Ingenuity, Resourcefulness, and Functional Design: Changing Perspective on the Home and Housewares Show

As we download photos and edit video of our coverage of the International Home and Housewares Show 2008, we are reflecting on our experience there. We (Chris and I) walked miles of expo floor, scouting thousands of products for home and kitchen. The show is a monument to capitalism and invention, and frankly, I was cynical about this vast consumerist machine before I even got there. The experience, however, was revealing in a way I did not expect.
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I expected to be bored and even appalled by much of the show. Picture dozens of football fields stitched together in cavernous rooms, packed with booths and showrooms designed to stimulate buyers and press. Picture plastic gadgets that solve (invent?) problems you didn't know you had. Picture thousands and thousands of people working to make a livelihood in making, buying, and selling cookware, homeware, tableware, appliances. Some booths were constructed like small homes, with second floors that buyers and sellers gather on to make their deals. Many had full kitchens - nicer than ours!

It was overwhelming.

And yet, in the midst of the vast consumer marketplace, I was surprised and charmed by the earnestness of many of the representatives. We met many small companies and family-owned companies who seemed to believe strongly in what they offer to their customers.

For every plastic gadget destined for a landfill in a few short months (microwave taco holder, anyone?) and for every product designed to make you want to throw out something perfectly good you own just to buy a new color or model - a practice that we frankly find nearly immoral - we seemed to discover genuinely good and innovative tools. For every waste of money and energy there seemed to be a complementary good idea, and for every belabored, over-designed product there seemed to be a good and inspiring story of ingenuity at work.

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We especially enjoyed seeing companies like Lodge - family owned and operated, working out of West Virginia, and making the same cast iron classics they have always made. Yes, they offer new products every year, but theirs seemed genuinely useful. (Watch for coverage and pictures later this week.)

We enjoyed the inspiring story of Viking, an American company that has done wonders for the small town in Mississippi where they manufacture their high-end stoves and marvelous appliances. (Again, watch for coverage - we may be Viking converts after all.)

Even though there is plenty to bash and critique at the Housewares Show it provides a living for millions of people and it showcases some of the best (and worst) in functional design from all over the world. We're ignoring the worst and showing you the best - at least of what we saw. (We didn't even make it to the cleaning and organization showroom!)

We believe that less is more, here at The Kitchn, and that multi-function, well-made tools are the first step in "going green." The Housewares show, on the surface, appears to contradict this principle in so many ways. But we found it interesting, inspiring, and, sore feet aside, a fascinating look at some of the best creative solutions on the American marketplace today.

Stay tuned for some of our product picks over the next week or two, and tell us what you think about each of them. Good idea? Bad idea? Love it? Hate it? Think and discuss - who knows? We could even affect the design of the future. There are always better and more inspiring ideas to be had.

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