Skip to main content

Tom Morris

Tom is a London-based writer, curator, author, and founder of the interiors consultancy Morrisstudio. The former design editor of Monocle, he writes for publications including the FT Weekend magazine, Architectural Digest, and Wallpaper. His third book, New Wave Clay (Frame Publishers), was released in 2018.

Tom Morris's Articles

Singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen

How Leonard Cohen Sought Out Spiritual Truth Through His Songs

British author and journalist Harry Freedman first conceived of the idea for his new book, Leonard Cohen: The Mystical Roots of Genius (Bloombsbury), while driving along the A40 highway in the United Kingdom, where he lives. Suddenly, “Hallelujah,” a song written by Cohen for his 1984 album Various Positions that’s since become an often-covered secular hymn, came on the radio. “For some reason I listened more carefully than I usually do, and I realized that he was singing about the Bible story of King David committing adultery,” Freedman says. “I thought, This guy is singing about things you don’t normally hear.”

Pancakes with bacon on a white plate

How to Eat Your Food Scraps

Swedish home furnishings giant Ikea has made very clear its grand ambition to become an entirely circular business by 2030. This plan has recently taken shape in its approach to cuisine, via its aim to cut its restaurants’ food waste in half by the end of next year. The recent release of The Scraps Book: A Waste-Less Cookbook, dedicated to making meals out of the food fragments that we typically leave behind, adds to the effort. There are plenty of ingredients to go around: The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 30 to 40 percent of the country’s food supply, or about a pound of food per person each day, gets thrown out.

Decorated room screens and sculptures

Yolande Batteau’s Latest Body of Work Reflects a Passionate Personal Investigation of Materials and Self

Over the past three decades, multidisciplinary artist Yolande Batteau has traveled the world to study age-old artisanal practices, many of which are on the verge of extinction. She translates these techniques, and the mediums used to carry them out, into furniture, jewelry, and perhaps most famously, handmade wall coverings, inventively enhanced with gilded, painted, or plasterwork finishes and made through her Brooklyn atelier, Callidus Guild. Yet while Batteau investigates materials, she’s simultaneously doing a similar kind of work within herself—an act that Covid-19 kicked into high gear. “The pandemic made me stop, reflect, channel what’s important, and eliminate the white noise,” she says, deeming the experience a “time of growth and self-examination.” Soul searching features prominently in her latest body of work, aptly titled “Yolande Batteau: Introspective,” on view at New York’s decorative arts gallery Bernd Goeckler through May 28.

Yellow air freshener on car dashboard

This Car Diffuser Transforms Any Road Trip Into an Opulent Olfactory Experience

Driving requires keeping your eyes on the road, navigating a primarily visual adventure—but the right accessory can make it an olfactory experience, too. Case in point: the just-released Airound car diffuser from Italy’s storied furniture maker Poltrona Frau and the Milan-based fragrance brand Acqua di Parma. Encased in Poltrona Frau’s silky smooth Pelle Frau leather, the disk-shaped device magnetically attaches to a car’s ventilation grill. Turn the air on, and its perfume—which comes in nine interchangeable, classic Acqua di Parma scents, including woodsy Buongiorno, citrusy Fico di Amalfi, and Milano, a concoction created exclusively for Poltrona Frau—circulates.

Catherine and John Pawson standing and siting at a table in front of a white wall.

What Catherine and John Pawson Cook at Home in the English Countryside

Nine years ago, interiors specialist Catherine Pawson saw a real estate listing for a 17th-century estate in rural Oxfordshire. With its sprawling fields, a farmhouse, horse stables, and a pond, the home offered solace from the city of London, where Pawson lives in Notting Hill with her husband, John, the celebrated British architect. Despite the property’s ramshackle state, they bought it, and spent the next five years transforming the premises into a pastoral retreat where they could entertain family and friends—often, over refined, low-key meals made by Catherine.

Peter Adjaye wearing headphones and a fedora, on a light blue background.

