Peter Muller-Munk’s Philosophy of Good Design

Happy Throwback Thursday! Today we’re throwing it back to 2015 with our exhibition Silver to Steel, which celebrated the modern designs of Pittsburgh’s own Peter Muller-Munk.

A pastel display of vacuum cleaners resting against a wall
Installation view of Silver to Steel, 2015, Carnegie Museum of Art

Born in Berlin, Muller-Munk emigrated to New York in 1926 and briefly made silver for Tiffany & Co. before opening his own silver studio. In 1935 he moved to Pittsburgh to teach design at Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon University). The product design consultancy Muller-Munk founded in 1938 became one of the top consultancies in the nation.

Muller-Munk believed that good design was for everyone and everything. His products were everywhere.

A tall, silver pitcher with a thin body and pointed spout

Peter Muller Munk, Normandie Pitcher, 1935, Carnegie Museum of Art

The Normandie pitcher was a breakthrough for the young designer Peter Muller-Munk, as he pivoted from luxury silversmithing to designs for more affordable products. The pitcher’s name and its shape were inspired by the SS Normandie, a French ocean liner that generated lots of buzz and excitement in New York with the arrival of its maiden voyage on June 3, 1935. More 200,000 New Yorkers stood along the harbor and atop buildings to catch a glimpse of the modern ship.

Revere Copper and Brass Company, where Muller-Munk worked at the time, promoted the two-quart, chromium-plated copper pitcher with its popular giftware for brides. One ad proclaimed, “It’s streamlined, shiny—and it pours too!”

Three geometric personal shavers, pictured in front of a hatbox case
Peter Muller-Munk, The Lady Schick Futura, 1958, Carnegie Museum of Art. It also arrived in a chic hatbox case, pictured here

In 1957, Schick hired Peter Muller-Munk to redesign its entire line of electric shavers. The company had recently experimented with market segmentation with the introduction of the Lady Schick, hinting to its male customers: “give her one of these and she’ll never borrow yours again.”

Muller-Munk’s firm revised the top men’s and lady’s models and helped Schick introduce a new shaver for the young men in the family—the Varsity—so that they could stop borrowing dad’s, too.

A woman wearing heels stands with a vacuum cleaner, posing in front of a wall display of sweepers

Installation view of Silver to Steel, 2015, Carnegie Museum of Art

If you ever felt the urge to twirl with your sweeper while wearing pumps—vintage television style—this was the chance!

Peter Muller-Munk redesigned everything from sweepers to packaging to trade show displays for the Grand Rapids company Bissell Incorporated. For our 2015 exhibition Silver to Steel, we recreated a colorful Bissell display from 1962. When a company executive visited with the most recent sweeper model, curator Rachel Delphia couldn’t resist.

Two men wearing suits look down at a desk with papers being shown by a third man
Peter Muller-Munk (center) and Anton Parisson (right) review designs for Westinghouse appliances, 1957, PMMA Archives

Design is an attitude. It is not just an aphrodisiac. It’s bread and butter, and sometimes, jam.

Peter Muller-Munk