Design Icon: Carlton Cabinet

Design*Sponge | Design Icon: Carlton Cabinet

Design:  Carlton Cabinet

Designer: Ettore Sottsass

Date: 1981

Movement:  Postmodernism

Country of Origin: Italy

Manufacturer: Memphis

Materials & Construction: Wood, plastic laminate

Background: While the garish colors, irregular forms, and shamelessly commonplace materials featured in this cabinet might come off as distasteful and ostentatious to some, this was in many ways the whole point. Ettore Sottsass, the object’s designer, was the founder and primary maker of the Italy-based Memphis Design Group, a collective that adopted many of the Postmodernist impulses of the early 1980s. Eschewing the perceived banality and false objectivity of Modernism, the Memphis group sought to dismantle the notion that design should be (or even could be) purely functional. In stark opposition to the “less is more” and “form follows function” dictums of Modernism, Sottsass and his cohorts subscribed much more to architect Robert Venturi’s notion that “less is a bore,” giving priority to emotion, humor, and symbolism rather than any utopian ideal. Although many designers and critics found Memphis design ugly and overly novel, others saw its blatant disregard for rules as liberating—a welcome breath of fresh air in a design world that had for too long been dominated by rigidity and precision.

Illustration by Libby VanderPloeg.

  1. The Carlton and other Memphis bookcases and glass being shown at a museum exhibition now in Memphis, TN at The Dixon Gallery

  2. Patricia says:

    I think this Design Icon series would make a great book.

LEAVE A COMMENT

Design*Sponge reserves the right to restrict comments that do not contribute constructively to the conversation at hand, contain profanity, personal attacks, hate speech or seek to promote a personal or unrelated business. Our goal is to create a safe space where everyone (commenters, subjects of posts and moderators) feels comfortable to speak. Please treat others the way you would like to be treated and be willing to take responsibility for the impact your words may have on others. Disagreement, differences of opinion and heated discussion are welcome, but comments that do not seek to have a mature and constructive dialogue will not be published. We moderate all comments with great care and do not delete any lightly. Please note that our team (writers, moderators and guests) deserve the same right to speak and respond as you do, and your comments may be responded to or disagreed with. These guidelines help us maintain a safe space and work toward our goal of connecting with and learning from each other.