We Had No Idea This Everyday Kitchen Tool Was a Legit Design Icon

published Sep 25, 2018
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
(Image credit: Rachel Jacks)

If you’ve been to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in midtown Manhattan, you’ve probably marveled at its permanent collection, which includes some of the most iconic and immediately recognizable works, ever — there’s the melting clocks of Salvador Dalí’s The Persistence of Memory, the soft-focus pastels of Claude Monet’s massive Water Lilies triptych, and everyone’s go-to poster from their freshman year, Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night.

But if you rummage through the drawers in your kitchen, you’ll probably find something that you have in common with MoMA’s massive collection: a rubber-handled OXO Good Grips vegetable peeler. That chunky rubber handle with its signature “fins” was such an innovative product that it was inducted into MoMA’s own permanent collection in 1994. (It is not currently on display, but has previously been included in exhibitions like “This is For Everyone: Design Experiments for the Common Good” and “Counter Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen.” (OXO’s rubber-handled Good Grips paring knife and the Good Grips jar opener are also part of MoMA’s collection.)

Wait, Why Is the Peeler So Special?

That peeler has been part of our own kitchen arsenal for so long that we’d never considered that its rubber handle was a legit design breakthrough when it was released in 1990. According to Fast Company‘s fascinating piece about its development — as told by Smart Design’s founder, David Stowell — it was the first rubber-handled kitchen tool to hit the market. Its design also challenged the manufacturing capabilities of multiple factories. (It was saved from the scrap heap of incredible-but-improbable ideas by a Japanese knife company that previously made samurai swords.)

That signature handle was originally designed for people with arthritis; Sam Farber, OXO’s co-founder, started to work on it after his wife complained that her arthritis made it difficult for her to peel apples with a traditional peeler. As they worked to develop the perfect peeler, Farber and Stowell drew inspiration from everything from preschoolers’ oversized crayons to the handlebars on display at their local bike shop.

Although sales were initially slow, they finally picked up after retailers displayed them in a more “pick me up and touch me” kind of way — and they haven’t stopped. “People would buy the products, then they would come back and get them for friends. We’d get very heartwarming letters with stories,” Stowell says. “The satisfaction they had was like a lightbulb went off and they could do something […] The product itself really is never that important. What someone can accomplish, that’s important. It’s how it makes them feel.”

Form, function, and a groundbreaking design that prompts an emotional response sounds like art to us. Now we just don’t know whether to use our peelers or just put them on display.