Sandwich presses & melted cheese

research in process

Microwaves, sandwich presses and kettles—along with the occasional fan and foot spa—are among the most commonly discarded electrical items that turn up in my random but regular observations of kerbside waste in Randwick, a suburb in Eastern Sydney. During a workshop with our Repair and Design research group, I had the occasion to choose one of these products—the sandwich press—and ponder why it existed and speculate about what might be done to reduce the number that are going to landfill.

Melted Cheese

Sandwich presses exist in kitchens largely for the purpose of melting cheese between bread. They are one in a host of single-purpose electronics that clutter the cupboards and bench tops of kitchens in wealthy western democracies. Breville are the design icons of this product typology, their 1974 Snack’n’Sandwich Toaster became synonymous with the toasted sandwich. According to the Australian Food History Timeline, it was “snapped up by 10 per cent of Australian households in its first year on the market”. (In a classic story of getting the timing right [or wrong], apparently Thomas Edison invented a sandwich press in the 1920s, but it was discontinued in 1930.)

If we want to reduce the number of sandwich presses going to landfill, then it is essential to understand the sensory experience of melted cheese.

Notions such as the ‘fetish’ are often lazily and unhelpfully used to understand human investment in sensory and hedonic experiences. British literary scholar Steven Connor offers a welcome alternative with his concept of ‘senstance’, which I’ve written about in a number of academic articles that examine the relationship between food and the senses. According to Connor, a senstance is “a sensation made substantial, a substance so closely twinned with a sensation as to have become cosubstantial with it”. Like sexual perversions or fetishes—think latex, leather, honey, etc. and their relationship with the sensory medium of skin—senstances are intensely specific. Connor uses the example of ‘sliminess’ or visqueux, a repulsive senstance made famous by Jean Paul Sartre, who suggested embodied, human experience was to some extent exemplified by recoiling from sliminess or stickiness. Connor also lists “the brittle, the tenuous, the cool, the granular, the smooth, the matted” as ready-to-hand examples of senstances, a list to which I would like to presently add ‘the melty’.


Cooking allows us to experience substances as material transformations. Through the application of heat, hard cheese becomes soft, hot and melty. Spreading pre-melted cheese on bread wouldn’t be the same—though I suspect, based on the continuing nostalgic appeal of Cotties Ice Magic, if there was a way for spreadable melty cheese to immediately become hot on application, then it might be a winner.

Making a sandwich in a sandwich press is among the most rudimentary ways to enjoy the sensory delight that comes from quasi-choate substances such as melted cheese. Fluffy bread becomes crisp and crusty, hard cheese becomes hot and gooey. We perhaps taste the difference all the more readily when we are the agents helping trigger the material transformations through cooking. 

Designing out the sandwich press

In our workshop, I started speculating about an alternative future where there were no sandwich presses going to landfill. One of the ways to reach such a future might be through designing sandwich presses that are easier to repair. Most sandwich presses don’t give the impression they can be opened up and pulled apart. The impression they give is of a complete, inviolable object, not a composite of modular parts that can be replaced or repaired. Perhaps if the screws were larger, or if the inside was visible, then people would be more likely to see if a part can be replaced, rather than throwing out the whole sandwich press? Maybe if repair shops were easier to access people would be more inclined to get their broken sandwich presses repaired rather than throwing them out?


Photograph by Jessica Lea Dunn

These are all valid speculative propositions that warrant further exploration. However, I decided to focus on what it would take to prevent people thinking they needed to buy a sandwich press in the first place. My idea: a cooking show (which might include a youtube channel, a blog and a cookbook) and line of cooking products that encourage adaptive kitchen practices—in particular, I was thinking of a sandwich weight, similar to a fish weight, made from a sculpted limestone rock, although people could just use a stone mortar (I’m not sure how serious I am with sandwich weight idea, but it might be a good media piece).

