Consumed with: A vintage Schmidt's bottle opener found inside the bar in the basement of the Bella Vista home she and her husband bought in 2006 when their twin boys were infants.
The design: A metal bottle opener measuring about four inches, with "Schmidt's of Philadelphia: Brewing Since 1860" engraved into the surface on one side. It is battered and a little rusty. You can buy one new, online, for $5. This one is worth much more.
The provenance: The bottle opener belonged to the big Italian family that lived in the house for about 50 years. Mary Butch, the matriarch, sang at Palumbo's. Touring the place, Rottenberg got an eyeful of her gowns. Everything was dated, but the house's bighearted soul was palpable. "You could tell immediately it was a place where families gathered and celebrated," Rottenberg says, "and that's one of the things that drew us to it."
The appeal: "Once you put products out into the world, their owners begin to instill them with their own meanings," Rottenberg says. "This is a great example of an object that was designed to be functional and to tell the story of a brand, but has taken on more value through being owned by one family and passed on to another." To her, the bottle opener represents the home's history and spirit.
The lesson: Successful products enhance life. And the key is to figure out what role a product plays and to design it accordingly. Is it the star of the show or a supporting actor? Rottenberg likes the bottle opener because it doesn't presume to be a star. It merely helps open a beer easily enough to continue a conversation uninterrupted. "It's not a self-centered object," she says, "and I like that."
The afterlife: Rottenberg and her husband are slowly updating the house - replacing wood paneling and shiny tiles, converting the sauce kitchen into a laundry room - while trying to live up to its legacy. The big Italian family had annual Christmas parties. They have annual latke parties.
"We're just like them," says Rottenberg. "We're parents who want the best for our children. We also have a really strong community in the neighborhood - a close group of family and friends." When they first moved in people would say, "Oh, you live in Mary's house." Now they say, "Oh, you live in the twins' house." The recent decision to demolish the basement bar and replace it with a media room was a tough one, but they're memorializing the bottle opener by framing it and hanging it wherever they decide to move the booze.
Caroline Tiger is a Philadelphia-based design writer. Follow her on Twitter at @carolinetiger.