Tuesday, April 1, 2008

phone home

It's a classic tale of business history- a man designs a product so well, so elegant in its simplicity, that it becomes so successful that it and he are forever linked. Well, I don't have to tell you much about Henry and his creation. That simple yet elegant design that was so popular it continued virtually unchanged for over twenty years and became part of peoples lives all over the world. At first, the customer could have "any color he wanted as long as it was black". Later years saw the introduction of color and thus our story begins.

Of course, I am thinking of Henry Dreyfus and the Western Electric 500 Telephone. The iconic chubby phone that nestled in every telephone nook in America, and across the planet. Debuted in 1949, invigorated with color in 1954 and produced well into the 1980's.

The estate sale late last year went very well. So well that she not only sold the excess clothes and furniture, and the two cars in the garage, but even the telephones in the house. When I moved, I had only my cell phone and a marvelous rotary Ericophon. I tried shopping for a new desk phone but they were all hideous black high tech creatures with angry digital eyes that looked like they would attack me in my sleep. No, thank you. Then my eye caught a glimpse of a Dreyfus 500reproduction- timeless and elegant. "That's it", I mused. Never one for knock offs, I decided to get a real rotary 500 for my desk.

Ebay produced a cornucopia of 500s in a rich array of colors- red, yellow, orange, aqua, pink, green, beige, black, cocoa and even lime. I gazed about my apartment, which in many ways is the intersection of Chartreuse Lane and Tangerine Way. I decided to bid on a Cherry Red 500. I felt like an excited seven year old when I opened the box and gazed at it in its reconditioned glory.

Then the frustrated collector began to re-emerge. Having divested myself of so many posessions in a short period of time, I kept shopping. I decided that a triad of phones in complementary colors would look smashing on my George Miller desk. A couple weeks later I was unpacking yellow and bittersweet orange 500's to join their red compadre. I thought it was fun.

Okay, this is the moment the obsession began. I looked at my sixties modern buffet and imagined it covered with 500's in a whole range of colors. I was thinking Andy Warhol meets Ernestine. I realized it was crazy, but in a relatively inexpensive and harmless way. Back to ebay which produced, in a frenzy of bidding, another orange, two aqua, three pink, an ivory, and a chocolate. Yes, there are duplicates. In case of a breakdown, I guess. I connected one of the aqua ones in the bedroom. There are pink spares nested in my bookcase. And a friend helped me arrange the buffet in a pleasing color spectrum. To wit:

I love it, but its a wee bit loud when the phone rings. One of my techie friends has offered to help me build a random ringer for the buffet, so any one of them will ring randomly when someone calls. My obsession is complete. Oh, except for one thing. There's a wall plate in the kitchen that would be perfect for a companion Dreyfus 550 wall phone- what color shall I get?


citizen jane said...

That is all kinds of fantastic. It's art! It's practical! It's fabulous!

As for the kitchen, my first thoughts were of Harvest Gold or Avocado Green. The kitchen of my childhood featured similar wall phones of both colors over the years.

Doralong said...

At least you started with red ;) But stop with the kitchen, or I'm going to start to worry a bit.

Willym said...

has to be Harvest Gold but then you'll have to start looking for the matching fridge and stove panels... and what about the formica kitchen table with the stainless steel legs... and then the matching toaster and blender... damn this could become an obsession...

Anonymous said...

The buffet looks great. As for the kitchen, I would have to suggest that you get the 550 in white.

Texaco said...

well, that's another thing we've got.