A cursory internet search unearthed plenty of toasted sandwich connoisseurship. Many of the recipes suggest using a frying pan. The key disadvantage of the frying pan: unlike the sandwich press, there isn’t simultaneous heat from the top and the bottom (but just flip the sandwich over you lazy bugger). If you got a few celebrity chefs with decent profiles spruikng the advantages of the frying pan method and the sandwich weight product, then surely that would go some way to reducing the amount of resources that are wasted for the purpose of eating melted cheese?

(Hypothetical next steps: 1. an experiment with a cohort of sandwich press users to explore what happens when they change toastie making practices and adopt the frying pan method; 2. An analysis of operational energy to see whether the frying pan method actually saves energy in comparison to the sandwich press)


The Maintainers

Repair.Design Project News

We will be hanging out with The Maintainers in Washington, D.C. in October! This year’s theme is ‘Practice, Policy and Care’ and it is the third in a series of conferences that celebrates and unpacks the concepts of maintenance, infrastructure, repair, and the myriad forms of labor and expertise that sustain our human-built world.

Alexandra Crosby will be presenting on Tuesday, October 8 as part of a panel titled State of Good Repair: Does it Have a Future in the Smart City?

There are so many great panels and papers lined up including one on Impermanence and another on the Right To Repair and the Circular Economy

One we won’t be missing is No Gods, No Masters, and Instead Coalitional, Honest, Kind, Non-Abusive, Anti-Oppressive, Real-Deal, On the Ground, Radical Librarianship:

Treating our daily work as a platform for action, for creativity, for care, for radical purpose, for productive dissonance, and for resistance entrenched in history and informed by critical methodologies will allow us to reflect honestly on how we will meet the challenges of our present and future. Because ultimately, we want libraries to work: to work for the communities they are of, for the professionals that maintain them, and to work especially for those for whom they have never quite worked.  

Our shared resources

research in process


While a lot of our research and background reading is on-screen, our group maintains a shared resources shelf, for books, articles and reports, when we happen to have them in print. While the materials pictured here are not a comprehensive picture of all our reading material (it’s just what happens to be on the shelf today), we thought it might be fun to give a little insight into the background research practice that goes on here.

Social Impact Workshop at UTS

Repair.Design Project News

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On Tuesday 6 August 2019, Jesse represented our Repair Design team, attending a workshop led by the UTS Centre for Social Justice & Inclusion (tied to our Social Impact Grant 2019). The workshop had a strong focus on building in ongoing evaluation into our project as it rolls out throughout 2019 and beyond, so that we can make sure we’re staying on track and can keep in mind the broader intentions of the project. In the workshop, we mapped the relationship between our project activities, our ‘outputs’ (that means our written work / but also our public events), and the intended outcomes of the project. It all sounds rather abstract using this terminology, but what was great about this workshop was that it enabled us to clearly articulate our short term, medium term and long term goals in terms of the social (and environmental!) impacts of this project. This also involves us acknowledging that our project is part of a complex patchwork of other practices, institutions, advocacy groups and DIY repairers operating in similar spheres. One of our key short-term aims is to develop a strong, interdisciplinary network of repair-interested stakeholders, and from there, work together to improve broader social awareness of repair issues in Australia. Aside from environmental gains, there is a great deal of potential for positive social change in relation to repair: repair is a job-creator, is uses skills that some have previously dismissed as ‘redundant’, and undertaking DIY repair improves social wellbeing. Longer-term goals are bigger: widespread public re-engagement with repair issues (both DIY repair and professional repair), social awareness of sustainable consumption choices (how to choose a repair-friendly new product), and advocacy contributing to legislative reform that would support independent repair, potential for repair tax incentives, and for repair to become a much more significant part of Australian waste management policies (which are currently very oriented towards recycling & landfill).

Repair Cultures Workshop

Repair.Design Project News


As part of our scoping research, the team will be participating in a Repair Cultures Workshop facilitated by Tristan Schultz and Bec Barnett.

