Before stores like Design Within Reach, IKEA, Crate & Barrel, and Habitat brought design to the masses, there was the Design Research store in Cambridge. In it you could buy anything from design objects by Charles and Ray Eames, Alvar Aalto and Arne Jacobsen to eclectic folk materials and textiles from around the world (including Marimekko).
The founder of the store, Ben Thompson, wanted people/consumers to think about how to use and experience the spaces they lived in. His goal was to create a store that would help customers get ideas about how to put things together in their home and develop a modern style. Mission accomplished.
Humberto Campana (1953), began his “adult life” as a lawyer. But when his brother, Fernando Campana (1961), completed his architectural degree in the mid-80s, the Campana brothers seemed to say “fuck it, let’s make some badass furniture.”
“Our designs were born in the street, from the urban kitsch of the popular quarters and contact with nature,” they say. “Whenever we can, we go back to our farm. Nature revitalises our ideas.” In 1998 they had a show at MoMa (the first Brazilian artists to ever do so, might I add), and the rest is history.
Thomas Stearns (1936-2006) was the first American to design for Venini from 1959 to 1961. He won a on Fulbright Travel Grant, left Cranbrook Academy, and showed up in Murano with new ideas, but absolutely no knowledge of the Italian language. But, from this potentially disastrous situation grew a collection of ground-breaking designs that actually won the “Best of Show” award at the Venice Bienalle of 1962.
When the judges found out that the winner was not Italian, but a monolingual American, they actually rescinded the award. By then, however, it was pretty impossible to deny that Thomas Stearns had created something really special.
Stearns’ amazing designs proved too difficult to put into mass production, which made them even more special. There are only about 30 pieces total floating from collector to collector. So beautiful.
The 80s isn’t generally thought of as a decade of high design; from scrunchies and crimped hair to neon and shoulder pads, it was an era that makes a lot of people cringe. The Memphis design movement was one of the few exceptions to the 80s rule.
Founded in 1981 by Ettore Sottsass, Memphis Milano was a reaction to the darker, more minimal design of the 70s. The group included writers, architects, and designers who created furniture, materials, and objects. They were all over the map, and their influence was global.
Their goal was to create furniture and objects that defied boundaries. The idea was that any one piece could be placed in any given space in a way that would intentionally clash/mesh with the surrounding items in a just right sort of way. The Memphis designers wanted to break out of the rigid rules of previous schools of design, and through the use of bright colors and intense patterns Memphis pieces fit into any space by essentially not fitting. A little of it goes a long way, but in the most excellent direction!
Sottsass left the movement in 1985 and it dismantled in 1988. Lots of people still hate Memphis, but more and more are loving it. I think it’s ripe for a comeback.