What makes European design so distinctive? “The way it brings beauty to everyday living,” Jason Toon founder of Eucopia, says. “European design has beauty, function, and simplicity, all together in a really essential way. It has a tendency to reduce everyday things to their most beautiful essence.”
It seems like the crazy opposite of Toon’s previous venture, the wacky daily deals site Woot.com, where he was lead writer. But Toon has always loved European design, and he’s spreading that love with his next big venture, a Birchbox-like subscription box for monthly deliveries of the best home living the continent has to offer.
Toon didn’t want me to write about his company without receiving the first box, which comes with a giant carrier pigeon wearing a beret printed on it. Here’s what was in it. (Toon seems very concerned about “spoilers” for current subscribers who haven’t yet received their boxes, so if you’re one of those, look away.)
- The Magisso Cake Server, a slithering cake slicer by Finnish designers Laura Bougdanos and Vesa Jääskö which creates perfectly shaped wedges of cakes and pies in a whimsical and seemingly asymmetrical way. If M.C. Escher made cake cutters, this is what he’d make. It won a 2010 Red Dot Award.
- Four brightly colored Ekobo’s Biobu Gusto plates. It’s hard to put into words how nice these sustainable, brightly colored plates feel in your hand, especially considering the fact they’re all dishwasher safe. Easily my favorite object in the box.
- A jar of Rose Hip Jam by Podravaka, a Croatian condiment and spread maker in Croatia. Americans don’t really know what rose hips are, which is pretty much why Toon put them in his first Eucopia box. “In Eastern Europe, rose hips are pretty much ubiquitous,” he says. He wants to educate Americans on just how widespread this seemingly obscure fruit is.
- Two Happy Hippos, from Italian confectioner Kinder. They are hippopotamus-shaped vanilla cookies filled with hazelnut cream, from the makers of Kinder Eggs, which have been illegal in this country (because of their embedded toy surprises) since 1938. Happy Hippos might be the next best thing. (And I actually like them more!)
It was a surprisingly decent first haul, but Toon says he hopes to do better. “This box was put together under a little bit of duress,” he admits. Future Eucopia boxes will include more handmade and custom-designed items. But the most important thing to Toon was to get Eucopia boxes in the mail as soon as his Indiegogo successfully finished.
Eucopia isn’t all about getting a random box of designer stuff in the mail every month. An equally critical aspect of the company is the pack-in magazine, which is dedicated to the day-to-day loveliness of European living. The first issue has several articles on rose hips, including a crepe recipe; a two-page infographic about European sugar consumption; an interview with a Magisso designer; and an editorial advocating for making the Kinder Surprise Egg legal in the United States.
Toon’s business model draws inspiration from Woot.com. “What made Woot work in the early days was this combo of audience, business model, and voice, all perfectly working together,” Toon says. “But when Amazon bought them, they just treated it like conventional retail with a wacky voice.” That’s why he’s spending so much time on the narrative and personality of Eucopia. He wants to translate Woot’s success to another type of business entirely: the subscription-box service.
Doable? Toon is not entirely sure. Initial feedback has been good, but growth with subscription boxes comes from word-of-mouth. Now that the first box is in the mail, it’s a bit of a waiting game. But Toon thinks the market is there. “I’m making Eucopia for people like me: people who are fairly well-traveled, but would travel more if they could,” he says. “So if you can’t go to Europe several times a year, Europe can come to you, giving you a little whiff of that sense of discovery and style that comes when you visit the continent.”
You can sign up for the service at the official site here. $49 will get you a shipment of between three and five design items a month, while Eucopia Mini, a shipment of one item per month, will start at $15.