Stuff: A Few of My Favorite Things

I don't consider myself a materalist, but certain possessions provide an inordinate amount of pleasure, due to their exemplary utility, sheer beauty, sentimental associations — or all of the above. These are a few featured highlights from my material world.

My Father's Old Desk

I love my beat-up old oak desk, with slide-out leaves, wood drawer inserts, and a tray for paper clips and pens. Made in Grand Rapids (when it was still considered a furniture capital), the desk was given to my father in 1944 by the first church he served as a minister. Many an earnest father-son conference took place at this desk in my father's study! Today, after several moves, it gives me pleasure every day.

Superior Stapler

It’s a small thing, but I love this Bostitch stapler. The key feature is the built-in staple remover — a rounded blade that slips under a staple and pulls it up gently. This is clearly superior to the standard stapler, which requires a separate claw-like gizmo that often punctures the paper. Alas, here is a prime example of a superior design that did not succeed in the market. (Think Apple Mac in the 90s, before Jobs returned.)

letter opener

Mom's Letter Opener

This charming sword-like letter opener belonged to my parents. I acquired it after my mother died and have always treasured it. But it turns out that my nephew Klaas felt the same way about it, so I recently bequeathed it to him — I trust it will go on being treasured for decades to come!

Eames Executive Chair

Eames Executive Chair

This is among the newer of my treasured possessions, acquired just last year. It is an “executive” (high-back) chair in the “Aluminum Group” series designed from 1958 by my mentors and employers, Charles and Ray Eames.

The chair is sturdy and comfortable, and I love the taupe color of the leather.

An earlier woven-mesh version was created as outdoor furnitures for the home of J. Irwin Miller in Columbus, IN, by the Eames' friends Eero Saarinen and Alexander Girard. Eames furniture is manufactured by Herman Miller n the U.S. and Vitra in Europe.

18th-c. Architeural Prints

I treasure this collection of 11 engravings of English cathedrals and churches. Purchased in London in 1996, they were published in the 1780s by Alexander Hogg and engraved by “Thornton, sculp.” The artist is not identified in the engravings, but a British Museum catalog entry identifies the Worcester view as “after William Hamilton 1781-83.”

What I find amusing is how the artist shows all the cathedrals as if they were out in the open field — the buildings crowding the churches in dense, medieval cities have been edited out!

Venerable Milk Crates

There is no more versatile bit of home decor than a bunch of sturdy vintage wooden milk cartons. They make for great bookshelves. Plus, when it's time to move, each carries a full load. (You can buy plastic ones, but they are pretty flimsy.)

I confess to having knicked these from the streets of New York in about 1972, so I've had them for almost 50 years! They have traveled with me through about 13 moves (see Homes).

Not everyone finds them decorative: Wife #2 insisted they be relegated to the basement.

The boards used for shelves, made of 7-ply plywood with paper facings and rounded cavetto moldings on the edges, were finished by Dick Donges in the shop at the Eames office in 1978. They have made all the moves since then.


Indispensable Software

Evernote is my favorite software program, which I use several times every day to keep track of every imaginable morsel of information, from daily logs to medical histories, things to do or see, research for any new plan or purchase, a record of equipment, subscriptions, birthdays, tech tips, and (before Covid) travel plans and records. Outlining functions make it easy to organize (or re-organize) all notes, which can include images and PDFs. It installs in phones and tablets as well as computers, syncing all devices. Highly recommended.

Gavarni Print

This is a lithograph from 1853 by Paul Gavarni (pseudonym of Hippolyte-Guillame-Sulpice Chevalier), 1804-66.

Gavarni published numerous satirical views of students and ne'er-do-wells of Paris in the mid-19th century. (Other impressions of this print are in museums like the Metropolitan and the Musée Carnavalet.)

Gavarni's style reminds me of his more celebrated contemporary, Daumier. The fluid lines, moody shadings, and sharp facial characterizations have always given pleasure.

When I bought the print in 1978, at a shop near the British Museum in London, I was living with my friend Jack in an apartment in Santa Monica, CA. Jack was trying to earn a living as an actor in Hollywood, and I viewed the print (entitled "Sans Profession") as an image the two of us eeking out a marginal existence (though I was fully employed at the time.)