The ‘Star Trek’ Extended Design Universe

The Star Trek franchise has produced one of the most comprehensive universes ever seen in pop culture, with a dedicated fan base ready to swoop in on any inconsistencies. But there is one thing many Trekkies can agree upon: they would like to own and drink out of Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s tea cup (hot Earl Grey tea optional). And they can: His preferred drinking vessel, used not only throughout The Next Generation (1987-1994), but also by Captain Kathryn Janeway on Voyager (1995-2001) and of course the modern iteration of Picard (2020-present), is not a manufactured prop, but Carsten Jorgensen’s Bistro Cup designed for Bodum in 1974. Though out of production, the cup is available from second-hand sellers like Etsy, where it is often conveniently labeled the Picard cup.

The Bodum cup is far from the only mass-produced, commercially available piece of decor used in Star Trek’s imagined version of the future. Many set designs of The Original Series (1966-1969) incorporated the most forward-looking mid-century modern pieces to convey the year 2266, like Vladimir Kagan’s Sculpta Chair designed for Chromcraft, or The Ribbon Chair by Pierre Paulin for Artifort. “Despite its popularity in a certain subset of people, mid-century modernism was not widely accepted [in the 1960s],” says Brian McGuire, co-author of Star Trek: Designing the Final Frontier: How Midcentury Modernism Shaped Our View of the Future, published this August. “Because it was not traditional, it was considered foreign looking, cold. And so for most people it looked alien.”

Star Trek altered the sci-fi genre and television forever with its racially inclusive, utopian view of the future. But it was also ahead of its time in creating a coherent visual language with set design. And since the show’s production designers relied on commercially available items, aesthetically-minded fans have another entry point to obsessively catalog and collect a piece of the Star Trek universe.

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

“I, like a lot of other people, thought that a lot of the furniture pieces were created by set designers, or production designers, and I was surprised to find out that they weren’t,” says Eno Farley, who in March 2020 launched his Star Trek + Design Instagram account and webpage, which identifies the designers and origins of the many chairs, lamps, glasses and more used on The Original Series and beyond. “[The Bodum cups are] usually people’s first purchase when they think they want to get the teacup that Picard drinks out of.”

Farley began his descent into Star Trek as a child, watching TOS and TNG with his family. Only in high school and college did he begin to pick up on the design aspect of the franchise after more dedicated rewatches. Living through the early days of the coronavirus lockdown in New York made him consider more closely the items he had in his home. “I had a couple of objects that had been used in Star Trek already. But then I wanted to know about more of them. I’ve noticed that really popular designers, like Joe Columbo, Pierre Paulin, people already know about,” he says. “At this point it’s become this rabbit hole, where I’ve got hundreds of files saved to my computer of different pieces I’ve identified from Star Trek.”

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