Buffets and Cabinets share with you the Postmodern Design on Ettore Sottsass’ sideboards.
Ettore Sottsass‘ Carlton bookcase was the defining product of the 1980s Memphis Group. In the latest installment of our Postmodernism series, we explore how its bright colored laminates and playful form typified Memphis’ challenge to Modernism’s impersonal aesthetic.
More than anyone, Sottsass is credited with introducing a Postmodernist approach into design by founding Memphis in 1980.
Sottsass’ Carlton bookcase – designed for the group’s first collection – epitomises his use of brightly colored laminates, graphic forms and non-functional elements that became the defining style of the decade.
With Memphis, Sottsass wanted to define a new approach to design that broke free of the restrictions of functionalism.
Sottsass himself felt that Postmodernism was an architectural movement, but Memphis shared many of the concerns of the Postmodernists.
The challenge to the “less is more” notion of Modernist design, a focus on appearance over function, and willy-nilly cross-referencing of historic forms and contemporary materials meant that Memphis quickly became synonymous with Postmodernism.
The totemic Carlton, which Sottsass created in 1981, is his most identifiable furniture design. It reads as a bookcase, a room divider, and a dresser, depending on who you ask. Its form is ambiguous enough to question, at first glance, whether it’s a piece of furniture at all.
The Carlton is constructed of medium density fibreboard (MDF) sections, which are laminated in different colors. It features a stack of horizontal, perpendicular and angled surfaces and has two red drawers just above the base.
The Carlton’s seemingly haphazard arrangement of partitions and voids is actually based on a logical system of equilateral triangles, which support both the slanted and flat shelves.
Produced as an unlimited edition, the design became one of the most recognizable Memphis products partly due to its size – measuring 196 centimeters tall and almost as wide. It is still sold by the Memphis Milano design store.
With this wave of interest in Postmodernism and the Memphis Group, pieces like Carlton and Tahiti remain emblems of Sottsass’ radical decision to change conceptions of design and bring a “why not?” attitude to the industry.