Barbara Flanagan is the author of Flanagan’s Smart Home: The 98 Essentials for Starting Out, Starting Over, Scaling Back
Purge the clutter. Outfit your home with care: The 34 essential kitchen tools. The 9 essential cleaning and fixing products. The 13, and only 13, things a bedroom needs to make it a haven of rest and privacy. Each item has been field-tested and rated for its environmental, social, and aesthetic impact.
Tell me about the genesis of Flanagan’s Smart Home.
A: When I moved down from three stories of Victorian manse to a little cottage, after a divorce, I spent many days paring down my possessions. At the same time I was moving my mother to a continuing care apartment and my children off to college. What we all had in common, all three generations of us, was the need to live smaller and smarter by limiting our chattel to lovable things that worked well for many reasons. For this book, I decided to narrow down those reasons and seek out the ideal products, doing the homework for people who’ll want to ask the same question I did: What do I really need to live a good, comfortable life? In other words, I wrote the book I wish I could have bought a few years ago.
Can you give me an estimate of how many products and items of furniture you tested that didn’t make the cut?
A: Whoa, lots. I checked out thousands of images, and tested hundreds of products in showrooms, trade shows, stores, and homes of friends. Then I tested the finalists—like the low-voltage electric blanket, kitchen knife, microfiber cleaning products, and many others–over months, under heavy use, at home.
You write about product design, but you’re also a product designer yourself. Can you tell me about some of the products you’ve created?
A: I’ve designed several products for the MoMA Store www.momastore.org (NY’s Museum of Modern Art), and my new company, Flanagan LLC, is launching its first two desktop product this year. www.barbaraflanagan.com The MoMA stores in NYC and Japan will introduce one of them. My favorite product to date, however, is the Shondelier, a custom bathroom chandelier (illuminated remotely) containing a rainhead shower—that looks unnecessarily glamorous and dangerous at the same time.
From where you’re sitting right now, what items from the book can you see? (Are you sitting on one?)
A: Yes, I’m in my studio now, sitting on an excellent, solid maple chair from a 1950s Philadelphia catering hall (I had it painted half black, half not). I like it better than my fancy Aeron chair, actually. If took my laptop in the kitchen/dining room, I’d see the trusty microwave, toaster oven, electric kettle, dining table and dining chairs. Also, one white cat strolling over it all like she owns it.
In retrospect, are there any items you wish you had included?
A: One reviewer was incensed that I’d omitted a toilet plunger. He’s right, but house plumbing works, so I forgot. I should thank him for taking the book to heart.
What are you reading at the moment?
A: The UPS bible of shipping regulations and rates. Surprisingly thick. As an entrepreneur, I need to know lots of numbers and rules.
What’s your favorite snack to eat while writing?
A: No snacking while writing! That’s naughty and bad for the keyboard. I only snack while procrastinating.
What’s your preferred procrastination method?
A: Snacking. On 35-calorie rice cakes. If cheesecake is unavailable.
If you were to write a memoir, what would be its title?
A: If I’m So Smart How Come I’m Not______?
What’s your secret ambition?
A: Having an exhibit of my sculpture and drawings, with an art opening, white wine, and people I don’t know milling around looking at the stuff like it’s art. So this fall I worked really hard, had a show, sold a piece, and it was that dream come true. Actually better! My new secret ambition is to be less ambitious for a couple weeks.