50 designers reimagine the humble toilet paper holder

The toilet paper holder rendered as high art.


Toilet paper, tp, bathroom tissue; no matter what you call it, the little holder it spins around generally looks the same. In fact, you probably don’t even think about it as a piece of design.


[Photo: courtesy Marta + Plant Paper]
A new show full of them at the Los Angeles gallery Marta will certainly get your attention. The show, called Under/Over, features the works of more than 50 artists who redesigned the hardware responsible for the thankless, yet essential job of keeping toilet paper at the ready.

Marta directors Heidi Korsavong and Benjamin Critton say they’ve always been interested in “under-celebrated and overlooked domestic objects,” and after partnering with eco-friendly toilet paper brand PlantPaper, they learned just how bad toilet paper can be for the environment (it’s a single use paper product, and all those soft multi-ply sheets lead to major cutting of virgin forests). The team at Marta got interested in the literal point of contact between toilet paper and consumer—the oft-overlooked dispenser.

Nifemi Marcus-Bello, Opá Oba, 2020. [Photo: courtesy Marta + Plant Paper]
The exhibition, available to view online or through November 4 by appointment, features an array of interpretations that elevate the humble toilet roll holder to high art. Artists used everything from minimalist translucent acrylic to steel chains to painted wood and ceramic. Nifemi Marcus-Bello’s Ọpá Oba holder is made of copper wire and hand-beaded. Marco Campardo Studio’s Boro holder features the elegant curves of heat-shaped borosilicate glass. Studio OOIEE uses a Black + Decker electric drill with a special bit as its design. Duchamp would be proud.

OOIEE (Matt Olson), Mandrake (He came from …),, 2020. [Photo: courtesy Marta + Plant Paper]
Sure, all this attention on toilet paper can see a bit silly. It may even induce giggles. But the exhibition makes a serious point. Everything is designed, and though this piece of hardware may not be as sexy as that bladeless Dyson fan, it too has a footprint on the world. This exhibition uses eccentric, sometimes zany, design to spotlight it.

About the author

Lilly Smith is an associate editor of Co.Design. She was previously the editor of Design Observer, and a contributing writer to AIGA Eye on Design.