Dutch designer Jaro Gielens’ basement is a sight to behold: The 1,000-square-foot space has been converted into a vault for one of the world’s largest collections of small household appliances from the 1960s to the 1990s – featuring mostly items in mint-condition. A niche pursuit, you might be thinking, but together these items hold stories that reach far beyond the walls of his home.
“A unique fact is that all items are complete with the original packaging,” he said in an email interview. “The pictures and graphics on the box best illustrate how these products were presented and marketed, and often tell from which period the product originated.”
The collection now stands at 1,370 items, covering all product categories except vacuum cleaners and microwave ovens. The largest group represented is coffee makers, followed by hair dryers, mixers and dental devices. Some of the most iconic items are featured in the collector’s new book, “Soft Electronics.”
The gadgets speak to a very different time in product design that coincided with new consumer behaviors and necessities.
In contrast with the expected obsolescence associated with today’s appliances, these older models were built to last – Gielens uses some of them and says that many still work as intended to this day. This is in line with one of the main design principles promulgated in the late 1970s by Dieter Rams, the influential designer whose work at Braun was often praised by Apple’s former Chief Design Officer Jony Ive. Good design, Rams said, meant making products that were useful, understandable, long-lasting and environmentally friendly.
At the same time, according to Gielens, the introduction of new materials enabled manufacturers to come up with more products. “New and better kinds of plastics, and smaller electrical components helped designers make devices for every kind of task. And changes in lifestyle, leisure time and fashion asked for and offered opportunities for those new devices,” he said.
Remarkably, he only started the collection five years ago. Given that there was very limited information available on many of the products he found, he decided to create an online catalog that includes all of them.
His book contains a selection of about 100 items from the cache, all filled with promises for a much improved, efficient or glamorous home life, dominated by curved lines and bright colors – beautiful relics of a simpler, more careless world.
Below, the collector shared a few of his favorite items.
Lady Braun Luftkissen HLH 1
“Maybe the best example of a ‘Soft Electronics’ product. A groundbreaking design combined with a totally new form of usage: hands-free hair drying. The transparent helmet makes it look very futuristic. This design was copied by almost every other manufacturer in the second half of the 1970s.”
Bosch Kaffeemühle K12
“In my view the perfect coffee grinder for filter coffee. You can grind the coffee directly into a filter holder that can be placed below the grinder. The design has very elegant geometrics with the large transparent cylinder integrated with the otherwise more rectangular shape of the base.”
Philips Ladyshave HP 2111
“Philips sold tens of millions of cosmetic shavers for women worldwide. They were six years ahead of Braun with this new product, after being rivals with electrical men’s shavers for some years already. The design of the HP 2111 is a result of a major design harmonization project with Philips in the mid 1970s. Fun fact: all the Ladyshavers were produced in Philips factories in Austria (instead of the Netherlands).”
SEB Cafetière Filtre
“The first device with a drip-stop mechanism. Many manufacturers would eventually add this feature, but they all were trying to solve it differently. The design shows how well smaller French manufacturers were catching up in terms of production quality. The large colored plastic and transparent plastic parts are all very high quality. And SEB managed to develop a unique style for its products.”
Kenwood Cheffette de-Luxe
“There were several Kenwood Chefette mixers through the years, and they are still being sold today. But this is really the best version: in country beige and brown, with the octagonal shape update. More modernist aesthetics than you could wish for.”
Philips BOX 2 HR 2010
“Sometime in the early 1980s, Philips developed a whole line of products: the Box series. All versions were based on two main sections: a foldable stand and a motor module. It was a true Transformer-type of product, multi-functional and modular. The largest and completest version would make a full kitchen machine, with numerous add-ons and even a custom storage cabinet. Sadly the whole series was discontinued after just one year.”
“Hair dryers in the mid-1970s were much smaller, and the cord storage in the grip is a nice example of preparing these devices as travel accessories. The shape is unique as it is perfectly rounded and completely without flat or plain surfaces.”
“Soft Electronics” by Jaro Gielens is published by gestalten.
Top image caption: The Lady Braun Luftkissen HLH 1.