Ettore Sottsass’s signature style and why he is influential today
It was the staircase seen around the world: Sacha BikoffThe spectacularly maximalist creation of Kips Bay Show House 2018 in New York City wowed design enthusiasts from near and far when its colorful masterpiece was unveiled at one of the world’s most prestigious show houses. Inspiration? The Memphis design, a movement that began in the 1980s in Italy, and is best known for its inclusion of bright colors and geometric elements. (Think about the interiors of Pee-wee’s playhouse and countless furniture and design elements from the 80s and 90s.)
Italian architect Ettore Sottsass, who created the Ultrafragola mirror, an iconic decorative piece that sells for tens of thousands of dollars nowadays and was even part of the Bikoff show house design-is credited as the founder of the Memphis style, following his formation of the Memphis Group, an assemblage of designers and architects who occasionally met to discuss the future of the design world. They sought to distract the industry from modernism, arguably the most popular type of design at the time, and that’s exactly what they did, creating and pioneering the movement of Memphis design.
The phrase “Memphis design” comes from Bob Dylan’s song “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again,” which played continuously in the background during the band’s first reunion. The designers also liked that the name referred to several places (such as the city of Tennessee and the capital of ancient Egypt); they felt it spoke of the many ways that style can take shape: in the form of textiles, furniture, objects, etc.
Bikoff is far from the only designer who continues Memphis’s design legacy today. To create a commercial coworking enclave known as “SheSpace”, Courtnay Tartt Elias of Creative toned design collaborated with the two owners of a woman-led business based in Houston, Texas, and the result was a “fantastic, fun and bright” workplace that was meant to “disrupt the status quo.” This includes many shades of a vibrant tangerine, which can be seen in the space’s retro kitchen, on many shelves, and even in one unlikely location: the bathroom, where orange and pink geometric wallpaper. of Schumacher adorns the walls, a reference to the design elements of the 1980s for which this movement is known.
Tartt Elias is such a fan of the Memphis design movement that she even decorated it clean home with elements specific to this style. “In my own house, I have integrated Memphis design all over the place! She adds, “You will often see Memphis design hints or outright tributes in the cabinets, bookcases, woodwork and patterns that I design for myself and my clients. “
So what is so captivating about the style? Designate Benjamin johnston tell Beautiful House that when it comes to decorating contemporary homes, he likes to use “Memphis design pieces as a way to imbue the space with an intriguing sense of character.” For a home office-bookcase, Johnston “layered unique vintage Memphis-style tripod chairs with a colorful complementary hand-woven rug from Stark rug. ”
The designer adds that “these two key pieces, paired with layered artwork and accessories, have transformed an otherwise serious bookcase into a space where owners don’t mind working from home.” Another element of this space that further adds to the Memphis aesthetic is a circular piece of art by Aaron Parazette, which features a colorblock geometric pattern – in bubblegum pink, no less.
After a grueling year that has left many people confined to their homes, it’s no surprise that an unabashedly bold, colorful, and low-key style is garnering great interest.
Of course, the influence of Memphis design is seen not only in homes galore, but also in home decor stores. Johnston says, “You are just as likely to see the Memphis influence used on a coin in CB2 as you will see in one piece in an ultra-luxury showroom like EJ Victor or Jean de Merry. In fact, you can currently find Memphis inspired furniture everywhere, from Company6 at Wayfair at Sotheby’s.
Clearly, the influence of Memphis design is still palpable today, more than 40 years after its inception, and it shows no sign of going out of fashion. As Bikoff states, “Memphis design will always be on trend – you can make it work in any interior because furniture is sculptural art.”
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