Thoroughly Modern Murray

When Murray Moss, owner of the seven-year-old SoHo boutique called moss, talks shop, it's a bit different than a typical New York City storekeeper. Perhaps that's because moss is not your ordinary store. The 7000-square-foot space boasts white walls and sleek glass-fronted display cases that show off lamps, candleholders, cutlery, coffeemakers, writing implements, and more as if they were precious articles in a museum. And some of the objects, created by architects and industrial designers, actually are. That would be in the Museum of Modern Art, because everything at moss is in current production.

But Murray Moss, who spent a number of years as a manufacturer in the fashion industry with designer Ronaldus Shamask, is out to do more than just saddle you with a pricey assortment of beautifully designed items. He wants to make you think about what you own or what you'd like to own eventually. "No one was really presenting say a stapler or a desk box or a chair or a lamp to look at that other kind of information in those objects, other just than their function," he says, explaining why he decided to become a retailer. "My job is to show people that there are things to see."

What you'll ogle grouped in various eye-catching ways at moss are a variety of items created by a cast of international designers such as Ingo Maurer, Achille Castiglioni, Joe Colombo, and Marc Newson. And they usually don't demand a life's savings. At the moment, the least expensive item is a seven-dollar plastic mayonnaise spoon created by Castiglioni in the Sixties. The most expensive: a commedia dell'arte figurine designed in 1756 by Rococo sculptor Franz Anton Bustelli and produced by Germany's Nymphenburg porcelain factory. It goes for $23,000. Oddly enough, the best seller is a $20 space pen designed for NASA in 1965 by Paul Fisher. "What I'm really offering in the product are things which are just a souvenir of an idea," Moss says. "The objects are souvenirs of themselves. So if you like the idea, then you get the postcard, only in this case you get to buy the thing."

Speaking of things. Moss admits his own home isn't brimming with every treasure he carries in his store. Instead he chooses to surround himself with Early American paintings, Art Nouveau pottery, and vintage furniture by notables such as Gio Ponti, Ray and Charles Eames, and Isamu Noguchi. Anything but a frustrated industrial designer ("I'm frustrated in other ways," he laughs, "but not as a designer!"), Moss views himself more as an actor in a play or even a theater director, making it all happen before your eyes. "I don't start from what I think people want. I start from what I find interesting," he notes. "And then I try to show that to people. It's not anything objective.

"There has to be a reason why retail has existed for thousands of years," he continues. "There's a job there after something is conceived and actually realized. There's a job in presenting it in such a way that what it is can be seen."