The Elements of a Home: Curious Histories behind Everyday Household Objects, from Pillows to Forks is the book every design lover will want in their library this spring. Penned by Amy Azzarito, it’s a deep dive into the fascinating background of more than 60 everyday household objects and furnishings. The lively read will expand your knowledge on the history of the things you might use daily — from napkins to pillows. Here are 5 of the most surprising things she uncovered:
1. The first napkins were lumps of doughs that the ancient Greeks used to clean their fingers. At the end of the meal, the dough was thrown to the dogs.
2. The first keys, used to open the massive doors of ancient Greek and Egyptian homes, were sometimes as large as three feet in length. They were so heavy that they were carried slung over the shoulder.
3. Wooden chopsticks were first used in eighteenth-century Japanese restaurants. There is a Shinto belief that something that has been in another person’s mouth picks up aspects of their personality. So sharing chopsticks was a definite faux pas.
4. The very earliest pillows were in fact carved wooden or stone “pillows” used in ancient Africa, Asia and Oceania, they supported the sleeper’s neck, rather than head. The Romans preferred a softer option and their pillows were stuffed with soft cotton or feathers.
5. In the Middle Ages, the “plates” were actually slices of whole wheat bread cut from an aged loaf. This bread plate was rarely eaten, at the end of the meal it was thrown to the dogs or given to the destitute.
Amy, a sought-after expert on the topic of design history, has a degree in the History of Decorative Arts & Design from Parsons. She was the Managing Editor at Design*Sponge and has contributed to Food52, Refinery29, Brit & Co, Food52, Design Milk and Architectural Digest. This book is an amalgamation of her knowledge, and each page will leave you wanting more. The Elements of a Home: Curious Histories behind Everyday Household Objects, from Pillows to Forks is available via pre-order via your favorite book retailer and in stores on the 17th.