"Carlton" Room Divider

Designer: Ettore Sottsass (Italian (born Austria), Innsbruck 1917–2007 Milan)

Manufacturer: Memphis Milano

Date: 1981

Medium: Wood, plastic laminate

Dimensions: 76 3/4 x 74 3/4 x 15 3/4 in. (194.9 x 189.9 x 40 cm)

Classification: Furniture

Credit Line: John C. Waddell Collection, Gift of John C. Waddell, 1997

Accession Number: 1997.460.1a–d


The totemic Carlton room divider is a Memphis icon. The piece calls into question conventional furniture forms by combining a space divider, bookcase, and chest of drawers. Intended for the higher end of the market and finely handcrafted, it is made of medium-density fiberboard (MDF) and cheap plastic laminate, a subversion of high and low. The vivid colors and seemingly random interplay of solids and voids suggest avant-garde painting and sculpture. Yet underlying the surface is an entirely logical structural system of real and implied equilateral triangles. While at first sight the slanted shelving seems counterintuitive, it accommodates books which often fall over in upright shelving. The divider is open to interpretation: it may be read variously as a robot greeting the user with open arms, a many-armed Hindu goddess, or even a triumphant man atop a constructed chaos of his own making.