“Would you like to keep your fork?” It’s the worst question to get from a waiter as he takes my plate. My fork is resting on my dish for a good reason. The prongs are covered in the bright viscousness of my own gluttony, and I don’t want to spread that saucy shame all over the restaurant’s nice table.
But Cantilever flatware, by the two-man design team iLoveHandles, makes this plate-or-table debate a thing of the past. It’s a set of eating utensils, including a knife, fork, spoon, chopsticks, and spatula, that can dig deep and dirty into your food, but then rest on the table with the messy bits hovering above the surface.
“I am a bit of a germaphobe,“ designer Rich Moore writes via email. “I was warming up some lunch and I went to put my fork down on the counter. I instinctively put it face-down because, that way, the least amount of surface area touched the counter. We realized that we could tweak the angle a tiny bit, and it wouldn’t touch at all. So, we started bending forks and 3-D printing prototypes to test the idea.”
Designing the spoon and fork were relatively simple: Since each is already angled, the challenge was just to tweak the angle to make it float. The knife proved tougher. “The puzzle was basically how to make something that is flat float above the surface–without adding a clunky support,” Moore writes. The answer wasn’t immediately obvious, and it wasn’t until taking a trip on a plane or train–Moore can’t remember which, but credits a lot of his ideas to these sorts of commutes–that he realized one half of the knife could taper like a triangle, while the other side would be normal and flat. He drew up some sketches, sent them to his partner Avik, and they began 3-D prototyping.
When the design process was complete, the team encountered a problem that’s pretty typical for young design studios. “We were told by so many factories that they simply could not do it. We almost gave up several times. They kept trying to sell us other flatware that was ‘similar,’ missing the entire point,” Moore writes. To this day, he’s still not sure what the exact problem was–though it likely had to do with the actual tooling that goes into making flatware. In any type of industrial design, the most challenging part is not generating the right form (the “design” part), but generating the right form that can actually be easily mass manufactured by factory equipment (the “industrial” part). “There is definitely some unusual geometry with the knife. That was always the sticking point. We did get the impression that flatware is made in huge volume, so it may have been easier if we were a larger company.”