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Unsung design classics

Unsung design classics

Unsung design classics
08 September 2013

Tom Bailey on the overlooked triumphs of ingenuity you need in your life

What with the London Design Festival (various events across the capital from 14-22 September) and ShortList’s Design Tech Awards, there’s never been a better time to buy an extremely expensive sofa. Sorry, we mean celebrate cutting-edge yet practical design. Those adverts really get in your brain. Anyway, from the ordinary to the extraordinary, here are the life-enhancing, and criminally unheralded, classics that every man should have scattered around his home…


In 1980, two men completed the gruelling Paris-Dakar rally on Vespas. They may not have closed their legs since, but they did prove what everybody who owned one already knew: Vespas are indestructible. Designed by an Italian aeronautical engineer in 1946, the pressed-steel unibody ensured the Vespa was affordable and blessed with liquid curves. The fact that John Wayne rode one around on set is the icing on the panettone.


Roberts Radio Revival 250

No offence to the delicious and enduring Terry’s Chocolate Orange, but the Roberts Radio is arguably Yorkshire’s finest export. The built-to-last leather-clad box has stubbornly resisted change since 1932. Which was almost the company’s undoing, until an appearance in a 1989 Martini advert revived the firm’s fortunes by causing a flurry of interest among people who hadn’t seen one before. Its unmistakably rich tones have been enjoyed by both Her Majesty – and those serving at her pleasure (it was once the only radio permitted in the slammer).


Casio A163WA-1QES watch

Casio, founded in 1946 in Japan, has been responsible for many iconic products, from the world’s first personal calculator (the massive 14-A went on sale in June 1957) to the yuwiba, a finger ring that held a cigarette (big in Japan). But It’s best known for making the quintessential digital wrist watch, now reintroduced to a market of men frequently late for appointments. A stopwatch, daily alarm and 12/24-hour clock: do you really need anything else?



Tinkering: a uniquely British hobby, and one we’re pretty good at. It’s what vehicle suspension engineer George Carwardine was doing in 1934 when he invented a new spring that moved easily in every direction but held rigid when in position. It became the basis for the Anglepoise lamp – de rigueur for Second World War bomber navigators, artists and anyone who required an intense spotlight to interrogate possible spies.


Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin AIR

Founded in 1966, in the unpromising hinterland that is Worthing, Bowers & Wilkins continues to make superlative hi-fi speakers. Six years ago, it poured its considerable engineering knowledge into the Zeppelin – still the finest iPod dock. It also produced a Zeppelin Mini, but it was the core product that endured. Epic, loud and now with Apple’s wireless AirPlay technology, not to mention being one of the few docks set up for the new Lightning connector found on iPhone 5 and the newest iPod Touch and Nano models.


Grado SR60i

Grado has been making headphones in Brooklyn, New York, for 60 years. These may look like they belong on the head of a U-Boat radio operator, but it would be a crime not to use them for music. The legendary SR60 (now SR60i for ‘improved’) still collects awards for its perfect, zero-distortion design. The style may be firmly retro but the technology inside has evolved, from upgraded drivers to improved mass distribution to fine-tune air movement within the housing.


Leica M

In 1932, Leica made the first camera with a built-in rangefinder. Groundbreaking stuff, because photographers could now shoot crisp images without the aid of a tape measure. Even more impressive was 1954’s Leica M3, a perfect combination of rangefinder, 35mm spindle-wound film and compact body. In short, these models changed the game in the field of photojournalism. The firm still makes the legendary ‘M’ model, though it now has 24 megapixels. We’re not sure what the hard-working snappers of the Thirties would make of that.

£5,100 (body only)


You’ll likely remember this from your school canteen. Called ‘the ultimate drinking vessel created by man’, it looks like glass but bounces when dropped, thanks to Duralex’s blend of sand, lime and aluminium-oxide.



Once or twice in every designer’s life, they’ll hit the bullseye. The Poäng armchair was Noboru Nakamura’s. Created for Ikea in 1975, the layer-glued bent-birch classic is as comfortable as a Fisher Price baby bouncer, and remains the go-to for every man in his early-twenties on a coop-flying mission.


Breville Red Two Slice Sandwich Maker

When it came to cuisine, Britain didn’t acquit itself too well in the Seventies. Then a sensation arrived to save us all from freezer burn. The Breville sandwich toaster, invented in Australia in 1974, became an instant hit with schoolboys and young men bored with their local pub’s menu. Four slices of bread, ham, cheese, and the slam of a lid destroyed the croque monsieur’s mystique forever. The French were bloody livid.


Zippo High Polish Chrome Lighter

The Zippo’s talents extend far beyond mere tobacco ignition. Its windproof flame has served as a rescue beacon for stranded sailors, and helped many a GI light the way through the murky jungles of Vietnam; the only time it goes out is when you ‘cling’ the top shut to starve the flame of oxygen. As for its durability, in the Fifties a fisherman found one in the belly of a pike. And guess what? It lit first time.