Nancy Wu

For this week's "In Her Permanent Collection" we spoke with Nancy Wu, the designer, and co-founder of Building Block. Given her ability to spot unusual and idiosyncratic details in all things design, we couldn't wait to see what possession she’d selected—we suspected it might be something a touch outside the ordinary.

We're thrilled that Building Block will be joining Permanent Collection for a week-long pop-up at our Marin Country Mart Store, December 6–13. Save the date!

Permanent Collection: Nancy, tell us, what's your 'Permanent Collection' object?

Nancy Wu: A fake piece of toast.

P.C.: Amazing, haha. Tell us more!

N.W.: I bought this piece of toast in Japan, at a shopping street called Kappabashi known for selling plastic and wax food samples. Fake food samples are commonly used by restaurants in their window displays to make menu decisions easy for customers. There are a lot of things I love about this piece of toast including the fact that it is a one-of-a-kind item. Although it might look mass-produced, it was meticulously airbrushed by a single craftsman and cost me $60. It's made of silicone, will likely never decompose, and is bizarrely heavy so I use it as a bookend sometimes or a coaster for a mug of hot coffee. I suppose I enjoy collecting things that reveal particular production techniques or have unexpected reasons for existence. Somehow the original intent of this artificial toast (to invoke appetite) is forever funny to me.

P.C.: Love that! And it leads perfectly into this next question: What food or dish would be the equivalent to your ‘Permanent Collection’ thing (but of course not in the literal sense)? Rather, what one dish is in your 'forever repertoire'?

N.W.: I’m not at home consistently enough to be a great cook with a repertoire. Although if you stay over, I can be depended on to assemble a little breakfast of black coffee, cut fruit with honey, and very buttered (real!) toast for you.

P.C.: Now that we know that you like to scout out interesting curiosities, tell us if you have any particularly trusty flea markets or vintage shops.

N.W.: I always find something worth keeping at Oedo flea market in Tokyo.

P.C.: That is truly an extraordinary market. And in a city with so many rich places to visit and take in visual culture. Do you have favorite museum or gallery?

N.W.: This is more of an art piece rather than a museum, but Walter De Maria's "The New York Earth Room" is a favorite NYC visit. It's a permanent interior earth sculpture.

P.C.: What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?

N.W.: I have a single porcelain sunflower seed from Ai Wei Wei’s installation "Kui Hua Zi" that's really precious to me. One of my best friends Su found it on eBay and gave my sister and me each one after we watched a documentary about the artist commissioning the production of millions of these seeds. The best part of the gift wasn't the seed but the one-in-a-million-type of friendship that came along with it, the kind that makes you feel safe in the knowledge that you will be friends for as long as you don't lose one another.

P.C.: Describe a current project you are currently working on, or a current obsession.

N.W.: I'm currently working on making Building Block accessible for everyone in my life, which at the moment means working on a leather collar for my puppy dog Penelope!