Mapping plastic

A product designer marries fantasy with utility.

toiletry bag 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
toiletry bag 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Tucked away on a quiet street in central Tel Aviv is the home and studio of product designer Ossnat Alon. Behind an iron gate, the ground floor of the newly-renovated home overlooks a sunny, green garden - a rare sight in the middle of the city. Twenty years ago, Alon moved to Tel Aviv from Nataf, a small village outside Jerusalem, with her husband and three children. "People didn't understand how we could leave such a beautiful villa with a large plot of land, but I tell them that I actually have more space and freedom in the city," says Alon. "Tel Aviv is an amazing place." In the center of the house, a spiral staircase leads down a few steps into her cozy workspace. "I am literally working in the center of the house," she says. "So I get a lot of feedback from the family about new ideas and products." Because her work aims to make useful products for real life, she says that working at home is a real advantage because she draws inspiration from her own experiences. The downside of having an office at home is that sometimes even the kitchen table gets completely cluttered with new designs and material. The basement studio looks like a place where new ideas are born. Filled with bags, boxes, leftover material, pencil cases and plastic beach balls, every square inch of table and shelf space is covered with something. "When I first came to Tel Aviv, I had a company with a partner for textile design, and I still have a lot of remnants from that work too," says Alon, pointing to the spools of yarn sitting on a ledge above the work table. "I am not limited in the materials I use. I try to consider everything." After her textile design business fizzled out around six years ago, she started making products for the local market. "I was making small things and selling them around the area, but I was in charge of marketing so I didn't get very far," she says. "I don't like to do marketing and I'm not very good at it." In 2004, on a trip to southern France, she came up with an idea that inspired an entire line of products for her new brand, Funtastic Plastic. "I bought a map on our trip and I carried it around with me everywhere. At some point, I got the idea to make a boat out of it." This led to the Marina boat, a plug for the bathtub that has a plastic map folded into the shape of a boat attached to it by a chain so that it floats on top of the water while you're soaking. Then Alon created the Worldly Toiletry Bag and Bath Pillow - each of which has a tiny, beach-ball-like air spout "just for fun" and is fashioned out of the same "plastic map" material. The idea for these two products actually started years ago with a beach ball that Alon's children used to play with in Sinai. She deflated it and started folding it to see what could take shape instead of the round ball. The bath pillow with a map appealed to her because as you relax, you can imagine yourself floating away across the globe. Two years ago, she contacted Monkey Business, an Israeli design firm that sells internationally, to find out about expanding abroad. This led to a partnership that has introduced Funtastic Plastic to the global marketplace and allowed her to focus more on what she is good at - creating unique designs with a "fantasy" twist. "Once I started this collection, I looked around the house and started to realize how much I like maps. I have them all over the place, and I never noticed it before," she says. The most recent designs, a series of Worldly Travel Accessories, include a plastic map passport cover, luggage tags and travel documents case. Alon, who grew up on a kibbutz in Galilee, says she that when you grow up in a village, you learn to dream far away. Although she never had any formal schooling in design and is completely self-taught, she grew up in a home where art was encouraged. "My parents were artistically inclined, and I have traveled a lot in the world, which I think influences my designs." As for the future, Alon plans on taking a break from the map theme and creating new products with other materials. For a pencil case, she's using Tyvek, a recycled material similar to paper that is stronger but on which one can still draw and write. "I like to merge the fantastic with the useful," she says. "I like to connect worlds that are usually contrasting, like humor and romance. That's my recipe, and each new collection is a different adventure."