Nigel Maynard's Favorite Design Objects

Few things (a Ferrari, a pair of Ferragamo shoes, a Brioni suit) scream Italian design more than a Vespa. As fresh today as it was in 1946 when it first appeared, the scooter's design is rational—flat floor for comfort, a front shield for protection, and a pass-through design that's also easy for women to use—but elegant and fluid at the same time. Plus, it's comfortable to ride. Capable of speeds approaching only 80 miles per hour, a Vespa is not about getting you where you're going as fast as, say, a Ducati, but it's about getting you there in style, whether you're zipping around Miami or Milan. Once again, the Italians got it right.

George Nelson designed his eponymous little treasure for Herman Miller in 1946, but it’s so fresh that it looks like it could have been done yesterday. Made from natural and ebonized maple, the bench has an understated elegance and is free of ornamentation—except for its Shaker-like finger-jointed connections that seem vaguely reminiscent of the dovetail joints on fine cabinetry. Utterly timeless, the bench comes in three sizes, but I’m partial to the 48-inch version.

Some sneakers say their user runs 25 miles and bikes 50 per week, while others simply say the wearer is unconcerned with the latest trends and probably listen to Broken Social Scene or Radiohead. The Adidas Samoa is the latter. Introduced in the 1980s by the soccer stalwart, the shoe is simple yet timeless, which explains why it’s still popular. Unlike most athletic shoes today, it still has a true-leather upper and the venerable three stripes. I always have a black pair in my closet.

The manufacturer says its Tolomeo light fixture might be the second-most famous lamp in the world. Who knows? What is certain is that it’s the go-to light when Hollywood producers and set designers want to convey to audiences that a character is part of the design cognoscenti. Designed in 1986 by Michele De Lucchi, the light can be spotted stealing a scene in the first Bourne movie, on CBS’ NCIS, and ABC’s Ugly Betty. Despite that, I love the light. Nothing seems superfluous—articulating aluminum arm, aluminum shade, heavy metal base, stainless steel tension cables. The line comes in many wall, floor, and tabletop versions, and also is now available using LEDs.

There are many great chairs in this world, but few have the élan or the understated elegance of the Risom Lounge Chair. Designed in 1941 by Danish-American Jens Risom, the chair was first made at the height of WWII out of birch and surplus parachute straps. Though it’s now constructed from maple or walnut with natural cotton webbing, a good idea is still a good idea.

Nobody needs a chef's knife costing $100 or more—unless, of course, you're a professional chef—but everybody deserves to have a knife this well designed, this well balanced … this, well, good. It's forged from a single piece of high-carbon stainless steel for weight and balance and a polypropolyene handle that flows seamlessly into to the tang of the blade. Sure, the knife is pricey, but it’s worth the money. I received a couple as a gift in 1996 and even after hard usage, they still look fabulous.

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