Adrian Olabuenaga and his wife Lesley are the owners of Casa Maui, Hawaii, one of the only 7 houses designed by Sottsass and maybe the most famous one.
When the Design World first heard about Memphis, I was living in Los Angeles where I was lucky enough to know that Peter Shire, one of the designers involved with Memphis also lived here. I approached him and invited him to design some jewelry that reflected this new design movement. He designed 12 brooches, each named after cross streets of Melrose Ave. in L.A. where my office was. Once this jewelry was on the market, it did incredibly well and the market demanded more.
I had first met Mr. Sottsass in New Orleans in 1984, when Peter and I flew there to hear a lecture he was giving. We later had drinks with him and his lady Barbara Radice, at the hotel where we were all staying, which is where where I got the chance to show him the jewelry that Peter had designed for us.
He knew I was there to pitch him on designing jewelry for us, but I never had to ask. Over dinner that same night, he grabbed a napkin and started sketching jewelry on it and asked me: “Can you do this?”, then “How about this?”. Within seconds of my positive responses to his questions, he said something to Barbara in Italian, which I did not understand, but she quickly responded by inviting me to Milano. Not knowing what they had in mind, I foolishly asked “Why?”. Her answer: “We will organize for you to meet all the Memphis designers to design for you”.
My life changed in that moment. The result of this trip was a collection of jewelry by all 14 Designers that were associated with Memphis, which Mr. Sottsass named MEMPHIS DESIGNERS for ACME, which subsequently became part of the permanent collections of Museums around the world. But more importantly the start of a life long friendship with one of my heroes.
Over the years, and several projects later and after we had moved to Maui where we had just bought a house with vacant land in front of it, we called Mr. Sottsass and asked him if he would consider designing a house for us on the vacant land. His answer was “When do you want me to come?”. So a jewelry project In 1985 lead to a house on Maui completed in 1997, that has been published in countless design and architecture magazines, even the cover of one of Mr. Sottsass’ books and included in several Museum shows.
Thank you Ettore!
We first met Aldo, when he knocked on the door of our old house for some unknown reason, without ever having met each other. He was holding a book published by Ettore Sottsass Assoc., which had our name listed along with a photo of a model of the house that Mr. Sottsass had designed for my wife Lesley and I. This was not a common book, so I had a feeling why he was knocking on our door, but as soon I heard his Italian accent, I invited him in without further discussion.
Without dwelling into too many details and endless stories, building the Sottsass designed house had been on hold for too long. But not only did Aldo become an integral part of getting the house built, but with his enthusiasm and understanding of what it would take to build a house on an island by an Architect in Italy, he put a fire under our ass and we finally got the house done and have now been living in it for 24 years.
Thank you Aldo!
“I make no special difference between architecture and design, they are two different stages of invention” Ettore Sottsass
Model photo by Santi Caleca
Adrian Olabuenaga and Ettore Sottsass (Photo Credit: ACME Studio)
One thought on “The Intuitive Mr. Sottsass, by Adrian Olabuenaga”
great story – dreams do come true !