Peter Adjaye’s Emotive Soundscapes Immerse Listeners in the Past and Present

Creating immersive environments that tell stories using music is second nature to London-based sound artist Peter Adjaye. He’s used his skills as a DJ-producer, musicologist, and composer to collaborate on a wide range of interdisciplinary projects—including some with his architect brother, Sir David, such as their 2016 album Dialogues, which explores the connection between music and architecture.

A carving board with vegan burgers and bacon, onions, a cleaver, herbs, and condiments.

London’s First Vegan Butcher Shop Sells “Meats” That Rival the Real Thing

Not eating meat is no longer a concern reserved for vegetarians and vegans. The damaging effects the factory-farm industry has on the land, communities, animals, and people’s health have been extensively documented, and animal agriculture is now a primary source of global warming (if cows were a country, they’d be the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world). In turn, the meat-free market is booming. In the United Kingdom, sales of plant-based foods is expected to exceed £1.1 billion ($1.41 billion) by 2024, according to research firm Mintel; in 2019, almost a quarter of all food products launched there were labeled as vegan. And the runaway success of Rudy’s Vegan Butcher, which opened five months ago in the London borough of Islington, only further suggests that the end of meat is near.

A large tray of compost heading into a white container surrounded by plants.

Why Human Composting Is the Future of Death Care

When a loved one passes, the typical death care options are both limited and harmful to the planet. Conventional burial involves embalming bodies in toxic solutions, caskets made from wood take up plots of land for eternity, and the average cremated body emits about 40 pounds of carbon and requires some 30 gallons of fuel to burn. These are some of the issues that prompted Katrina Spade to consider composting as a soil-based form of cremation while studying architecture at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, back in 2013, when she completed her master’s thesis, “Of Dirt and Decomposition: Proposing a Place for the Urban Dead.” She went on to initiate feasibility studies of a process known as natural organic reduction (NOR), where human remains are mixed with plant material and left alone for four to six weeks, during which time microbes break everything down into a nutrient-dense soil that can be used to nourish new life. Then Spade launched a landmark campaign to legalize NOR in Washington State, where she currently lives, that was signed into law in 2019. In January, she opened the doors to Recompose, an NOR funeral home located in a Seattle suburb and designed by local architectural firm Olson Kundig (whose principal, Tom Kundig, was the guest on Ep. 37 of our Time Sensitive podcast). Last year, two other NOR companies were formed in the region, signaling that the practice isn’t a pipe dream, but a realizable future.

Two hands mixing up Lego pieces on a white table.

Lego’s Pleasing New “White Noise” Playlist Evokes Childlike Wonder

The sounds of Legos poured out of a toybox, dropping to the floor, and clicking together are recognized all over the world, according to the Danish toy maker, which recently released a “White Noise” playlist. Made using only the sounds of Lego bricks and pieces, “White Noise” is a score of seven tracks made to produce calming, mindful, constructive—and, it should be said, carefree—background music after a year of turbulence. Each track lasts about 30 minutes, enough time to click out and detach. The playlist includes “Wild As The Wynd”—a pitter-pattering, drizzle-in-a-rainforest number—and the jumpity, clickety-clackety “Searching For A Brick.” “It All Clicks” is a scratchy and staccato track, while the closer, “The Night Builder,” is a minimal, spare composition that sounds like a faucet dripping while a mouse scratches beneath the sink, knocking into dishwasher tablets.

A photo display in the Nashville Museum of African American Music.

A New Nashville Museum Traces 400 Years of Black Music

More than two decades in the making, the National Museum of African American Music opened last month in Nashville, Tennessee, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Through its seven galleries and the some 1,500 objects in its collection—which range from one of Jimi Hendrix’s wrecked guitars to a trombone owned by the late musician Helen Jones-Woods, who played in the first integrated all-female jazz orchestra—more than four centuries of Black music, and the ways in which it contributed to the United States’s soundscape, are unpacked, preserved, and celebrated. “We want visitors to see how African-American music affects the music they listen to now,” senior curator Dr. Steven Lewis says. “And we hope they leave the museum with a deeper understanding of how today’s music fits into the context of Black music history as a whole.”

