“We love to hate the 80s but many interior design devotees will profess the the 80s were in fact the last decade of true creativity and originality in decor, and the sentiment is catching on. Could the over-the-top matchiness, fussy prints, geometric colour craze and pastel everything really be thought of as an important moment in interior design history? The 80s may be long behind us, but their legacy is being kept alive by popular demand.” —Heidi Pyper, HGTV Magazine
We’ve received requests for ideas to help create an interior design look with an 80s aesthetic. In this blog, we’ll be defining 80s decor and sharing key elements of the period. For those looking to redo a room with a funky 80s design look, in my next blog I’ll be sharing key elements of the period while giving a few decorating ideas to design your own, more modern 80s look today. For now, you can check out our Shop the 80s to get some great ideas.
There were many influences that came together in the design aesthetic of the 80s. Some describe the look of the time as a bit over the top, but the aesthetic was also fun and stylish. The 1980s saw the introduction of the personal computer, music CDs, “yuppies” and the DeLorean. Pop music stars who topped the charts were Michael Jackson and Madonna. Hit movies like Back to the Future and Top Gun were released as were a string of successful movies by John Hughes: Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The Star Wars movie series continued with blockbusters The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. The computer game Pac-Man was released in 1980 and quickly became an icon of pop culture for the decade. Music videos made their first appearance on MTV on August 1, 1981 and introduced veejays, or music disc jockeys. Movies, music and fashion in the 80s were more fun, light-hearted and sentimental then had been in the previous decade. Collectively, these pop culture elements created a look and a sound that defined the 1980s vibe for many of us.
There were some very diverse design movements in the 80s. There was the more playful, modern 80s design on one end of the spectrum and a more conservative, feminine design influence on the other end. To explain what we mean, we’d like to define some of the design styles popular in the 80s:
A more mainstream design influence in the 80s was modern design, characterized by foiled wallpapers, lacquered furniture ensembles (usually black or white) filling either a bedroom or livingroom with strong art deco influences and gold trim. A lot of glass and mirrors were used in interiors, as well as geometric fabrics. In addition to all of the bold hard furnishings was the use of contrasting soft colors for paint, fabrics and accessories in pastels and mauve. Lots and lots of mauve.
The use of florals was at the other end of the design spectrum and the prints designed by Laura Ashley set the standard in the 1980s. Ashley began designing her subdued floral fabrics in the 1950s, but their popularity boomed in the 1980s after the first Laura Ashley store opened in the US in 1974 and her book, Laura Ashley Book of Home Decorating was published in 1983. Her traditional style home furnishings were in great demand and were imitated by other designers. For those with a tighter budget, the Laura Ashley style was replaced by the shabby chic look with less expensive floral chintzes and refurbished flea market furniture, popularized by interior designer Rachel Ashwell when she arrived in the US in the early 80s. White furniture and fabrics, old chandeliers and flea market finds are the hallmarks of shabby chic or cottage style, and it is once again very popular today.
Created in 1981 by Ettore Sottsass, an industrial designer, the Memphis Group was formed as an Italian design firm that specialized in making furniture, fabrics, ceramics, glass and metal objects with a postmodern aesthetic. Elements of Art deco design and pop art, asymmetry and bold graphic shapes and primary colors are identifying characteristics of the movement. Although many found the look bizarre, it has recently reappeared in museum displays and designer showrooms.
80s Color Palette
The early 80s saw a color palette of pastels like mauve, coral and seafoam green. As the decade progressed, popular colors deepened into rich jewel-toned colors. Teal, deep coral, black and white were favored, as were primary colors and neons, making the 80s one of the most colorful decades we’ve seen.
80s Decor Accessories
The most frequently seen decor accessory in 80s interiors were houseplants. Plants of all types—ferns, ivies, and ficus trees were seen in every room of a house. Large, unframed mirrors were used on walls and furniture. Dried flowers appeared in wreaths and bouquets to accompany the shabby chic look. Funky plastic CD racks were the craze as were Southwestern wall decor and accessories. Perhaps questionable as decor, Chia Pets were hugely popular in the 80s after the Chia Ram was the first pet to be mass produced in 1982.
Today there is widespread nostalgia for the 1980s and idealizing of the decade and the design trends associated with it, including 80s fashion and music genres. Memphis design is making a comeback as seen in stores and fashion magazines with a resurgence of the use of strong graphic shapes on chairs and tables. Shabby chic never really went out of fashion and lives on today as flea market and cottage styles.
The 80s were a time of self-expression and creativity, two qualities which have great appeal for people today. Let us know what your favorite thing was about the 80s by commenting below. We’ll be following up with a blog about how to get an 80s look in your home, so watch for the post.