Tag Archives: New Orleans

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.

A white alligator in New Orleans' Audubon Zoo

Back in the 80s, a nest with white alligator babies were discovered in Louisiana and instantly became reptilian celebrities. The gators are leucistic instead of albinic; the pigmentation is reduced and their eyes are blue.

Today, in the New Orleans’ Audubon Zoo, some of these white alligators, now fully grown, sit silently behind glass. It seems debatable whether they are waiting to pounce on prey or, like child prodigies that burned out, lie jaded and oblivious to the excited and perhaps startled viewers on the other side.

Up close, it looks as though it’s grinning.

A white alligator up close

White alligators. It’s almost like seeing a unicorn, no?