Caius Pawson in glasses with disheveled hair.

The Relaxing Playlist Caius Pawson Is Listening to Right Now

It’s been a tough year for musicians and DJs, as the pandemic continues to make traditional revenue streams for performing artists all but obsolete. For Caius Pawson, the founder of the 15-year-old London record label Young Turks (which counts FKA twigs, Sampha, and The xx among the musicians on its roster), the absence of in-person performances is affecting creativity, too: “Live music is obviously a huge part of the industry, but it’s also its soul,” he says. “It’s where performers and the audience can best express themselves, and it’s where we come together.” However, like many of us, Pawson has found that music’s power to transport and transform is immune to the virus. He compiled a playlist of uplifting songs for us that have “amplified the best parts of my year,” he says, “and distracted me from some of the worst.” There’s solace to be found in this soundtrack, he notes, for both listeners and himself. “People turn to music to find meaning and to enrich their lives. Some things never change.”

The Oda sound system on a creme background.

This Sound System Revolutionizes How We Listen to Live Music

Sound designer Perry Brandston grew up plugging away in New York institutions such as CBGB and Fillmore East in the 1970s, and has worked in the audio industry ever since. Recently, he used his deep music knowledge to reimagine Oda, a speaker system that was originally designed in 2016 as a means for the American musician Phil Elverum to broadcast live performances into his fans’ homes. Created in collaboration with acoustician Benjamin Zenker, Brandston’s version—made of wood, glass, cotton, and steel—nods toward a traditional LP record storage box with its understated, unobtrusive appearance. “It has the least physical interaction with a room that I’ve ever encountered,” Brandston says of the flat-panel speaker, which emits sound out of the front and the back. “This gives you many options for placement, and the experience of what happens when you’re in the middle of an audience at a concert.”

A red OB-4 boombox photographed from below.

Teenage Engineering’s OB-4 Speaker Redefines Radio as We Know It

When Teenage Engineering released its OP-1 portable synthesizer, in 2011, the device received glowing reviews from an array of audio authorities, including Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor and French composer Jean-Michel Jarre. A decade on, the Stockholm-based electronics maker aims for another hit with the new OB-4, a Bluetooth speaker system that it’s billing as a “magic radio.” The term isn’t too far off: The mobile, four-speaker hi-fi memorizes everything it plays, allowing users to rewind, stretch, or loop any track that was pumped through it in the previous two hours—regardless of whether the tunes came from live radio, a streaming service, or a plugged-in instrument. Its handle houses a spiral antenna and turns into a stand, which positions the gadget’s top at an angle to provide easy access to its dials and buttons. There’s also a feature called “disk mode,” in which three recordings—“ambient” (a low-pitched drone), “metronome” (monotonous ticks) and “karma” (chanting)—can be used to facilitate focus or relaxation. With a lithium polymer battery that lasts for eight hours when played at its loudest (or for 40 hours at average volume), the souped-up speaker ensures that there’s plenty of time to take in its sounds.

A vial of perfume among rosemary and slices of lemon.

Three Perfume Brands Transforming Trash into Sweet-Smelling Treasures

From its over-reliance on packaging to its use of harmful chemicals, the beauty industry is long overdue for a rethink on how it can adapt to changing consumer priorities. There are, however, a few whiffs of positive change taking place in the fragrance field, where some enterprising brands are procuring ingredients from a curious source: garbage.

A black digital alarm clock on a pink bedside table

This Alarm Clock Helps You Fall Asleep

For most of us, the urge to bring smartphones into our bedrooms is too strong to resist—even when science, and firsthand experience, attest to the habit’s harmful effects. One way to curb the temptation: Loftie, an alarm clock designed to transform sleep spaces into phone-free sanctuaries. Calibrated for the digital age, the device has a two-step alarm that subtly nods you awake, then coaxes you out of bed. But it isn’t merely concerned with mornings. The pill-shaped gadget helps users wind down with several calm-inducing features, including built-in playlists of soothing songs, sound baths, guided meditations, white noise, and a warm glow that signals when it’s time for some shut-eye. (Additional content can be added via the Loftie app.) To begin the journey to a better tech-life—or, at least, alarm-life—balance, simply place the clock on your nightstand. Oh, and leave your phone plugged in somewhere else, such as the kitchen.