Tristan is founder and co-director of Relative Creative, an Indigenous owned and led design practice, informed by being on Yugembah Country at Jellurgal, and by Tristan’s Gamilaroi heritage.

Since Relative Creative is driven by being critically thinking and concern with ecological and social responsibilities, it is very much aligned with the goals of this research project.

As well as practicing design facilitation, strategic design, service design, policy and planning design, social design, participatory and co-design, Tristan is also a design academic and writer. In this paper, he traces a historical and conceptual terrain of cultures of repair from a decolonial and ontological design perspective. 

Schultz, T., 2017, January. Design’s Role in Transitioning to Futures of Cultures of Repair. In International Conference on Research into Design (pp. 225-234). Springer, Singapore.


Visit to the Bower’s Woodworks Centre



Ali and Jesse made a cheeky unannounced stopover at The Bower’s Woodworks Repair Centre at 107 Projects in Redfern today. While we missed the Woodworks Manager Luke Mitchell, we had a great yarn with Brian Driver from Marrickville Men’s Shed, and Louise Fisher from Go Girl DIY. Brian was making his own wax paste at the time – he’s a chemist so he was experimenting with a variety of mixes to get the balance just right. They showed us some of the furniture repair projects on the go, and we talked about tools, self-taught skills, steam train boats, and the challenge of getting the focus honed in academic projects. We passed Brian’s ‘tests’ by successfully naming several tools, knowing who Christopher Dresser and Charles Rennie Macintosh were, and declaring our key teaching goals for encouraging design students to think about repairability and product lifecycles.

Design to Reduce Waste – Radio Interview


This morning our Repair.Design research was profiled in an interview on Radio Adelaide. In a segment titled ‘Design to Reduce Waste’, Jesse Adams Stein spoke to Zoe Kounadis and Tom Mann from Radio Adelaide’s Breakfast show, about the anti-repair legacy of companies such as Apple, and some design strategies for more repairable electronic products.

Product Testing at CHOICE


Jesse and Ali visited the unique lab facility of CHOICE and met with CEO Alan Kirkland and Director of Reviews and Testing, Matthew Steen.

We talked about the relationship between the rights of consumers and the responsibilities of manufacturers and the role of design research within this relationship.

As the leading consumer advocacy group in Australia, CHOICE knows a thing or two about researching the design of products. From washing machines and steam mops, to coffee grinders, laptops, TVs and health insurance – there aren’t many things we use that haven’t been tested. But with the sheer quantity of new products on the market, and the thoroughness of testing required to assess products, CHOICE also faces the quantity vs quality dilemma. As such, for their ‘tear downs’ they choose the most popular appliances based on sales data.

Washing Machine Testing Lab and an adorable machine for testing sneakers.

Matthew gave us a tour of the testing labs and explained the CHOICE research methodology, which focuses on ‘products in use’ as much as on component parts. In the cooking lab, for example, the heat circulation of ovens are tested by baking multiple trays of scones. Genius! Are they evenly cooked? Did they rise properly? Since large appliances like ovens can’t be sold in Australia without being safety compliant, the job of CHOICE here is to test whether they live up to their promises.

Not all products tested can be assumed safe though. In the Toys and Baby Products Lab, we were shown a custom ‘dummy tester’ that measures whether a baby’s dummy is small enough to be swallowed.  Constant testing of products like this is important because there is no safety standard for all the millions of things people buy on ebay and through other vendors.

So what does all this have to do with repair? Choosing a product based on whether or not it can be repaired, and how long it will last (durability) is definitely a consumer right. But design for dissasembly is not a feature of most of the products CHOICE tests. Consider smart phones, for example, which we discuss in our article “Design and repair must work together to undo our legacy of waste” and CHOICE reviews here. There are huge challenges in assessing the ‘repairability’ of household products, which we will explore in this project and Alan and Matthew have begun to help us understand.