From the desk of Highsnobiety Editor-in-Chief Thom Bettridge, The Materialist is an editor’s letter in the form of a treasure hunt for the objects that change the way we perceive our world. This week, Thom dives into accessories for what has become everyone's new most valuable home item: the desk.
Writers always feel a special bond with our desks. They are the places where we write, but more crucially, they are the places where we don’t write.
I’ve always had a mentally loaded relationship with my desks and the desk-cessories™ that sit atop them, one that has abided by deep superstitions. During my years at 032c, I kept a pile of kinetic sand next to my keyboard, which I would organize into bizarre formations as I fiddled over cover lines and intros. At Interview, it was a garden of crystals that I would sort to summon successful photoshoots and juicy Q&A’s.
But at pandemic-era Highsnobiety, my desk has taken on a whole new psychic weight. Said table is an Eiermann collapsible plunked in the middle of a seventh floor living room. And throughout the last fifteen months of typing, Zooming, and languishing, the items that populate it have grown in both number and meaning. So allow me to introduce you.
The Statement Keyboard
I’ve long been an advocate for investing in a keyboard, in particular mechanical keyboards. The brand WASD first turned me onto the category, and once you get used to typing with one, and the tactile response it gives your fingers, it’s really hard to use a tacky laptop keyboard ever again.
Something you learn when you use a mechanical keyboard is the kind of statement it makes — for better, or for worse. To start, the keys are really, really loud, so you inevitably submit your coworkers to the sound of ideas clacking out of your mind. But they also beg many questions from the curious and skeptical alike.
Kinesis’ Freestyle Pro is a keyboard that goes very deep down the rabbit hole of statement keyboards. Not only is it mechanical (and loud), its ergonomic split format is bound to turn heads.
My fascination with perfume — and my Dante-esque journey to Pour Homme Hell and Back — is well documented. But I still can’t say enough about the power of keeping a fragrance (or five) on your desk.
No, scented candles don’t count. And if you bring up scent diffusers here, I’m going to need you to close your browser immediately. I’m talking about bottles of perfume that you can spray onto your arm, wrist, or hand, inhale deeply through your nose, and escape to another time and/or place.
Fueguia is a brand that I’ve gotten deeply into during the pandemic, and they excel at three things a good fragrance brand needs to get right: 1) Imaginative and inspiring ingredients that challenge the mind, 2) Packaging that feels special but not superfluously decorative, and 3) Scents that cling to your mind, and make you miss them when they are not around.
Pampa Seca is a fascinating scent in the olfactory family of “Green” fragrances that I’ve been into exploring this summer. It takes its main notes from pampa grass (never heard of it either!), giving it a slightly fruity, but mostly vegetal palette. Most crucially for its success as a desk-cessory™, it smells like being outside.
A couple of months ago, I received a piece of advice on Zoom fatigue, which advised that taking every other call as a classic phoner rather than a video conference can help unlock stunted mental bandwidth. This practice has served me well, and it led me to discover the magical little Home Pod Mini, which has the delightful ability to turn into a speaker phone just by placing your iPhone down next to it.
I’ve always been a skeptic of smart speakers as a category, in particular their potential double lives as Big Brother-listening devices. But Apple’s new ad with the Delta 5 song has me sold on letting Siri have a listen to what I’m up to.
The Vibey Pen
The thing that people don’t talk about with pens is that the texture of their tip and ink flow can totally determine the look, texture, and even content of what you write with them. Give me a scratchy little ballpoint Bic, and my notes will immediately take on the vibe of a hostage letter. Throw me a Pilot rollerball that generously gushes ink, and it’s pure bliss mode.
What feels like ages ago, at my last Paris Men’s Fashion Week, I took a meeting with a PR who was wielding this wavy Pentel brush pen as we spoke, taking notes in fat, wet letters, barely fitting one sentence on each page. There was something so melodic to the effect his notes — and by extension this pen — had on my experience of that conversation that I immediately adopted it into my quiver.
The Vibier Pen
There’s a beauty to Montblanc pens that is undeniable, but a certain adultness that comes with it that can feel intimidating. Am I ready to just show up anywhere with a Big Boss Pen? Will I lose it? Will I somehow break the nib, or gush ink onto myself accidentally?
Luckily, Montblanc’s M series provides all the finely tuned design history of the world’s ultimate boss pen brand in a sleek silhouette that feels refreshingly industrial. In person, its weight and finish is actually super similar to the indestructible and now-defunct LaCie thumb drives that I used to see smashed into CDJs at Berghain.
However, what surprised me most about using a Montblanc is how controlled and vibey its nib can be at the same time. There’s a gestural nature to the way the ink runs from its tip, almost at slight delay that whips like a little tail as you motion your way through a stroke. But this chaos is contained by the precision of the pen’s design, allowing this expressive potential to land somewhere neat — basically giving every word the feeling like it’s your signature.
The Big Ideas Paper
I have a lot of opinions about paper and notebooks, but allow me share the most important one here: expensive, leather-bound notebooks need to be scrubbed from the Earth and should never be bought by decent human beings. As someone who likes nice things, I understand how easy it is to fall into this trap, and in moments of weakness throughout my life, I have even succumbed to the temptation of a Smythson notebook or handbound sketchbook with Florentine marbling. But who are any of us to think that our ideas need to be written on paper housed inside a small leather book object? Or to suggest outwardly that the scribblings that leak from our brains need to be bound with our monograms in embossed gilding? Such a gesture is obnoxious; superfluous in a way that is strangely the opposite of luxury.
Recently, I’ve gotten into the habit of keeping around what I call “Big Ideas Paper” — the kinds of sketchbooks that normal creative people might use for a life drawing class, but that I use for writing gigantic lists or taping up crudely chopped-together collages. As far as writing utensils go, I highly recommend using Big Ideas Paper with the Big Ideas Marker.
The Reading Material
Having stacks and stacks of printed material is crucial to the health of any well-balanced desk. This can come in the form of newspapers, coffee table books, or unread letters, but my favorite thing to keep around as perusing material are back issues of magazines — especially rare or defunct magazines, and especially ones with surprisingly prescient things in them. Such is the case with this issue of the Swiss art magazine Parkett from 1992 I found recently. Mike Kelley x David Hammons? Say no more.
The Mental Balm
I once penned an entire article on how I like to use Cartier rings as fidget spinners, and it began by singing the praises of a website called mysensorytoys.com, an ecomm site dedicated to those with hyperactive tendencies.
Three years later, I’ve found myself in the interesting predicament of having a one-year-old son who now has the same taste in toys that I do. One incredible item is this device that is a bit like a Juul for people who like popping bubble wrap.