Glen Adamson in a dark jacket and shirt, smiling at the camera.

Glenn Adamson’s New Book Explains How Skilled Makers Made America

Technology and industry often get much of the credit for fueling the United States’ development, but for curator, writer, and scholar Glenn Adamson, the prevailing source of American identity stems from those who make objects by hand. In his forthcoming book, Craft: An American History (Bloomsbury), out next week, Adamson shows how skilled laborers shaped the nation, telling remarkable, often surprising stories that reflect the country’s cultural and political past. He cites Elizabeth Keckley, a seamstress born into slavery who became first lady Mary Todd Lincoln’s clothier and confidante, as an example of how craft has served as a tool to overcome obstacles of equity and class. He also looks at gender dynamics by considering the parallels between 1950s hot-rodding boys and dressmaking girls, and examines the American dream itself by unpacking the 19th-century myth of the self-made man—an artisan who purportedly used craft as a pathway to self-reliance and, ultimately, fabulous wealth. The notable main protagonists in Adamson’s accounts are Native Americans, African Americans, women, and blue-collar workers. “They make up most of the craft class, but have always had less of a focus on them,” he says. “I wanted to de-center the narrative: Take the emphasis off of the more museum-friendly expressions of craft, and think about the real imprint it’s had on the economy and the social fabric of the country.” America, Adamson argues, has long had—and continues to have—craft at its core.

Malcolm James in a blue tracksuit, in front of a white background.

How Technology, Politics, and Perception Transformed the Role of Music in Black Life

Malcolm James, a senior lecturer in media and cultural studies at England’s University of Sussex, examines the relationship between sound and sociality in his new book, Sonic Intimacy: Reggae Sound Systems, Jungle Pirate Radio, and Grime YouTube Music Videos (Bloomsbury). It’s a thoughtful, scrupulous study, demonstrating how technology, politics, and perception have influenced the role of music in Black life. We recently spoke with James about what “sonic intimacy” means, and what we stand to lose if it disappears.

The Kistefos Museum in Jevnaker, Norway

Bjarke Ingels on Creating Extraordinary Environments for Today and Tomorrow

Formgivning, the Danish word for “design,” serves as both a thesis and a call to action in a new book, Formgiving: An Architectural Future History (Taschen), by the Copenhagen-born architectural practice Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). This is no project-by-project compendium—it’s a 700-page anthology of ideas that begins with the Big Bang (or is it BIG Bang?) and moves onward, up to the most distant future the eye can see or mind can imagine. Alongside a selection of BIG projects, including a twisted bridge for a Norwegian sculpture park, a floating city that produces its own fresh water, and a proposal for living on the moon, the book maps out the firm’s forward-looking efforts to create a more sustainable, ecologically minded world. In a time when passively letting events—be it the climate crisis, the pandemic, or otherwise—run their course is out of the question, BIG’s latest publication underscores the urgency and importance of creating environments for a more resilient and robust future.

A Vintage Odyssey cover image, featuring a vintage microphone.

The History of Vintage Recording Gear, Written by an All-Knowing Industry Veteran

Music is art, according to Los Angeles–based musician and sound engineer Dan Alexander, who, since 1967, has bought and sold vintage recording gear (he’s also credited with coining the term “vintage” in the context of audio). This philosophy charges his forthcoming book, Dan Alexander Audio: A Vintage Odyssey (Rowman & Littlefield), a lyrical, emotive study of classic audio equipment. The 440-page tome comes with all the geekery one expects from a seasoned audiophile like Alexander, whose expert eye dissects products by 22 manufacturers, illustrated by hundreds of never-before-seen photographs and original sales brochures. There are also elaborate lists, including a catalogue of the more than 7,500 pieces of gear he sold between 1979 and 2000 (complete with each piece’s serial number, sale price, and buyer), as well as an inventory of every type of microphone produced by the German manufacturer Telefunken from 1928 to 1980.

