An American in Memphis

Lawrence Laske

It was the fall of 1985, I was finishing up the last semester of my undergraduate studies in Industrial Design at The University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, and I was feeling more than anxious for what was ahead. I was at my parent’s home for a holiday when I picked up Time Magazine from the coffee table. It was the March 26th 1984 issue and I randomly opened up to a page which would change my life. I found myself looking at a photograph of Ettore Sottsass standing in front of his Carlton bookcase. My eyes went to the furniture first (it wasn’t exactly subtle and I was completely blown away) then to Ettore standing behind. I said to myself, “This is what I want to do. I want to meet this man. I have to go to Milan.” 

Time, 26 March 1984. The image that started it all.

I immediately contacted several design and architectural offices asking for information on design schools in Milan. I did not receive any replies, but I happened to look in the back of an issue of Domus magazine where there was a full page advertisement for Domus Academy. I called, then sent twenty slides and a letter as requested. Those days were before personal computers, email, and the internet, so perhaps it is difficult for the younger generation to imagine my excitement when I received a telegram, congratulating me on my acceptance to Domus Academy for the 1986 academic year.

I was only 23 years old when I was at Domus Academy and Ettore Sottsass asked me to work in his studio. I met him at the studio in the first week of September and he instructed me to return after the holidays on January 9, 1987; there would be a table waiting for me. I did not ask for nor did I receive any contract, only a hand shake and Ettore’s word. We did not even discuss money. He only said that I would be able to live in a simple apartment and eat modestly. I had no communication with Ettore or his office after meeting with him in September. On January 9, 1987 I arrived at his studio on Via Borgonuovo 9, and I presented myself to his office administrator who told me that my table was waiting for me. I could hardly contain my excitement.