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Jules Pieri

Author Archives: Jules Pieri

Founder and CEO of The Grommet.

  • Morning Glories

    Painting by Kathy Payson
    Painting by Kathy Payson

    I'm crazy about Morning Glories (the plant, not the firework).  I've been trawling the local garden centers, eagerly awaiting their appearance among the colorful sea of annuals.  But one Boston garden center employee told me, "Oh they won't be here until about Memorial Day.  They're so tender, they don't even like a breeze."

    It's Memorial Day weekend, and I found a small grouping of Morning Glory flats under cover, in a previously-undiscovered nursery called The Greenhouse, near my cabin in Maine.  I asked the owner if any were my favorite color, "Heavenly Blue".  She said,

    Alas, someone planted these without fully understanding the need for labels.  I have no idea what color they are, so I can't in good conscience sell them to you.  Buy if you buy a pack of seeds from that rack over there, you'll be all set.

    Doh!  Of course.  I've been out of the seed-growing thing since my boys got too big for mom's science lessons.  But of course.  If I scatter these seeds, they will be as big as the ones in the nursery in a week or two.

    But here is my point, I had to meet that nursery owner to remember the obvious.  Everything starts with a seed.  Similarly, when I was buying some geraniums, that same nursery owner said, "The geraniums are really big this year."   I asked why (thinking they came from great growing conditions in some faraway place like Chile).  She responded with a laugh,

    Because I'm a great grower, that's why!

    I guess because her plants come with standard plastic "care and planting-conditions" labels, and her seeds are grown in ordinary manufactured flats, I just assumed they came from "somewhere else."  Despite the acres of greenhouses on her property, it was outside my imagination's scope to see the obvious.  I lumped her in with the sadly neglected plants I saw at Home Depot two weeks ago.

    No these plants are grown here.  This is the real deal.  I'm on a quest for real.  Alice Waters.  Hand-written receipts.  I guess it's the antidote to too many hours spent in front of a computer.  But I think that particular quest is way bigger than me.  It's why Etsy thrives, deliciously using modern technology to take creators and customers back to a hand-crafted world.  People love being connected to the producers of the handcrafts Etsy sells.  We seek those connections in more and more of our life experiences.  It's part of the human condition--everywhere.  But especially needed in modern, First World places.  Places where we have too much information.  Too much choice.  Not enough that is simple, real and human-scale.  I'll think of that as I watch my packet of Morning Glory seeds turn into a veritable climbing riot.

    $2.  My hands.  Ten minutes of labor.  A little rain and sun.  And such joy.

  • Waiting for Good Object-o

    Is it possible to truly hate an appliance?  If so, I HATE the vacuum I have been saddled with at our little creaky cabin in Maine.  I bought it in a hurry.  The old vacuum died, and the place was rapidly getting pretty filthy.   There aren't a lot of places to find vacuums near our cabin, so I bought the first vacuum I found.  What a mistake.  I could write a whole blog post about the failings of this cheap, heavy  hunk of ineffective plastic.  Worse, I have put up with it for over ten years because....it still works.  Or at least it turns on and it still makes a lot of noise.  I am too cheap to just throw it out.

    I've written before about how I usually take a loooooong time to buy anything, other than things that naturally disappear, like food or ephemeral fashionista stuff.   I don't like being taunted in my own home by mistakes and compromises.  I'd rather do without.  Or wait until I can find--or afford--what I truly want.

    Gary Hustwit, as photographed in Dwell magazine

    Gary Hustwit, as photographed in Dwell magazine

    Thus I loved what Gary Hustwit, the director of the design film Objectified said in an interview with Dwell magazine.  The question was, How has making this film changed the way you look at everyday objects?  Gary's answer:

    I really think about what I buy now: (A) Do I really need this? (B) What if this is the last of this object that I ever buy? I don’t want to buy chairs I’ll be sick of in five to ten years.

    It might be surprising that I endorse this philosophy, given that Daily Grommet so much about consumer products.  Especially new ones.  But in actuality, we are always trying to find the good stuff.  The things that give lasting utility and pleasure, and won't need to be tossed out in a couple of years.  We reject almost everything we see, because it is just not worthy of "last coffee cup" status.  We think the people who produce Grommets think like Gary...they make products that stand up to scrutiny.  Lasting.  Quality.  Beautiful.