Author and professor A. Joan Saab

The Strange, Long-Standing Relationship Between Seeing and Believing

By poking around the murky world of hoaxes, ghosts, spirit paintings, and holograms, A. Joan Saab—the vice provost of academic affairs at the University of Rochester, where she is also a professor of art history and visual and cultural studies—compiled a series of case studies that demonstrate the fascinating, and often flawed, connection between sight and knowledge. She presents her findings in a new book, Objects of Vision: Making Sense of What We See (Penn State University Press). We recently spoke with Saab about why things aren’t always as they appear, and the reasons behind the human will to believe in the unbelievable.

A simple, rectangular binchotan grill on a white background.

This Japanese Tabletop Grill Brings the Outdoors In

Summer may have passed, but after the year we’ve had, and the months of isolation yet ahead, maintaining a sense of warm-weather fun seems particularly important. One way to bring a July afternoon indoors: the Kaginushi charcoal BBQ konro grill. Designed in a variety of sizes, including some large enough to cook a whole fish on, the pared-down appliance sits on top of the kitchen counter or dining table, filling the air with the deliciously smoky scent of picnics in the park. Each one is made from diatomaceous earth, a sedimentary rock found near the Japanese city of Suzu that’s been used as insulation in stoves since the early 17th century. The porous material is also fire-resistant, making the grill safe to use indoors or out. Simply stack the binchō-tan charcoal around the ignition device inside, and switch it on to get grilling. It’s not quite the great outdoors, but the umami-rich dishes and dinnertime spectacle made by this apparatus are enough to tide us over until the spring.

Author and professor Hsuan L. Hsu on a yellow background.

In Literature and Art, Smell Is a Powerful Means to Convey Risk

Covering everything from a detective story by Edgar Allan Poe to the role that scent plays in racism, the new book The Smell of Risk: Olfactory Aesthetics and Atmospheric Disparities (NYU Press) investigates how, over the past 200 years, writers, artists, and activists have used smell in their work to convey uncertainty or danger. Author Hsuan L. Hsu, an English professor at Concordia University in Montreal, where he’s on the faculty of the Centre for Sensory Studies, goes nose-deep into his subject, and explains the implications of his findings here.

Author and scholar Elliott H. Powell with a red scarf in front of a mural.

Elliott H. Powell Traces the History of Black Musicians Engaging with South Asian Culture and Sounds

By analyzing examples from the 1960s to today, Elliott H. Powell, a scholar of race, sexuality, and pop music, traces the history of African-American musical engagements with South Asian culture and sounds in his new book, Sounds from the Other Side: Afro-South Asian Collaborations in Black Popular Music (University of Minnesota Press). “In the end,” Powell says, “the book is about illustrating what the political stakes are in Black popular music when creating music between and across marginalized communities.”

Eleven bottles of perfume with a box and card on a white background.

Made During the Pandemic, These Perfumes Signal the Suspension of Time

In the last decade, the rise of modest, product-focused scent brands has debunked the notion that the fragrance industry needs either historical heritage or celebrity endorsements to make a splash. The American scent conglomerate International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) exemplifies this trend with its annual Speed Smelling project, founded in 2009, which gives its perfumers free rein to devise a scent around a given concept without creative or budgetary restraints. IFF introduces the experimental concoctions to the industry in a speed dating–style event, and afterward, to the world, in a limited-edition box set. This year’s theme, Slow Smelling, encouraged perfumers, stuck at home during the pandemic, to consider the “suspension of time and of calmness as a way of reconnection to the self.” Contributors include rising star Fanny Bal, who based her creation on the aromatic sap from the lentisc tree that grows on the Greek island of Chios, and senior scent-maker Domitille Michalon-Bertier, who designed her fragrance around the Inhotim Museum, an outdoor art center located in a Brazilian forest. Perfumer Delphine Lebeau recently learned about the Japanese pastry mochi, and used a trio of musks to embody the treat’s soft, mellow profile. The resulting 11 fragrances were unveiled at a virtual event over the summer, compounded by hand in the famed French perfume capital of Grasse, and collected in a pack of small vials, newly available for purchase in the U.S. on the website Luckyscent—providing a nose around what makes these master craftspeople tick.

