. I didn’t want a modern, clinical tap, I wanted something weird. I’m quite a control freak, for want of a better word, and I must have spent two weeks visiting every single bathroom shop in London and going on eBay at 2am. I was like a crazy person. Then I saw a picture of a golden swan tap in an old fashion shoot somewhere and I thought: “That’s the tap!”
It was only about $30 on eBay. I think it’s 1970s or 80s. It’s got quite a Liberace vibe. Water comes out of the beak. Swans are quite aggressive and there’s something quite sexy about that. Of course, the builders said they couldn’t fit it because it wasn’t compatible with the pipes, but they had to sort it out because I said: “This is the only tap I’m having.”
It’s solid brass and ornate and feels a little Indian. I grew up in India and my family is there. There is a famous Indian painting by Raja Ravi Varma with a swan in it and the tap always reminds me of that. The swan is the vehicle of Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge and creative arts. I have an image of her in the hallway. As a kid I used to read a lot of mythology and fairy tales so it reminds me of my childhood.
After the kitchen was finished I bought the flat downstairs. But I loved everything about the kitchen upstairs so the builders had to move it all down, piece by piece. They told me the swan tap was broken on the inside and I totally panicked. I found a second one. This time it was almost £200, but I didn’t care. Then it turned out the other one wasn’t broken, so now that one is in the laundry room and I have two golden swan taps.
Ashish Gupta’s fashion label is Ashish
Julia Peyton-Jones, curator and gallery director: ‘To live with this chair and table is a joy’
Medici chair and table by Konstantin Grcic and MEME CCLII 2013 by Antony Gormley My abiding mantra is Gilbert and George’s “To be with art is all we ask,” and I have chosen three objects which I live with and look at every day: a Medici chair and table by Konstantin Grcic, an incredible designer, and a beautiful sculpture given to me by Antony Gormley when I left the Serpentine Gallery in 2016.
To live with this chair and table is a joy. It is a gorgeous design and made of American walnut. If you live in London, as I do, it is very nice to see nature transformed into this glorious structure. I have two Medici chairs. They sit against the window in my sitting room, which looks on to playing fields, the table between them. My daughter’s toys sit beside them. I sit in one of the chairs every day, to read or write. There are no arms; the chair feels very expansive. It is very comfortable, and that is unexpected; it makes you do a double take. I am continually amused and surprised by that. When I look at it, I play with the angles. I think of constructivism and the great abstract artists and how they play with form. The chair is one of the most basic utilitarian objects, yet Konstantin has made it sublimely different.
The Gormley lives in the same room. The figure, taken from the series MEMES, 2009-2015, is kneeling with its head on the ground and its arms crossed. It is contemplative – homage, that is the word that comes to mind. There are 33 positions in this series, called MEMES after Richard Dawkins [who coined the term “meme” in The Selfish Gene]. It comes from the Greek word meaning “imitated thing”.
It is 39.5cm in length and made of solid iron, which naturally degrades. It is incredibly heavy relative to its size – its weight is a shock every time and somehow appropriate, given its incredible trajectory from ancient Greece to now. I am fascinated by the formal aspects of the sculptor’s work, its completeness and its scale. There is a novel, a short story, a poem, a haiku. This is a haiku – an extremely difficult thing to be able to do.
I never touch it, partly because the weight of it makes it rooted, but I tweak the chairs. I want them to look their best, to show their better angles. The iron is a rich burnt red, but it is not uniform. The surface is slightly pitted; it feels kind of gravelly. It is rough to the touch in the same way that the Medicis are silky smooth, like glass.
The Gormley is tender. Can a chair be tender? No. But it can be so sensitively made that it gives the user an optimum experience of using it. That takes enormous consideration and care and sensitivity. Genevieve Fox
Julia Peyton-Jones is Senior Global Director: Special Projects at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac (ropac.net)
Isamaya Ffrench, make-up artist: ‘The person who gave me this became my boyfriend’
Fungi in resin An old specimen of a bug trapped in amber, that’s what my two mushrooms preserved in resin look like. I love fungi. With these two, you can still see the soil at the base of each, and their gills, too. They are like fine, golden hairs. The resin block is 9cm high and 5.5cm wide. The colour is a bit de-saturated – it’s a sort of yellow. It catches the light.
Mushrooms have mysterious qualities and a very interesting symbiosis with trees and plants. They grow like a neural network; the mushroom itself is just the fruiting body of the organism that lives beneath the ground.
These two were sent to me in the post by a mystery person. I opened up the parcel and I was shocked. It was like a gift from beyond. It was the best way to woo me. The sender, who I’d only met on Instagram, later became my boyfriend.
When I first got into make-up, after studying industrial design at uni, I read a lot about fungi’s psychotropic effects and their possible links with the birth of religion, and also about Carl Jung and the symbolism of objects.
Fungi seemed to be a bridge between life and death. Because of their mind-expanding properties, they also represent new ways of looking at the world. I am not into drugs, but my own work is an organic process and this object is also symbolic of a connection between it and nature. I absolutely love nature.
My resin mushrooms live in my bathroom on one of three shelves filled with objects I have collected from around the world. It’s a little museum space.
My work is concept-led and it’s about building a character and having a narrative. I use make-up as a tool to communicate a person and their life. It’s why this object is one of the most precious things I own – there is such a big back story to it.
Tom Ford Beauty’s Extrême Collection with Isamaya Ffrench is available at Selfridges
Renni Eddo-Lodge, writer: ‘I like my things to be clean, tidy and functional’
Kitsound Ribbon in-ear wireless headphones I am a restless person. I’m on the move a lot, even in my house. I like to be entertained at all levels of life and to take in information via news programmes and podcasts and things like that.
