Prosperous times—whether we are all prospering or not—have a way of fueling a fascination with design. Instead of wondering whether I can afford to buy that colander or computer, I now fuss over whether each object is both sleek and functional, something I can admire while I wash my vegetables or write e-mail. Recent design exhibitions, such as last year’s Library of Congress retrospective on the work of Charles and Ray Eames, certainly whetted local appetites for such shows. But the Eames exhibition lasted four months, and D.C. had no permanent design-exhibit space.

Not anymore. In October, Kitchen K—D.C.’s first design gallery—opened its doors. The gallery exists not to sell the works within it, but rather, as co-director Sam Shelton, of KINETIK Communication Graphics, puts it, “to show how good design makes everybody’s lives better.”

The gallery’s new exhibition, “Designed 2 Buy,” which opens Dec. 1, manages to accomplish its creators’ high-minded mission while tapping into the consumer lust that is holiday shopping. Five juries, consisting of design professionals and a smattering of fine artists, selected more than 150 examples of good design from a host of area shops. Each jury had to find 25 to 30 items, including at least five that cost less than $10, and they had to visit local vendors—such as Apartment Zero and Ginza—as well as chain stores. Some choices are predictable: teakettles from Target (designed by architect Michael Graves), the Apple Power Mac G4 Cube, an umbrella with a sky image inside designed by the late, influential graphic designer Tibor Kalman. But others are a pleasant surprise: martini glasses from Banana Republic, bolt-shaped salt and pepper holders from Home Rule (you bend, rather than shake, them), and Ikea’s Ivar entertainment center.

Shelton and his collaborators have displayed most of the exhibition’s objects atop cardboard-box “pedestals” stacked to different heights throughout Kitchen K’s multilevel space. The reason, Shelton says, is simple: “We wanted to take everyday objects and show the design behind them, the creative process that goes into making them by elevating them and putting them in a gallery.” —Annys Shin

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