A red and white Radio Flyer with city names on its buttons.

This Radio Connects Listeners to a World of Fresh Foreign Sounds

Don’t be fooled by the no-frills appearance of this device—it’s actually something of a shape-shifter. Created by the Italian design firm Palomar, the Bluetooth-enabled City Radio (available in the U.S. through Uncommon Goods) lets users pick from 18 international radio libraries with a few flicks of the finger: Simply download the gadget’s app and pair it with the receiver. Then, press the button featuring a desired destination (the names of available cities, printed on interchangeable keys, include Athens, Cairo, Jakarta, Nairobi, and Rome, among others) and flip through the stations, transmitted in real time, using a tuning device on the radio’s side.

Four sake bottles on a white background.

This Small Santa Fe Importer Brings Hard-to-Find Sake Stateside

In 1989, friends Deborah Fleig and Linda Tetrault started running the store at Ten Thousand Waves, a spa-centric sanctuary in Santa Fe inspired by the traditional hot spring resorts found in the Japanese countryside. They traveled frequently to Asia on regular buying trips, immersing themselves in the nuances of its culture and acquiring a taste for its food and drink—especially sake. To learn more about the fermented rice beverage, they enrolled in classes led by sake educator and expert John Gaunter, toured breweries in Tokyo, and in 2011 founded Floating World Artisan Sake Imports to bring Japan’s finest brews stateside. Their knowledge shines through the company’s wide-ranging website catalogue, which includes anecdote-filled descriptions and endearing personal photographs of each brewery. Highlights include the Akishika Okarakuchi variety, made by just five people at a tiny, 134-year-old establishment nestled in the mountains between Kyoto and Osaka, and sake from Mukai, a label run by one of the few female tōji (master brewers) working in the industry today. Libations for more adventurous palettes include Kaze no Mori (“Wind of the Woods”), a floral, fruity, unfiltered sake with a cult following, and a dry, earthy sake from Mutemuka, a brewery in Kochi Prefecture, that’s aged for six months and has a distinctively nutty aftertaste that smacks of cacao and hazelnut. We suggest picking up several bottles from the importer’s list of distributors before holing up for the holidays.

Chef Bill Granger smiling in a sunny room.

Bill Granger, the Chef Who Made Avocado Toast Mainstream, on Australian Food

Since opening his first restaurant, Bills, in Sydney in 1993, few people have done more for the global understanding of how Australia eats than the Melbourne-born, self-taught chef Bill Granger, commonly (though, he’ll politely say, not necessarily correctly) known as the man who gave the world avocado toast. Now, decades into his career—with additional eateries in Honolulu, London, Seoul, and Tokyo—he’s plating his native cuisine for the world in the form of the new cookbook Australian Food (Murdoch Books), a delicious collection of wholesome recipes including one-bowl meals, chopped salads, and fish dishes. We recently spoke with Granger about the immigrant foodways that shaped Australian cooking into what it is today. Over the last twenty years, you’ve authored ten books—none of which squarely tackle the topic of Australian food. What prompted you to write about the subject now?

Keith Abramsson in sunglasses, walking through the desert.