I don’t really like silence, unless it’s filled with my thoughts. Design is something that seamlessly slots into your life: my clothes, the tech I use, the bike I ride, kitchenware. I try to prioritise function; I am not someone who thinks about beauty that much. I like things to be clean, tidy and functional. If it looks good, that’s a bonus.
What would I feel lost without? Headphones. I carry them with me every day. But they break after a while, as my old ones did, and it’s normally the wire. I’d been thinking about getting a wireless pair for a while, but I didn’t want to sink a whole lot of money into them. These cost me less than £15.
They make life easier for me. I no longer feel restricted. They are moulded plastic and black. Incognito. I don’t like my things to stand out. They are super small and super convenient; they slip into a pocket. I’ve noticed that if I am listening to something really interesting I won’t take them out when I get home, like I used to do with my old headphones. I keep listening. They are part of me.
Renni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I Am No Longer Talking to White People About Race is £7.64 from guardianbookshop.com
Hannah Weiland, fashion designer: ‘I can’t sleep without him. Weird, as I’m quite old now’
Teddy dog cuddly toy DogDog is a teddy dog, my sleeping toy, and my most prized possession ever. I got him when I was five. I find him aesthetically very pleasing. I like his shape – the simplicity of his roundness, and of his markings. I sleep with him in between my neck and my shoulder. Every night. I can’t sleep without him. Weird, as I’m quite old now.
DogDog inspires my work 100%. He’s in my 2018 Resort collection, he’s embroidered on a PVC biker jacket, he’s printed on silk. You’ve got to find him in there. Faux fur is the basis of my brand. DogDog had a plush fur coat back in the day, like a fluffy sofa. Now it feels like very short sheepskin. I like the transition, the wear of him. He’s very textural.
As a designer, I love symmetry – asymmetrical hems are my pet hate. DogDog has a patch on one eye, but otherwise he is very symmetrical and pleasing to the eye. He’s never had a plastic nose or hard, plastic eyes – his are far apart, which is a sign of beauty.
If you took him apart, you could make a beautiful pattern, a huge cut-out with fluid lines.
I love my designs to be out there and quirky, but I have a limit to how many things I put together.
I might design something in aqua blue and black, then put in a cream lace. Looking at DogDog, he is perfect like that: he has a two-tone element, his sandy, camel body, and the surprise of his eye patch. Otherwise, he is quite simple, quite chic. I can imagine him in a beautiful apartment in Tokyo, or in a calming villa in the south of France with whitewashed walls and lavender dried in bags. He would wear a straw hat in the sun.
People say I should to go Tokyo, that there I would be normal. Everyone walks around with their teddies.
On the shoot I changed positions with him. I got really excited that I could sit in his lap for once, in his arms.
Hannah Weiland’s fashion label is Shrimps
David Morrissey, actor: ‘My mask is slightly quizzical, which I love’
Venetian brass mask This little mask is so small you could hold it in the palm of your hand. It has nil value. It has no function. But whenever I look at it, I remember the time I slept in Venice railway station at the end of a long trip – a time of introspection.
During my first summer break from Rada I decided to go Interrailing. I must have been about 21. I’d moved to London from Liverpool – I knew from early on in my life that I needed to get away from home, which was not a particularly happy place for me – and I found London difficult. It was expensive and unfriendly.
I had one of those wonderful tickets where you could go anywhere and I planned a route through Holland, Belgium, France, Austria, Germany. I had the Rough Guide with me but when I got to Venice, I couldn’t find anywhere to sleep. There was a sort of homeless section outside the station, so I stayed there. I felt vulnerable. I worried about closing my eyes.
Walking around Venice, there were strange masks everywhere, flat-faced masks with big noses, masks worn with monkish robes. They were almost scary in their absence of design.
I didn’t know anyone in Venice. I had to make myself known to people, step outside of myself. When you are travelling, you are finding out who you are and trying on different personalities and attitudes to life. I bought the mask to remind me of that time.
It’s about the size of a decent pebble, and there’s something about its weight I like. It lives in a large printer’s drawer that’s hung on the wall of my study.
This mask really has character. Its surface is not smooth – it has real crinkles – and its inside is unfinished and sandpapery. Its expression is surprised, slightly quizzical, which I love. Its eyes are far too close together. When it looks at me, or when I look at it, rather, its expression changes, depending on my mood, or the light, or what day it is.
Taking it down for the shoot felt really terrible. I felt sort of disloyal to the other objects. Like, why take that? I took it because I knew it would survive. It is the most solid thing there. Also, it marked the furthest point I got to in Europe – though it was not the end of the journey.
I know exactly how to put it back – there is a patch of dust around its place – and I can’t wait to take it back, to complete the picture.
The City and the City starring David Morrissey is currently on BBC2
Angela Hartnett, chef: ‘I’ve been using this coffee pot since I was a teenager’
1950s Italian coffee percolator When my grandmother passed away I got quite a lot of her stuff and this 1950s Italian coffee-maker is something I still use regularly. It’s an old-fashioned aluminium stove-top percolator. You put the boiling water in the bottom and the coffee on top, then you turn it upside down, and the water percolates through – basically it was a long-drip style coffee-maker before its time.
My grandmother was Italian and I grew up drinking coffee so I’ve been using this since I was a teenager. I’d much rather have an espresso than a cup of tea. My grandmother moved to Wales from Bardi when she was 19, so I imagine she bought it on one of her trips back to Italy.
I’m not into new gadgets. My kitchen is full of old clutter. I’ve just bought a load of Richard Ginori plates from Florence and an antique turbot cooker. I collect Poole Pottery and Elizabeth David cookbooks, too. We’re such a throwaway society. Things aren’t built to last a lifetime and I think it’s a tragedy. It’s nice to pass things on.
Angela Hartnett is chef-patron of Murano
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