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Memphis: Objects, Furniture & Patterns: 12/07/08

Memphis was a collective of young furniture and product designers based in Milan. Lead by Ettore Sottsass these designers created expensive oddball items that were more for art than utility. The Memphis collective produced from 1981 to 1985.

Memphis: Objects, Furniture & Patterns by Richard Horn was published the year after Memphis disbanded but it's written with an optimism of someone hoping they will come back together. Flipping through the book's colorful photography one can see the excesses of the 1980s.

Horn divides the book up by the different types of objects Memphis designed: lamps, chairs, sofas, tables, storage, and so forth. All of the pieces are gaudy and oddly shaped with clashing choices of pastels and other ugly color combinations. Geometric shapes abound and the whole thing just screams 1980s. The Memphis style does not have the lasting post-modern appeal that Bauhaus does.

Not all the items included in Memphis were actually designed by the Memphis collective. Horn includes examples from competitors who began producing Memphis inspired knock-offs for the general public. They are just as gaudy but they are also functional. Anyone who has lived through the late 1980s and early 1990s will recognize the Memphis influence. My local video store's carpeting is vintage Memphis knock-off.

Despite all this, my children are fascinated with the book. They will fight each other for a chance to lie down on the floor flipping through the book as if it's the latest comic book. They compare favorites and argue the finer points of different things in the book. Among their favorites are the "Casablanca " sideboard (p. 70), the "Ginza " robot dresser/shelving unit (p. 72), and the "Ashoka " lamp (p. 32).

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