Clash of Color: The Progressive Furniture Designs of Ettore Sottsass
The ability to incorporate multiple passions into a single project can set a designer apart from the rest of the industry. With passions ranging from writing to fine art, Ettore Sottsass was one of the most prolific designers of the twentieth century. Sottsass’ unique combination of interests allowed him to develop a signature style that featured asymmetrical designs and vibrant, often clashing, colors.
While Sottsass is considered an Italian designer, he was actually born in Austria in 1917. His family later moved to Italy and it was there that he received a degree in architecture from Turin Polytechnic in 1939. Sottsass quickly gained notoriety as a designer, although not for the mainstream popularity of his creations. As an active adversary of the typical societal norms of the 1960s and ‘70s, his most vocal supporters were proudly associated with the counterculture movement of the time. Sottsass outwardly opposed the idea that an object has a single absolute value and coined the phrase, “Everything must remain possible.”
As a leader of the postmodernist movement, Sottsass’ designs displayed his distaste for symmetry and standard color combinations. In 1981, he started the Milan design collective named “Memphis.” The group’s furniture designs were so unique and progressive that a riot almost erupted at their first exhibition and its designs are now featured at the Design Museum in London.
In 1983, Sottsass left “Memphis” to design furniture for Knoll, Inc. While working with Knoll, Sottsass developed multiple distinct creations such as the EastsideWestside Collection, which featured everything from Mandarin and Bridge chairs to Shift and Spider tables. According to Knoll, these designs utilized bright colors and unconventional shapes to challenge preconceptions of furniture design as defined by the modernist movement.
Sottsass passed away in late 2007 after spending decades as one of the world’s most prominent designers. His progressive creations have influenced countless designers and helped push Knoll to the forefront of contemporary furniture design.