100 Objects of Modern Design

06/02/2016 04:07 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

In 1948, young George Kravis bought his first object of industrial design - an RCA 45 rpm record-changer.

He's never looked back. In fact, he's moved way, way forward, collecting more than 3,500 items and housing them in a leased, climate-controlled, former office building in Tulsa, Okla. The Kravis Design Center is 13,800 square feet of museum quality space.

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Patriot Radio by Norman Bel Geddis; Photo: Matt Flynn; © Smithsonian Institution

Not that he's a pack rat. He's nothing of the kind. As evidence, there are his gifts to the Museum of Modern Art and the Smithsonian's Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York. A number items are now on display at the Cooper Hewitt, in a show called "Energizing the Everyday: Gifts from the George R. Kravis Collection."

"Right now there are 100 objects on permanent display - for basically a year," Kravis says. "They'll rotate - there are some textiles and posters that will change because of the lighting conditions."

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Wright Punchbowl; Photo: Matt Flynn; © Smithsonian Institution

International in scope, the gift and exhibition include Norman Bel Geddes's 1935 skyscraper-like Manhattan cocktail set, Cesare Cassati's and C. Emmanuele Ponzio's 1968 Pillola lamps and Olafur Eliasson's Little Sun solar-powered LED lantern.

"The curatorial team came to visit me - they were like children in a candy store, - running all over the place," he says. "They picked out the things they wanted for the show now and another called "Jazz Age" with objects from the 1920s and 30s."

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Ekco Radio by Wells Coats; Photo: Matt Flynn; © Smithsonian Institution

Most prized is a circular-shaped radio designed by Wells Coates - a 1932 green Ekco model number 8065. Only four are known to exist in the world. The Cooper Hewitt now has the green one, and Kravis has promised a black model to MoMA.

To commemorate the exhibition, which runs through November 2017, The Kravis Design Center's published a new book, 100 Designs for a Modern World, from Skira Rizzoli. The book focuses on selections from the Kravis collection and serves as an accessible reference on industrial design in the 20th and early 21st centuries. He and curator David Hanks hand-selected each item included.

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American Modern Pitchers; Photo: Matt Flynn; © Smithsonian Institution

As for that RCA 45-RPM record changer? "I still have it," he says. "It doesn't work, but it's in my collection."

It's that kind of tenacity that's landed him in Art + Auction's Power 100 list.

J. Michael Welton writes about architecture, art and design for national and international publications, and edits www.architectsandartisans.com, where portions of this post first appeared. He is architecture critic for the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., and the author of "Drawing from Practice: Architects and the Meaning of Freehand" (Routledge, 2015).