Meet The Titans Of Taste

Paola Antonelli

CURATOR, MUSEUM OF MODERN ART

Her criterion is simple: "I try to decide," says Paola Antonelli, curator of architecture and design at New York's MoMA, "whether the space an object occupies on Earth is well used." If that sounds like a high bar to clear, just look at what Antonelli is holding. And wearing. "Post-It notes are smart, beautiful and cheap. That's the apotheosis of great design," she says. "Yellow is an attention-getting color. And square is a classically rational shape."

Since joining MoMA in 1994, the Italian-born Antonelli has emerged as a star in the design world. She has a lively eye and a gift for crystallizing ideas. "Just like people can tell good steak from bad, I want it to be the same with design," she says. Someone ought to write that down. Got a pen?

Murray Moss

FOUNDER AND OWNER, MOSS

When murray moss opened his Manhattan store nine years ago, he put a steel garbage can in the window to make a point: design is everywhere--and everything. Give him five minutes, and he'll convince you that a single object can change your life--like the wineglass he's holding, a 1917 Austrian design made of ultrathin muslin glass. "When you go from a normal glass to this, it modifies your behavior. You become more graceful," he says. "And that's an extraordinary thing to get for $70."

Alice Rawsthorn

DIRECTOR, DESIGN MUSEUM OF LONDON

Ask Alice Rawsthorn for a favorite example of smart design, and she pauses for a moment. "Probably Grand Theft Auto: Vice City," says Rawsthorn, who came to the museum after a long career as a critic for the Financial Times. "I find multimedia design fascinating. It's changing the way we live." In 15 years, the object Rawsthorn is posed with here could change the way we dine. Called The Festive Kitchen, this prototype by Frenchman Ronan Bouroullec is "an eating space of the future," she says. "It's light, portable and assembles in 20 minutes."

Rob Forbes

CEO, DESIGN WITHIN REACH

As founder of the San Francisco dot-com Design Within Reach (dwr.com), Forbes has become a design-world fixture in just four years, making high-end furnishings an option for people with not-so-high-end salaries. That's him with his most prized possession: a 21-foot rowing shell by Maas Aero. "I could marry this thing," he says.

Terence Riley

CHIEF CURATOR, MOMA

"Like all great chairs, it's not very comfortable," says Terence Riley of his object, a stretched-metal club chair named How High the Moon by the late Japanese design icon Shiro Kuramata. Riley knows that this is what miffs people about modern design. If a chair's no good for sitting on, what's the point? "There's more to comfort than it being soft on your tush," he argues.

Anyway, Riley doesn't need you to buy the chair; he just wants you to appreciate it. As head of MoMA's architecture and design department, he has the job of recording the present through its objects--so not every choice may be pretty. "It's not about beauty," he says. "It's about a way of thinking."