Once it was orange crates in Greenwich Village apartments, then bleached Victorian oak. Now the newest domestic chic is something called “high-tech”—objects and materials originally designed for industrial use and currently being appropriated as home furnishings.
The generation that grew up in work clothes and traveled in vans has found beauty in a nuts-and-bolts decor. They are using gym lockers for headboards and operating tables as bar carts and are hanging factory lamps over dining room tables that are topped with thick wire glass.
Some nonbelievers have suggested that high-tech is really low dreck. Two women journalists, Joan Kron, 51, and Suzanne Slesin, 34, demur. They’re the co-authors of the movement’s bible, High-Tech, the Industrial Style and Source Book for the Home (Clarkson N. Potter, $27.50), which explains what anybody needs to know about mover’s quilts and hospital faucets and where to buy a dry cleaner’s rack or a gross of laboratory beakers. The 40-page directory lists manufacturers of items ranging from disposable salt-and-pep-per shakers ($1 a pair) to a revolving electric file system from Sperry Univac ($10,000). The book, published last fall, has sold nearly 60,000 copies. Stores across the country, detecting a minor bonanza, have begun selling mock high-tech versions of such things as metal saw horses and tractor seats.
“Please,” says author Suzy Slesin, “we didn’t invent high-tech or create the style. We just reported it.” Like her co-author, she lives and works in New York. “I don’t believe anybody should swallow the book whole,” adds Kron, who discarded nearly 500 titles before settling on High-Tech. (A play on “high style” and “technology.”)
Kron, a graduate of the Yale Drama School (’48) and a onetime interior decorator, discovered high-tech in 1969 while walking through the Yale School of Architecture to judge a student show. She spied a Sonotube, an eight-foot fiberboard cylinder used for pouring concrete in bridge and highway construction, on display as a kiosk. “For a minute, I thought, ‘Oh, my God, what is that?’ Then I realized there must be loads of other exotic things out there that could work in homes. It was a revelation.” (The Sonotube can be converted into a bed, closet or table base.)
After meeting at a feminist consciousness-raising group in 1974, the two women decided to catalogue the full cornucopia of such industrial products. “After we signed the book contract I broke out in a cold sweat,” remembers Kron. “I didn’t know how I was going to get it all done.” A former New York magazine writer, she had just started working for the New York Times, a job she eventually quit to finish the book. Slesin, a ’66 Wellesley grad and Esquire magazine veteran, is now on Kron’s old design beat at the Times. Says Slesin, “Joan is very positive. She taught me to think big and focus on working toward a goal.”
Slesin shares her East Side high-tech co-op with Michael Steinberg, a market consultant. Her mother, she says, still hasn’t adjusted to the open shelving in the kitchen. Kron lives in even starker minimalist digs with her second husband, Jerry Marder, an advertising executive (and childhood sweetheart). The oldest piece in the apartment is a 1920s art deco standing ashtray. To critics who find high-tech esthetically chilling, Kron retorts, “What frightens them about modern design is its simplicity. For some people embellishment is a psychological need.”