The Design of Round Things, Part I

Spurred on by the sad news that Leslie Buck, designer of the Anthora—that classic New York City Greek diner coffee cup that has become an icon of the city—died on Monday in Glen Cove, herewith a celebration of the other part of coffee to go containment, that ubiquitous and beautiful object of design: the coffee cup lid.

I myself have gathered (and finally displayed) a small collection of coffee cup lids—all those I from the hot coffees I have drunk in 2010 (minus maybe 2 or 3 I distractedly chucked). I started collecting these for a complicated mix of reasons: I was inspired by LTL Architects’ (no longer extant) Ini Ani Coffee Shop wall (I LOVE that wall and would like to do some kind of riff on it), I hate throwing away well-designed things, I am kind of a quirky exhibitionist—I like revealing my nearly invisible habits, but most strongly, I just love and admire the design of these intimate, inescapable objects.

They all fit on standard size cups (I’ve only ever seen two sizes of lids—small and large—though there are usually three coffee cup sizes), they’re round, and they have an opening from which coffee can be poured, sucked, or drizzled, but beyond that there are myriad variations. Some are nearly flat, others deep enough to avoid crushing whipped cream. Some have a simple ovoid hole, others a segment that lifts up and locks back, still others cover the hole with an elaborate sliding mechanism—modest and safe. Many have those lovely push-buttons (like fast-food soda lids) to indicate decaf or other mysterious options, though they are rarely (in my experience) used. The only two colors I’ve seen are black (somewhat rare) and white (the default), though the hole-covering-slider-mechanisms are red.

I am certainly not the first to appreciate these marvels of on-the-go coffee drinking. Steve Heller wrote a paean to them for the New York Times last month, Flickr user sarcoptiform posted photos of a small collection of found lids (which I found by way of Rob Walker’s Murketing blog), and way back in 2005 Cabinet magazine featured a column by Louise Harpman & Scott Specht about their collection of lids, a carefully curated collection aiming to encompass the entire breadth of variation in the to-go cup lid (their must be a less awkward name for these things) category, and billed as the largest such collection in the United States.

I’ve got room for a few more rows in my own modest display, so I’ll keep going for a bit. After that, though, I’m not sure. I like small, personal collections, so maybe I’ll stop there. But then again, I’m sure I won’t stop drinking coffee and there are other empty walls in my house…



This entry was posted on Friday, April 30th, 2010 and is filed under design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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