Today, retailers like Design Within Reach, Crate & Barrel, Habitat, IKEA and Target have all popularized the idea that good design should be accessible to everyone. But the concept was first introduced over a half century ago by Design Research, the influential modernist mini-chain that mixed design objects from Charles and Ray Eames, Alvar Aalto and Arne Jacobsen with eclectic folk materials and textiles from around the world and helped introduce the modern "lifestyle" to postwar Americans and their homes.
The first Design Research store was established in 1953 in Cambridge, Massachusetts by the architect Ben Thompson, who later ran D/R with his wife, Jane Thompson, the founding editor of I.D. and an architect and urban planner. D/R expanded throughout the 1960s and at its height had locations in New York, San Francisco, Beverly Hills and Philadelphia, among other cities. The architecture of the stores, designed by Ben, was just as distinctive as its wares: Thompson's iconic 1969 D/R store/headquarters on Brattle Street in Cambridge was constructed of floor to ceiling glass, turning the entire store into a display case, bringing the shop out into the street. (In 2003 the building received the prestigious Twenty-Five Year award from the American Institute of Architects.) But in 1970 the Thompsons lost their controlling share in the stores, and by 1979 they were closed.
In 2006, Jane Thompson brought several scrapbooks of Design Research ephemera to Pentagram and asked the team to help her tell the remarkable D/R story. The resulting book, Design Research: The Store That Brought Modern Living to American Homes, is out now from Chronicle Books. Written and edited by Jane Thompson and Alexandra Lange, and with an introduction by Rob Forbes, founder of Design Within Reach, the book is an "autobiography" of D/R told through reminiscences by Jane Thompson and D/R staff, collaborators and customers. This year Jane Thompson was honored for Lifetime Achievement in the National Design Awards.