The Music Keith Abrahamsson Turns to for Sonic Respite

Keith Abrahamsson is the founder of the independent record label Mexican Summer, which operates out of New York and London and counts the likes of Cate Le Bon, Ariel Pink, and Photay among the artists on its roster. (He’s also married to fashion stylist Kate Young, who was the guest on Ep. 3 of our Time Sensitive podcast.) Launched in 2008, his venture has grown to include a reissue label, Anthology, and a book publishing arm, Anthology Editions. In an effort to soothe anxious, isolated souls, Abrahamsson put together a playlist of transporting tunes for us. “It’s culled from material both in and outside my orbit—songs I work with directly or have connected to as a constant listener and seeker,” he says. “It’s all music that provides some sonic respite—for me, at least—and a small way to soften the chaotic edges out there.” “Love Is A Jungle,” Peter Ivers “For Lise,” Matchess “Rectifiya,” keiyaA “Stay Sane,” Pink Siifu “Charlotte's Thong,” Connan Mockasin “Infinitamente Nu,” Sessa “Mind,” Duendita “Aeroplane,” Jessica Pratt “N.Y. Survivor,” Randy & The Goats “Jusqu’à Ce Que La Force De T’aimer Me Manque,” Catherine Ribeiro + Alpes “Daylight Matters,” Cate Le Bon “I Could Hit The Ceiling,” Stiff Herbert “The Woman’s Touch,” The Cigarettes “Strong,” SAULT “Fanfare for 7.83 Hz,” Photay “Wavii,” Knxwledge “Patron Saints,” Ka “Nzuku,” Arp “Blow Up,” Aoife Nessa Frances “Sacred Place,” Jack Name “Clouds,” Hiroshi Yoshimura “Love Is Everywhere,” Pharoah Sanders

An astronaut on the moon, with a dome reflected in their visor.

Fish Scales and Lunar Dust May Hold the Key to Building on the Moon

That we’ve all likely considered relocating to another planet at some point this year may be no bad thing, according to a team of scientists from the Singapore University of Technology and Design. In a recent study published in the journal PLOS One, the group describes their experiments with the organic polymer chitin that demonstrate its viability as a building material for tools and habitats on Mars and the moon. Given both locations’ limited natural resources and the high cost of transporting matter into space, developing a way to use existing materials to make essential objects is paramount—particularly for NASA, which plans to place astronauts on the lunar surface in 2024, and in 2028, to begin setting up a permanent base there. In their research, the scientists mixed chitin—the main component in insect exoskeletons and fish scales (and a recurring element in the work of designer and MIT Media Lab professor Neri Oxman, who was the guest on Ep. 16 of our Time Sensitive podcast)—with a mineral equivalent to Martian soil. They used it to successfully construct an array of objects, including a working wrench, cylinders, cubes, and a house. Elsewhere, other proposals for alternative building materials include using Sorel cement and blending lunar soil with astronauts’ urine. The Danish architecture practice Bjarke Ingels Group recently unveiled Project Olympus, a research initiative looking to develop structures that can be 3D-printed out of lunar dust. Working with the Austin-based construction firm Icon, the project has been partially funded by the U.S. Air Force and NASA with the hope that it will lead to housing solutions back on our planet, too—a dual purpose that Icon’s founder, Jason Ballard, finds particularly exciting. Figuring out how to build on the moon requires “pushing the boundaries on reliability, the resilience of the actual engineering and the machinery, [and] the limits of autonomy,” he recently told Fast Company. “It’s actually going to make construction on Earth even faster, even cheaper.”

Aryballe’s “universal odor sensor" device on a white background.

This “Digital Nose” Could Help Your Fridge Detect Spoiled Food

Headquartered in Grenoble, a city in southeastern France, the six-year-old start-up Aryballe has a singular, if not entirely un-straightforward, goal: to capture, analyze, and digitally document smells. This work is accomplished via its portable, hand-held “universal odor sensor” (picture a smartphone fused with a remote control, with a short, hummingbird beak–like tip). The device uses digital olfaction to imitate the human sense of smell: Hold it in front of a scent-emitting object to let its odor molecules bind, in a matter of seconds, to the gadget’s internal biosensors, which behave like our olfactory bulbs. The sensors then produce a “odor signature” that is analyzed by Aryballe’s software using a database of previously collected aromas.

An illustration of a glass of white wine next to a heaping plate of nachos.

