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Treasured: Alice Rawsthorn on her favourite possession

The design critic and author on the unexpected heirloom that embodies the values of good design

design critic alice rawsthorn with her treasured possession

My parents were the kind of people who would always try to buy the best product in its category and use it for decades, keeping it impeccably maintained.

After my mother passed away, I felt strongly that I didn’t want the traditional heirlooms; jewellery and so on – that was too painful.

But a couple of years later when my father died, I was clearing out their house and I realised that the things I wanted to hold onto were actually the practical objects – like my mother’s sewing kit and cooking utensils. They don’t have great financial value, but have a huge emotional value for me.

My family lived in, and had such a love for, the country. My mum had this fantastic country woman kit. She loved gardening, birdwatching and hiking, so she accumulated lots of books on natural history and all the contraptions that went with it, including this fantastic pair of Carl Zeiss binoculars.

That’s what we want from product design today; things that can be repaired

They’re a wonderful gadget and remind me of the pleasure Mum took in country life. Also, they are a brilliant example of utilitarian design; Zeiss is one of the great specialist German manufacturers. They come with a beautiful leather case with a shoulder strap, and inside I found the lifetime guarantee. To me, that’s what we want from product design today; things that can be repaired rather than replaced.

Despite being an urbanite, I love hiking, so I keep them in my kit. I haven’t had time to investigate birdwatching yet, but I think, in old age, it’s something I might like. alicerawsthorn.com

This article first appeared in ELLE Decoration July 2020

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