Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Coffee Cup Chandelier

This amazing light fixture elevates the lowly coffee cup to chandelier status. If you look closely, you will see that each of its tiered rings is composed entirely of white, Western style cups grouped together by style. Neatly nested together, they take on a completely different persona that is far and above their original lot in life. They probably started out as mundane, mass produced tableware earmarked for hotels and the like. There is something delightful about seeing them out of context, especially since they probably had little visual interest in their previous incarnation. While maintaining a connection to their original function, these iconic forms become geometric objects when aligned on their side. I am fascinated by that change in perception when we view objects in a group and in unexpected circumstances. Did the creator of these cups ever envision that they'd end up on the ceiling ???

Somehow these various cup collections had the good fortune to wind up at Pass the Baton, an unusual consignment store in the bowels of Omotesando Hills. Introduced to me by a design producer I met a few months ago, the shop's mission is to highlight the value of used goods and promote their re-homing with artful, attractive displays and clever juxtapositions. Historically, there has been little market for used anything in Japan, aside from American blue jeans and logo tee shirts. A bi-product of waste recycling has been an increased awareness that someone else's discards could be treasures. Especially among younger consumers.

In some ways Pass the Baton reminds me of the thrift, vintage and antique shops on Chicago's north side that my mother and I liked to frequent together. Yet the atmosphere here is a far cry from those musty places. On the contrary, the shop is well lit, clean as a whistle and the goods are cleverly grouped by theme on big tables in the middle of the shop or built-in shelving along the walls. Unlike at the Tokyo flea markets, there are no cardboard boxes to rifle through or piles of clutter to navigate around. Instead, each piece is labelled with a little information about the seller and marked with a price tag (no bargaining here). Resembling a line of tellers at the bank, a large desk along one side serves as the "passcounter" where sellers bring their no longer needed possessions (the shop posts a list of restrictions on their web site: www.pass-the-baton.com). The owner is asked to tell the story of each item so potential buyers can learn its background -- essential information that documents the previous life of and reaffirms the non-monetary value of each piece. Pass the Baton is the kind of place where I could linger for a long time but happily walk out empty handed.

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