    My Ittala Origo coffee mugs.   They are a little odd, having no handle.  But the stripes always make me smile, it fits happily in my hand, and the base of the mug has a round indentation to perfectly accept the raised round disk on the matching saucer.

    My Ittala Origo coffee mugs. They are a little odd, having no handle. But the stripes always make me smile, it fits happily in my hand, and the base of the mug has a round indentation to perfectly accept the raised round disk on the matching saucer. And it's very very subtle--but I love the satisfying little soft "click" that I hear when I casually fit the mug back onto the saucer.

  • Objectified

    objectifiedI took two of my sons to see the new documentary on industrial design:  Objectified. (Yes, that would be a big night out for the Pieris.)  It was created by Gary Hustwit, who also created a scintillating (I am dead serious) film on type design, called Helvetica. You don't have to be design geeks, like me and my sons, to enjoy these films.

    I like the arc of Objectified.  At first I was worried because Hustwit starts with a well-done but pretty basic primer on the basic process of industrial design (interviews with Dieter Rams of Braun, the Smart design folks who do all the OXO stuff, Bill Moggridge who created the field of interaction design).  But it is a well-done base upon which to layer some of the more philosophical questions of consumerism, sustainability and policy making which are a big part of the design profession these days.

    Anyway, you should go see it if you care at all about design.  You should take your kids (over age 10).  We are surrounded by this manufactured stuff, but most of us don't think enough about products and their meaning in our life and living environments.  Here are some thoughts I enjoyed:

    Jonathan Ive, Apple designer

    Jonathan Ive, Apple designer

    From Jonathan Ive (central designer at Apple, since a very long time):

    One of the curses of being a designer is we can't look at anything without thinking, 'Why is it like that, and not like this.' In that way, we are constantly designing.

    From Gary Hustwit:

    We have an ongoing conversation with designers through the objects they create.

    From Rob Walker, NYT writer:

    At the end of the day, if you thought a hurricane was about to hit your house in 20 minutes, what would you grab?  You wouldn't take something because it had a good review in a design blog.  You would take the objects that reflect the true story of you.  The ones that tell your true narrative, because you are the only audience that matters

    That comment really delighted me because one of our early Grommets was a book called Taking Things Seriously.  It's full of exactly that kind of personal narrative, as told through treasured objects.  It was very inspirational to me in creating Grommet.

    From my 17-year-old son Gray, upon seeing the director Gary Hustwit take the stage,

    He looks normal.

    From my design student son Dane, upon spotting a gray-haired pony-tailed man in black designerly garb,

    That's Matthew Carter who designed the typeface Verdana.  He was in Helvetica.

    Photo by Ralph Gibson

    Photo by Ralph Gibsonhttp://jules.thegrommet.com/2009/05/21/objectified/

    From me, rather cattily, after hearing a senior representative of the prominent design firm IDEO give one vapid answer after another (She shared the stage with Gary Hustwit, and--full disclosure--I worked for their competitor for five years so I am not objective about IDEO, truly.)

    Some designers have an amazing talent for stringing together impressive-sounding words that seem deep and thoughtful but actually just parrot trendy thoughts and say nothing.

    From my son Gray, after I asked Gary (and the vapid woman from IDEO) a question,

    I was nervous when you raised your hand to speak...I was pretty sure you were going to blow that question.

    That's a teenager.  I criticise a fellow designer for giving empty answers, but my critical teenage son keeps me very humble...he's convinced I'm going to screw up before I even open my mouth!  NO benefit of the doubt.

  • When is a product just too good to share?

    I got a little box of sushi for lunch the other day, along with a bunch of other stuff.  I threw an attractive chocolate bar alongside my order.  I took the chocolate back to the office, and opened it, with the intent to offer it around to the team.

    As I turned the bar over to unwrap it, I was shocked that I’d spent $5.95 for a chocolate bar.  I took a somewhat disgruntled, even skeptical, bite—wondering how it could possibly be worth that much money.

