Monkey business

A small Tel Aviv firm is creating practical solutions to everyday problems.

Oded Friedland 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Oded Friedland 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
For some people, it's the refrigerator. For others, it's on a board in the entrance hall. But for many, it's the front door. The last portal to hang or stick reminders about the little things you should remember before leaving the house but cannot seem to - "Take the meat out of the freezer to thaw," "Take in the dry laundry before the rainstorm," "Close every window in the house before Lag Ba'omer." For Oded Friedland, the owner of the Monkey Business design firm in Tel Aviv, this need for reminders on the door inspired a product to help solve the problem in an aesthetically pleasing, functional way. "My door was full of sticky notes with reminders, and I thought: why not make something more practical and more beautiful?" says Friedland in the cozy, sunlit studio where he and his brother, Omri, along with a team of talented young designers, create products for the Monkey Business label. The DoorHanger, a lined notepad with funky graphics, fuses the Do Not Disturb signs in hotels with contemporary needs. You can make a list and hang it from the door so you won't forget to do things. It's better than tying a string around your thumb and looks a lot neater than piles of sticky notes that tend to fall onto the floor or leave tape marks. The DoorHanger's son, as Friedland refers to it, is another nifty product called the Doorganizer. With several front pockets for storing things, a place to hang your keys and a strap behind for CDs and envelopes, it's a great place to put the pesky little items you need to take with you on your way out the door. "The Doorganizer is the three-dimensional son of the DoorHanger," says Friedland, whose products were recently featured in Oprah's O magazine and television show. After his daughter arrives from school early with a cold and he gives her a big hug, he tells me that she was the inspiration for the Baby Face. The small plastic doll has a huge mouth where the pacifier can be stored and glow-in-the-dark legs, hands and wings. "I designed this when we couldn't find her pacifier in the dark. It's great because you can hang it up next to the crib and you always know where it is at night without having to turn on a light," he says. It was a similar problem that inspired the Fish It Out key rings. After struggling to get his keys out of his pocket and into the door, Friedland decided to design a key ring with an extending line so that you can literally pull your keys away from the mouth of a fashionably kitschy little red, green or blue fish without having to "fish" them out of your pocket. "A lot of my products are designed to help people solve problems, and once I identify a problem, the solution usually comes quickly." From the name alone, the underlying humor is also apparent, and making people smile is one of the company's goals. In fact, just about everything in the Monkey Business line is cute and useful - from the miniature calendar tins that hold paper clips, rubber bands and push pins to the magnetic Just in Case boxes that stick to metallic surfaces. Perhaps the most adorable of all, however, is a clear plastic box in the form of a sheep called Dolica. "Sheep to keep" reads the label below the tiny container that is perfect for Q-tips. It's cheeky in a way that makes you go "awwww," because when it's full of Q-tips, it looks like a little sheep with white wool. "I try to make things that people need," says Friedland, who got the idea for this box when he got sick of looking at the ugly plastic containers that Q-tips come in. "If a product is designed well, it combines the need with the want. It sings to you when you see it." Friedland says that for as long as he can remember, he's been both creative and commercial. As a young boy in Ramat Aviv, he made key rings and sold them to friends and then moved on to a T-shirt design business. "The school made it illegal to print stuff on the back of them after I did some rather controversial prints," he says with a grin. During the army, he worked for a surf-wear design firm and then studied industrial design at Bezalel, where he now teaches a course called Including VAT which helps students with the business end of product design. "There's a long way between the idea and the production of that idea," he says. "You have to consider costs and sale prices to make a profit, so what I teach is more about the real world than the academy." In 2006, Monkey Business shifted its focus from strictly product design. Today, aside from designing their own functional, funky items, they help other talented local designers to showcase their work abroad. On the shelves behind him, products for the home created by Israeli designers line the shelves of a white bookcase. Everything from tissue holders to stackable ceramic pot holders is on display. "There are so many talented designers here, and very few of them manage to break through into the international market," says Friedland. "We are the bridge between local entrepreneurs and international clients."