The Taste of Talking

Salt and pepper shakers made of disused telephone and car parts. Now that's some new-old flavor

Published December 5, 2009 1:05AM (EST)

The <a href="">Taste of Talking</a> salt and pepper shakers, available in the Salon Store.
The Taste of Talking salt and pepper shakers, available in the Salon Store.

Salt and pepper sets are arguably among the most mundane and ubiquitous of gifts.  But this particular set, the Taste of Talking, sums up a lot of what can be wonderful about products that are idea-driven -- inspired by thought and creativity. 

The part with the holes?  Those parts are mouthpieces and earpieces from old telephones. They are NOS (new old stock), not used.  There are stockpiles of such product left from the days when we all used such phones. They're repurposed here to pour seasonings at the table.

The backs are translucent, so, you can see the level of the substance in question. Very practical.  These are also recycled NOS parts, originally intended for a very different purpose.  In this case, they're real automotive side-light lenses.  They go on the old style, original British Mini Coopers (which were discontinued in 2000).  There are still a lot of old Minis on the road abroad, but there are a lot of old Mini side-light lenses.

Surprising materials, combined in a way that is even more surprising.  It is, obviously, sheer coincidence that the circumference and thread patterns of these two old, disused parts happened to coincide. But because they did, something unique and imaginative was created.

They were created by Amsterdam designer Henk Stallinga, who has made a series of products that are beautiful and interesting and challenging. Many of them have received international acclaim and reside in museums.  His products are meant to pose questions about design and materials.

There are a series of progressive values reflected in the Taste of Talking.  It's green: It uses recycled (and non-biodegradable) parts that might well otherwise truly end up in a landfill.  And in using these mundane, disused materials, a wholly unexpected result is achieved, which, I think, changes your perspective on the materials themselves, causing you to look differently at some of the castoffs of our industrial culture. Beauty in a telephone mouthpiece, or an auto sidelight lens?  Yet, viewed through this lens, these things are indeed beautiful.

And, these shakers are -- in a word that a lot of my design community colleagues use -- democratic. They marry thoughtful and even groundbreaking design with simplicity and affordability.  My favorite corner of the design world is democratic modern design: great and elegant principles applied to create affordable objects.  My family and I live in an Eichler house here in Marin.  Joe Eichler built subdivisions in the Bay Area in the 1950s and 1960s, and was truly a Utopian.  He hired some of the finest modern architects of the times, and they created stunning prototypes, and he put up hundreds of small houses, with groundbreaking architecture, that were affordable for families of very modest means, buying their first home.

The Taste of Talking evokes that democratic ethos for me.  An amazing design, yet inexpensive.  Simple plastic parts, lightweight and durable.  The design statement rises and falls with its application.  So they can knock around in the kitchen, with kids, and get dinged and scratched.  Or they can be brought out at dinner parties,  where they look elegant, and spur conversation.  Or both, of course, if you get two pairs, as have a number of people I know.

They come simply but nicely packaged, too, for gift-giving.

So: It's just a pair of salt and pepper shakers.  But, sometimes, it's in inspired design of the notionally mundane that I find the most inspiration.

By Salon Staff

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