As a resident New Yorker, there are two things I can’t seem to get enough of: space and sleep. So when it comes to the 375 square feet that I call home, I take great care in making it feel like a respite from the chaos that is Manhattan. But I confess that, in my relentless pursuit of small-space, utilitarian design, I overlooked an essential bedroom accessory: an alarm clock.

Somewhere along the line between graduating college and becoming a full-fledged adult, I picked up the nasty habit of using my smartphone as my alarm clock. I rationalized my way out of purchasing a proper one for years. “Why spend the money or precious nightstand real estate?” I’d ask myself. For starters, the default Radar ring of my iPhone has consistently woken me up in a panic attack. (I realize I could change it to something slightly less offensive, but did Apple really design its ringtones with a quality wake-up experience in mind?)

All jokes aside, smartphones are notorious for weakening the quality of your sleep. Aside from the temptation to text and check social media late into the night, the blue light of your smartphone has a proven track record of suppressing the sleep hormone, melatonin. So it’s probably for the best that you treat your phone like a first date — meaning don’t invite it into your bedroom.

I decided to break up with my smartphone alarm and get cozy with a real clock that’s both functional and easy on the eyes. I knew of a few brands with which I could launch my search, like Newgate and Philips. Once upon a time, I worked as an interior design consultant at a gallery on Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles, home to some of the world’s foremost names in design, including the iconic Pacific Design Center.

But I didn’t stop there. I scoured Pinterest boards, Amazon wishlists, and design blogs for the most iconic clocks I could find. I was looking for clock brands with a signature style — you know, some chutzpah. And I didn’t want an art piece. Unlike my shoe collection, these clocks had to be as practical as they were pretty, but I tried to steer clear of reproduction and imitators. No Canal Street knockoffs here.

The Best Alarm Clocks

This Tivoli alarm clock is the one I ultimately end up with — what a beauty.

I had to kiss a few frogs to get there, but I finally settled on 12 of the most eligible, design-forward alarm clocks that successfully marry form and function — from those 12 I chose the one for me. Of course, I had to do my due diligence: I had nearly 20 alarm clocks delivered to my studio apartment. The scene was surreal, and I definitely tripped over some boxes to get to the bathroom in the middle of the night. In the end, it was worth it: I’ll sleep better at night knowing I’ve spared you the indignity of falling naked into a pile of packing materials in your own quest for the best alarm clock.

I started with clocks that were designed for small spaces — like my apartment.

Who knew an alarm clock could be so chic? Depending on which color you fancy, the Tumbler Alarm Clock by Norm Architects for Menu has a painted stainless steel or brass body with a glass-protected face. It’s deceivingly hefty because of its weighted bottom, which allows for a Leaning Tower of Pisa-esque design. It also has a tendency to spin, and like the QLOCKTWO TOUCH clock I also played with, it’s not something you’d want to knock off your bedside table. (It’s not something you’d want to drop on your foot either — ouch!)

Not that I’m giving points for packaging, but it’s worth mentioning this clock does come in a lovely, cylindrical box that could make for quite the impressive gift.
The clock is simpler to set than it is to read. No numbers on the face plus the leaning design make it just a little harder to tell the time — especially in the middle of the night. To turn the alarm off, you actually have to flip the clock (gently) on its face, but only if it actually wakes you up. That’s the real drawback to the Tumbler: Its ring volume is very, very weak. This critical flaw renders this piece best for the office and timed tasks instead of slumber. Let me put it to you this way: The ambient noise from the restaurant patio below my apartment is more than enough to drown it out, and I can sleep quite soundly through bottomless mimosa brunch.alarm3

Onto the Natalie Sun Cube Clock, where minimalist design delivered surprising maximalist function. I purchased it at the MoMA Design Store and despite its low-tech appearance, it’s pretty sophisticated: the clock responds to touch and sound. You can either tap it or snap your fingers to reveal the display; otherwise, it disappears in the same manner as an inactive computer screen. Clapping or tapping the table it rests on works just as well. At first, I didn’t realize that was a feature. I thought the clock was a dud, and I kept whacking it like my dad used to slap our old box television. Imagine my humiliation when I consulted the user manual. In any case, a gentle tap or audible snap will bring the Natalie back to life.

In addition to telling time, this clock tells you the date (MM/DD or DD/MM) and temperature (Fahrenheit or Celsius). It also offers weekend and weekday alarms, with 3 different wakeup times available for both, in addition to a 5-minute snooze function.
In addition to telling time, this clock tells you the date (MM/DD or DD/MM) and temperature (Fahrenheit or Celsius). It also offers weekend and weekday alarms, with 3 different wakeup times available for both, in addition to a 5-minute snooze function.

But, despite its aesthetic simplicity, it is not the most intuitive clock to set. It only has four buttons, but I found it difficult to navigate amongst the different alarm times. (Definitely do not throw out the user manual.) Also, the ringtone was a disappointment; it only offers one setting and volume, and it’s an annoying double-beep. And truth be told, I didn’t actually like the sound/touch activation functionality. When the clock’s display isn’t illuminated, it just looks like an ordinary wooden block. Hipsters in Williamsburg may appreciate the irony of the aesthetic, but I live in Manhattan. I don’t have time for irony.

The large, conical orb was bigger than I expected — about the size of a soccer ball — making it unideal for my teeny Manhattan studio.
The large, conical orb was bigger than I expected — about the size of a soccer ball — making it unideal for my teeny Manhattan studio.

 

The Philips Morning Wake-Up Light has the friendly aesthetic appeal of Apple products from the early 2000s, and much like Apple products, it has a cult following. The internet is rife with testimonials speaking to the life-changing effects of this alarm clock, so I figured I’d be remiss not to give it a whirl myself.

Size concerns aside, I was impressed by its visual statement. The overall look is gender-neutral, modern, and playful, while still appearing adult. Plus, I was completely sold on the marketing of this clock as a tool for “cleaner” sleep. (The American Sleep Association defines sleep hygiene as the behaviors and routines that promote better sleep quality, and light exposure can be a powerful regulator of your body’s internal clock.)

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