    It was.  All plans for sharing the chocolate slipped right out of my head.  I nibbled away at half the bar, and carefully wrapped up the remainder for future enjoyment.

    Here’s the product that was too good to share:

    The chocolate is rich and pleasant...but the addition of the Pasilla chille and Cayenne pepper is what makes this chocolate bar too good to share.

    The chocolate is rich and pleasant...but the addition of the Pasilla chille and Cayenne pepper is what makes this chocolate bar too good to share.

  • Making Spaetzle; or, The Nice Side of Human Nature

    Me, in front of "In the Kitchen", a shop in the wonderful foodie heaven Strip District of Pittsburgh

    Me, in front of "In the Kitchen", a shop in the wonderful foodie heaven Strip District of Pittsburgh

    I was in a great kitchen store in Pittsburgh. It featured a 150 foot long wall of gadgets! Next to that wall I saw two women discussing a spaeztle maker. Spaetzle happens to be my favorite comfort food, and I own the same spaetzle maker. It has never functioned well for me, and I gave up on using it. So I asked the women chatting in the shop if it worked for them. They asked me why I had trouble with it, and then went on to expertly diagnose the problem I was having (making my batter too thick) and how to correct it.

    This is the gadget aisle, where we had the conversation.

    This is the gadget aisle, where we had the conversation.

    I had two reactions. First…I so enjoyed being in an area of the country where home cooks actually make spaetzle, like my mother did for my birthdays when I was growing up. (I don’t know anyone else in Boston who does this.)  Second….I feel all warm and tingly about mankind when strangers help each other.

    Navigating the use of tools and products is one of those areas that can inspire so many positive interactions. I think this is why:

    •People don’t like to see other people waste their money. Especially nowadays.
    •People like to share their own expertise. It is hard-earned.
    •People like to support good products and their manufacturers, so they will endorse them if the product is worthy. In my case, the spaetzle maker is absolutely fine….I just didn’t know how to use it.
    •Time is precious. People like to help each other save it.
    •People like to share common interests and tastes with other people. Even in the Midwest, spaetzle is not exactly common home-cook fare. So these two women and I shared an instant bond over our willingness to make it for our friends and families. (It’s kind of a pain in the neck, frankly.)

    So I am really looking forward to making spaetzle this weekend for my son’s birthday. And I will think of those two women from The Burgh everytime I do.


  • Should this be a Grommet?

    I spotted this in a fun shop in Pittsburgh. I think it's a really clever idea for keeping the wine glasses straight at a party. A set of 12 for about $140. Is that too expensive? Is it worth it?  They're nice quality and very generously sized.  But I'm a sucker for typography in unexpected places.  Does this idea do it for you?  Is it a Grommet?

    Set of twelve large wine glasses, individually engraved with the numbers 1 to 12.

    Set of twelve large wine glasses, individually engraved with the numbers 1 to 12.

    [polldaddy poll=1478942]
  • This video made us all cry

    amber_rwandan-1It was a big day. Amber Chand was in the office. Long before we had even launched Daily Grommet, Joanne had told me she thought we should feature Amber's work at the Grommet.  Fast forward--Joanne made the connection and Amber was in!

    On the big day, Ugandan refugee, and social entrepreneur, Amber Chand came to shoot her video. I was out for a bit, and when I returned, the video was in progress. Joanne was behind Jesse, the camera man extraordinaire, and she was totally rapt. She didn't even notice my entry in the room.

    I don't normally watch videos being shot--it can make people nervous. But I stopped in my tracks, realizing I was suddenly party to something special. At the top of the video, Nataly shared her own refugee story, and then Amber's lilting and beautiful voice spun stories and images that made the lives of the women in war-torn and distressed areas of the world come to life, through their own enterprise.

    The video shoot ended. We all spontaneously clapped. (We never do that.) I walked around the corner, in tears, and found Deb (who could only hear the video in progress, not even see it) with her own tears.

    Wow. What a special woman, Amber Chand. It's was a long video for us (5 min), and I asked that nothing be edited. It was that good.

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