Splendiferous and Screenless: The Potential of Poetry in Everyday Things

On a recent trip to New Orleans, I was without a plan and without a clue. And yet, on this plan-less and clueless visit, there were two things that captured my attention amidst the remnants of Mardi Gras beads, tourists with stale beer in their go cups, capybara sightings, and fascinating reptiles.

1. Puzzle animal sculptures by Peter Chapman

My absolute favorite store in New Orleans is undoubtedly The Idea Factory, a wonderful shop that sells interactive wooden toys in the French Quarter.

The Idea Factory is located on 838 Chartres Street in the French Quarter.

The Idea Factory in New Orleans sells wonderful interactive wooden toys.

The store carries works by several artists, and while I loved the trains, the puzzle boxes, and the animals on wheels, what made me so incredibly happy were these three-dimensional interlocking wooden animal puzzles by Peter Chapman.

3D wooden animal puzzles by Peter Chapman

The eyes of the animal serves as the “lock”—remove it and it becomes possible to dismantle the puzzle. What makes it even better is the surprise inside each animal. An egg lies inside the brontosaurus. A finger falls out of the piranha.

On the last day of my visit, I caved in and bought one (the dinosaur, naturally). His name is Max.

2. The Toaster Project by Thomas Thwaites

The Toaster Project by Thomas Thwaites

The book that held my attention during idle moments this week was Thomas Thwaites brilliant (!) book, The Toaster Project, the documentation of his MA project  at the Design Interactions program in the Royal College of Art. In it, he chronicles his misadventures of creating a toaster from scratch, showing how he obtained materials such as steel, mica, plastic, copper, and nickel. Apart from being a modern quixotic tale of a seemingly impossible and foolish task, it is also a poetic reflection of sustainability and global capitalism.

Thwaites' toaster. Image via the designer's website. Photo credit: Daniel Alexander

As a designer of a more speculative and conceptual kind, and one who is sometimes weary of seeing only apps, websites, and flowcharts, I feel encouraged at seeing projects like this. I think my favorite part was when Thwaites was writing his thank-yous:

“…for making the Design Interactions MA a place where toasters can be made from scratch, and saving me from a life as a bad web designer.”

Spot on.


I am not embarrassed to admit that when I see things like Chapman’s puzzles or Thwaites’ toaster, I jump up and down with glee and spread the joy by telling everyone in my path. I love being humbled and reminded that wonder can go beyond our digital devices and can actually reside in simple materials and objects such as wood and toasters. Wood isn’t just wood; it can stoke the fires of human imagination and hide delightful secrets. Toasters aren’t just toasters; they contain histories of our technology and consumption.

There is always the potential of poetry in everyday things.

  1. Nothing beats the nostalgia that comes with wooden toys 🙂

  2. Those animal puzzles look amazing. I’m curious to know how exactly they work.

    Ok, you’ve twisted my arm: now I have to go to New Orleans!

    Oh, and splendiferous should be used a hell of a lot often; Don King can’t be the only wordsmith you know. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing.

    • The puzzles are carved from one piece of wood. They fit perfectly and aren’t that difficult to put together; one piece fits from above (or below) and the next one fits from the side. I made sure to take a lesson from the lady who runs the store before I bought it!

      “Splendiferous” is one of my absolute favorite words!

  3. sana said:

    Catherine this is beautiful 🙂 Warm fuzzy and just so right.
    I wish I knew more people as happy and full of wonder as you. ❤

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