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Design Icon: Carlton Cabinet

by Maxwell Tielman

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.

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