Invisible Cities

Long ago, in a far away time, I bought my acid washed, peg legged pants from Esprit. Now I buy them at Urban Outfitters. In case you haven't noticed, the crazy 80s are back in a big way. Of course the wide world of interior design isn't immune to the vagaries of trends, which seem to progress through the art-fashion-pillow life cycle until they die a gasping, lonely death on the clearance shelves of TJ Maxx. Short lived though they may be, I like following trends -- although I have to say I felt a little green at the gills when I first saw the new slew of statement making brights and strong shapes. The 80s were not kind to me, with its broccoli bangs and crop topped warfare, and those linebacker sized shoulder pads that required nothing less than an absolutely unwavering sense of self confidence. Should I admit that confidence was not a quality I was born with? I still have to work for it. Every day.

Studio Toogood

Maybe my hard work is paying off, because I'm starting to move beyond my own crippled sense of nostalgia as I approach this second wave of 80s inspired wares. I'm even setting my jaw and looking deep into the neon heart of the past, to primary sources like Italian designer Ettore Sottsass, who is looking more and more like a straight up genius when viewed through my new confidence goggles.

Ettore Sottsass

One part Beetlejuice, one part Bauhaus, and one part boozy good time, Sottsass set the tone to angular and primary as founding member of the Memphis design movement. Though his work should never be confused with the current, flimsy iterations of post modern furnishings typically found at Eurway, they do take up some majormajor visual space. As even Sottsass acknowledged, a little goes a long way.

Though I can finally look at his high Memphis work without enduring painful flashbacks, I was still jazzed -- and relieved -- to see this house he designed near the end of his long life:


Working into his 80s, Sottssass' mellowed out architectural effort looks to the past while also giving me something to look forward to. Within it, I see the seeds of a more mature Memphis inspired design aesthetic. And I like it. A lot.

Spare but warm, angular but not wildly so, this house is eminently livable. And of course the acres of glass, stunning reflecting pools, and luxe finishes don't hurt. It's obviously the refinement of a life's work.

Sottsass died at the tail end of 2007. I suspect that the scope of his influence is only beginning to surface, but don't think that other designers haven't already begun mining. Kelly Wearstler's beach house and Avalon Hotel have obvious smart references to Sottsass' late work. Expect to see a lot more of the Memphis master, but not the kind that demands confidence.

The kind that inspires it.