Peter Schlumbohm’s Unlikely Icon

A few words on the German designer’s famous Chemex coffeemaker


Browsing the MoMA Design Store‘s new fall catalog this afternoon, I was struck by a photo of Peter Schlumbohm’s 1941 Chemex coffeemaker, which has long been a part of the museum’s permanent collection but is only now being sold through its retail arm. It’s a familiar enough object, and easy to overlook–but what a funny design! The mouth-blown Pyrex beaker looks like it was lifted straight out of a laboratory, while the wooden collar with its funky leather tie (held in place by a wooden bead, no less) is pure kitsch. The mash-up of minimalist vessel with warm, whimsical accents shouldn’t really work, but somehow it does.

Schlumbohm specialized in this kind of thing. Check out this page of his designs in the MoMA’s permanent collection for more examples of his quirky sensibility–like an aluminum cocktail shaker with a cork stopper or the plastic-rubber-wood-and-paper Filterjet fan. The design writer Ralph Caplan purportedly described the typical Schlumbohm invention as “a synthesis of logic and madness.” In an age when your average piece of industrial design takes years of tweaking-by-committee, this brand of mad-scientist inspiration (and Schlumbohm was, in fact, a chemist by training) seems particularly refreshing.

See also: Instructions for how to brew coffee with the Chemex (it wasn’ t obvious to me).

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