With its first Tools for Living store opening tomorrow in Soho, Design Within Reach has effectively cornered the market on products for what seems to be a growing subdemographic: rugged obsessive-compulsives (mostly men, to be frank) who prize a beat-up Barbour wax-wear jacket as much as a neat line of color-coded Muji pens. The shop might as well be named Tools for the Stubbly Urban Dandy.
You can see the split personality in action by walking between the store’s two floors. On the ground level, clean-lined home and office accessories are stored in simple, glass-topped hemlock cabinets. Of particular interest are the cult-favorite utilitarian Japanese brands—pale-green pencils and angled staplers from Craft Design Technology, and textiles stamped with slowly fading labels from Fog Linen—but the apothecary bottles, Zeroll ice-cream scoops, and bread boxes are pretty neat too. Much of what’s on view is exclusive to DWR, or at least reasonably hard to find.
My favorite was this blocky butter dish, copied from a 1950s flea-market find. No design-museum gift-shop detritus in sight. Not even a bright-orange plastic soap dish.
In the sunlit basement, above a cluster of Filson bags, there’s a shelf filled with large-scale industrial-looking planters and tubs made out of repurposed tires. A huge army-green rainwater-collection tank leans against a wall just under a retro-style brass thermometer.
These are products for the backyard dilettante, and they’re meant to split the difference between refined taste and resourcefulness—sometimes even danger. Walking through the store yesterday, Chris Hope, the director and stockist of Tools for Living, proudly pulled out a first-aid kit that he found at a gun-and-ammo trade show in Las Vegas. “It was the scariest place I’ve ever been,” he said.