"HE inveighed against self-indulgence and vulgarity and exhorted his followers to thrift, industry, sobriety and responsibility." That description of John Calvin, the Protestant theologian, sounds eerily like Wilhelm Wagenfeld, the Bremen-born designer. Calvin had his rival, Michael Servetus, burned at the stake in Geneva in 1553 for the latter's views on the Trinity; Wagenfeld merely resigned his 30-year membership in the Deutsche Werkbund in 1955 after denouncing it as incurably bourgeois.
Wagenfeld trained in the metal workshops of Germany's Bauhaus design school in the 1920s. There, like his meisters , he strove for pure, simple forms without adornment. Ironically, Mies van der Rohe's Barcelona chair or Marcel Breuer's Wassily chair--the Bauhaus' most enduring household products--failed the school's own test of social responsibility: The average volk , whom the Bauhaus claimed to benefit, could never afford them.
Wagenfeld's glass teapot was an economic as well as an aesthetic triumph. Wagenfeld created the teapot in 1932 for Jena Glassworks. It was one of his many essays in Pyrex (along with jugs and baking dishes) that marked a breakthrough in the use of modern forms for tableware.
Wagenfeld's teapot with its matching Pyrex cups and saucers makes the perfect end to a meal. Sated diners stare at the darkening swirls of hot water infusing through the tea leaves. It's a mesmerizing sight, even--peace to you, John Calvin--a sensuous one.
The Wagenfeld teapot is available at Conran's, at the Beverly Center, Los Angeles. Or order from By Design, at the Beverly Center, (213) 652-9230.