Memphis, Tennessee-native Dennis Zanone is quite possibly the world’s greatest fan of Memphis design. Over the past two decades, he’s amassed an outstanding collection of postmodern pieces—from the iconic, like Ettore Sottsass’s Carlton Bookcase, to the obscure, like Peter Shire’s Anchorage Teapet. It not hyperbole to say his home is a living tribute to ’80s-era design.
Since Memphis has been in the air lately, we thought we’d go to an expert for some insights into this most recognizable of design styles.
WC: When did you start collecting Memphis, and why were you initially attracted to this work?
DZ: I started collecting Memphis design in the early ’90s. I liked the odd shapes, mix of materials, and the use of vibrant color—and that fact that it was, in a way, named for my hometown. I remembered seeing it in the mid ’80s at an exhibition, and my brother Don, who collects midcentury modern, said that he thought Memphis would be a period collectible at one point in the future. A few pieces bought at auction turned into an obsession. And now my home is filled with postmodern design, and the main emphasis is Memphis-Milano.
WC: How would you say design changed after Memphis?
DZ: I actually think modern design became more functional after the ’80s. Sottsass considered Memphis as an ephemeral movement intended to shake up late ’70s, early ’80s design—not a reaction to fine midcentury design. People who like Memphis appreciate it as a design study; and those who are repulsed by it have a visceral reaction to its cartoonish, over-consuming, "greed is good" vibe. So you either love it or hate it I've found. There’s no equivocation on the subject.
WC: Do you have any recommendations for those who’d like to start collecting Memphis work?
DZ: As with art, buy what you like and can live with, and start with the more common pieces that are less expensive and easier to find at galleries and auctions; then add larger pieces. I started with the furniture then realized I needed some of the metal pieces, and that led to wanting some of the art glass pieces.
WC: What is your favorite piece of Memphis design, and why?
DZ: My favorite piece is the Tawaraya (Boxing Ring Bed) by Masanori Umeda from 1981. It is the largest piece made by Memphis, and it’s considered a piéce de résistance along with the Plaza Vanity by Michael Graves. Of course, I use the Tawaraya as my bed, and I find it very practical. The Memphis design ethos was that form doesn't have to follow function, yet all of the pieces function as intended. I guess that's the difference between living with the pieces and seeing them in photographs in print.
Check out these photos from Dennis’s collection!
If you’d like to know more about Dennis’s collection, you should peruse the various sites he maintains just for the love of Memphis: www.memphis-milano.org, https://www.facebook.com/MemphisMovement, and www.bit.ly/MemphisMovement.
*All images courtesy Dennis Zanone; © the artists
Wava CarpenterAfter studying Design History, Wava has worn many hats in support of design culture: teaching design studies, curating exhibitions, overseeing commissions, organizing talks, writing articles—all of which informs her work now as Pamono’s Editor-in-Chief.
More to Love
Italian Super Lamp by Martine Bedin for Memphis Milano, 1980s
Jagati Table Lamp in Wood by Ettore Sottsass for Memphis, 2000
Postmodern Sideboard, 1980sSale
Vintage Bay Table Lamp by Ettore Sottsass for Memphis
Italian Gloucester Chair by George Sowden for Memphis Milano, 1980s
Memphis-Style Dining Table, 1980s
Memphis Style Leather Daybed, 1980s
Painted Wood Memphis Style Coat Hangers from Robert Jean Chapuis, Set of 3
First Chair by Michele De Lucchi for Memphis Milano, 1990s, Set of 2
Vintage Chair by Michele de Lucchi for Memphis Milano