Sam Farber
Courtesy of OXO

It is with great sadness that Cooper-Hewitt mourns the loss of businessman and self-described “design junkie,” Sam Farber. The founder of the kitchenware companies Copco and OXO, Farber truly understood what design can do to improve the quality of life. He recognized that good design reflects not just aesthetic appeal, but enhances the emotional, behavioral, and social aspects of everyday activities.

Caroline Baumann, Director of Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, commented “Sam Farber was a tireless champion of great design, who advocated for access to well-designed merchandise for all users. With ergonomic products like OXO's Good Grips, Farber empowered people through design and created products that made everyday living easier.”

Coming from an entrepreneurial family, Sam was able to observe design and manufacturing from an early age. His uncle Simon founded the cookware company Farberware in 1900, and he worked for his father’s company, Sheffield Silver, for eleven years. By 1960, Sam started Copco, known for its enameled metal kitchenware and award-winning melamine serving utensils, as well as tableware.

Tableware, designed by Smart Design, Inc., manufactured by Copco, ca. 1985. Gift of Smart Design, Inc. 1987-14-1/16. Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution.

 

Although Copco manufactured several items practical for people with disabilities, it was not until after he retired in 1988 that he was inspired to rethink kitchen tool design after witnessing the problems his wife experienced when using many utensils. Farber referred to these kitchen tools as “functional disasters.”  Noting his wife’s difficulty gripping a potato peeler, Farber contemplated what could be done for users with arthritis. He noted that, even for the average user, “…ordinary kitchen tools hurt your hands, with painful scissor loops…, hard skinny handles…,” and thought, if you made comfortable tools, wouldn’t everybody use them?

Good Grips peeler in packaging, designed by Smart Design, Inc., manufactured by OXO, 1990, Gift of Smart Design, Inc. 2011-50-21. Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution.
 

With this in mind, in 1989 Farber started OXO and approached the industrial design firm Smart Design, with whom he had worked while at Copco, to design a line of ergonomic kitchen tools. The assignment: develop tools that are comfortable to hold, durable, dishwasher safe, attractive, and affordable. The result was the OXO Good Grips line of kitchen tools characterized by wide, soft, comfortable handles and durable forms appropriate for the wide range of motions needed to prepare and serve food. As a testament to Farber’s dedication to good design, the Good Grips line has been in production for over 20 years. In addition to remaining popular with consumers of all abilities, Good Grips kitchen tools have won numerous design awards, and entered the permanent collections of several museums, including Cooper-Hewitt.

Sam Farber presented the 2010 National Design Award for Product Design to Smart Design, led by Davin Stowell and Tom Dair.

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