How to Pair Wine With the Food in Your Fridge

Unimpressed by the snobbery that surrounds the wine industry, writer and sommelier Vanessa Price set out to prove that anyone can create palatable pairings using food in their fridge. In a weekly column for the New York magazine food and restaurant blog Grub Street, she has aligned Cheetos with Sancerre, barbecue ribs with Côte-Rôtie, and Superiority Burgers with sauvignon blanc—wittily justifying each match with a mix of science, straightforwardness, and personal anecdotes.

A woman with white headphones on a green background.

These Headphones Create Superior Sound and a Quiet Mind

Music fans missing a regular calendar of gigs will find a lifeline in Iris Flow, headphones made to mimic the sound quality of in-person performances of all kinds. Created by the London tech start-up Iris, which is backed by Queen drummer Roger Taylor, the device features a patented algorithm that restores complex spatial information that is inevitably lost in the recording process (and often results in flat, lifeless audio), allowing users to take in sounds as if they were happening right in front of them. Not only do these amplified details make for an immersive experience, they also stimulate neurological pathways in the brain by requiring it to subconsciously piece together the music. It’s a meditative, engaging exercise that’s ideal for getting into the zone—for work, exercise, or a momentary escape into sonic bliss.

Three screens from Max Richter's Sleep app.

An Epic Lullaby by Max Richter, Rearranged in a Meditation App

In 2015, German-born British composer Max Richter wrote an epic eight-and-a-half-hour-long musical cycle titled “Sleep,” with the intention of it being the soundtrack to one night’s snooze. It consists of 31 tracks that each last about half an hour, and has been performed around the world and streamed more than half a billion times. “It’s protest music against this sort of very super-industrialized, intense, mechanized way of living right now,” Richter said ahead of the piece’s U.S. premiere. “It’s a political work in that sense. It’s a call to arms to stop what we’re doing.” Recently, with the help of the Berlin-based record label Deutsche Grammophon, Richter transformed the score into an app of the same name. Divided into three sessions—Sleep, Meditate, and Focus—users can set timers for the music to play according to a chosen activity. (There’s also a tranquil alarm sound, created by Richter specifically for the project.) As a possible deterrent to flicking endlessly through social media, a soothing animation of planetary movements appears on-screen when the app is in use. Each song is an immersive, transporting experience—and a surefire way to reach peak mellow.

A book cover with plants inside a vial.

Harold McGee Unpicks the Science of Scent

Your nose knows best. So says Harold McGee, a leading expert on the science of food and cooking, and author of the new book Nose Dive: A Field Guide To The World’s Smells. Developed over the course of a decade, the blockbuster attempts to unpack the science of scent by looking in great depth (the tome is just shy of 700 pages) at all manner of whiffs, spanning the odor of wet pavement to the pong of swamps to the aroma of truffles. Learn why skin sometimes has a metallic tang, how parmesan can adopt the flavor of pineapple, and the reason that green tea tastes like the seaside (and how strange that is, given that the seaside technically is un-tasteable). It’s a geeky, meticulously researched compendium that reflects McGee’s deep-seated belief that all scents exist to be noticed. Smells “can tell us about how they came to be, about the otherwise insensible workings of the world,” he writes. “There’s a rich world of sensations and significance out there, intangible and invisible and fleeting, but vivid and real.”

Plush, knitted lights in multiple colors with a hand squeezing them.

These Knitted Kinetic Lights Take Playtime Seriously

“Many people think play is just for children,” says London-based designer Michelle Rinow. “But it’s necessary through all stages of life.” This sentiment is what led the Royal College of Art graduate, who earned a master’s degree in textiles earlier this year, to develop Transforming Touch, a series of knitted lights that encourage users of every age to engage in a bout of old-fashioned fun. Rinow cleverly employed tricky weaving techniques and vibrant colors to entice curious fingers onto the lighting’s tactile surfaces. Made out of cotton and silk industrial yarn, touch sensors, and LED lights, the objects transform and respond when handled: Squeeze, stroke, or poke the rim of a wall-mounted fixture to turn it on and activate its rubber center, which inflates and deflates like a beating heart, or pull apart an accordion-like table lamp to reveal hidden hues between its folds.