Unpopular Opinion: Can We Please Say Goodbye to Memphis Design Already?
Hear me out.
Updated Sep 29, 2021 7:16 AM
Every decade-driven trend deserves its moment in the sun, no matter how regrettable.
What’s more is that every trend will inevitably rear its head over and over again, much to the dismay of those who are old enough to have been alive the first time around. For me, this decade is the late ’80s and the trend is the Memphis Movement.
The ’50s are easily romanticized: Mid-century design is now the fifth most popular decor style, and places like Palms Springs have immortalized the decade beautifully. The ’20s were seemingly full of glitz and glamour—a la Great Gatsby—with metallics and bold geometrics at the forefront of the main design movement of the decade: Art Deco.
But the ’80s gave us a splatter of postmodern shapes, clashing saturated colors, and wormlike patterns that were most aptly described by SF Gate’s Bertrand Pellerin as a “shotgun wedding between Bauhaus and Fisher-Price.” The style wasn’t particularly embraced by the design community back then, but in recent years, it’s seen a resurgence.
The original Memphis Group—which was an Italian design and architecture firm—was founded by Ettore Sottsass in 1981. The group exhibited in furniture fairs like Salone del Mobile until 1987, but the style gained mass appeal and recognition (especially for those, like me, who were still in their infancy back then) with shows like Pee-Wee’s Playhouse and Saved By the Bell.
Naturally, as trends tend to do every 20 years or so like clockwork, the movement was poised for a comeback. In 2012, London’s Victoria and Albert Museum presented an exhibition titled Postmodernism: Style and Subversion, 1970–1990. By 2015, the new iterations of the movement by the likes of Kartell and Cappellini were all over Salon del Mobile.
Four years later, it’s still very much in the design vernacular, with small collections by household names from Supreme to Acme and West Elm bringing the style into the mainstream once more. Younger designers from Katie Stout to Ella Van Dusen and Anna Karlin are also adopting the look.
Last spring, 26-year-old Raquel Cayre—founder of the popular Instagram account @ettoresottsass—opened Racquel’s Dream House, an Instagrammable modern Memphis wonderland of sorts. Late last year, NY designer Sasha Bikoff stole the show at Kips Bay with a psychedelic Memphis-inspired staircase at the Kips Bay Decorator Showhouse. Last month, she revealed a Manhattan fitness studio boasting the same vibrant Memphis-meets–Miami Vice style.
But here’s the thing: While honoring past design movements is important and recognizing the influence on younger generations is perhaps even more so, there’s one inevitable conclusion to the second wave of Memphis madness. Unless you’re an all-out maximalist or a carefree decorator, you’ll most likely regret those bold design choices in just a few years. That’s not to say you should play it safe—instead, think twice before investing wholeheartedly in the trend and opt for smaller accessories that add character.
Before you start painting your walls in bright squiggly lines or invest $10,000 on a wavy pink neon lamp mirror, may we suggest these slightly more subtle Memphis-inspired pieces instead? Their (comparatively) subdued color palettes and their small scale will likely make them more palatable in the grand scheme of your decor in five years’ time.
Discover more decor trends we have our eye on: What Comes After Terrazzo? We Asked 3 Interior Designers Sure, Art Deco Is Nice, But Have You Heard of Art Nouveau? And Suddenly, Tobia Scarpa Sofas Were Everywhere