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1980s Style is Back: How to Refresh the Trend

CEO Khai Intela
Just like many of the fashion trends birthed by the 1980s—shoulder pads, acid wash jeans, and poodle-esque perms among them—1980s interior design trends aren’t renowned for their subtlety. Supersized silhouettes and a surplus of plaster,...

Just like many of the fashion trends birthed by the 1980s—shoulder pads, acid wash jeans, and poodle-esque perms among them—1980s interior design trends aren’t renowned for their subtlety. Supersized silhouettes and a surplus of plaster, pastels, and postmodernism make the phrase "1980s decor" a trigger word for many a designer and homeowner alike. Yet invariably, what’s old becomes new again, and so it’s little surprise to see 1980s furniture brands and decor styles re-surfacing. What is a surprise? How designers are reinterpreting the decade’s less palatable hallmarks as decidedly chic. Here, discover nine 1980s decor trends that are making a comeback, plus tips on how to make them feel new and now and not at all like a bad ‘80s reboot.

Design by Angie Hranowsky / Photo by Annie Schlechter Design by Angie Hranowsky / Photo by Annie Schlechter

What did 1980s Interior Design Style look Like?

Like most decades, the 1980s heavily riffed off the design styles put into play by the preceding decade. Landmark 1970s designs like Ligne Roset’s Togo Sofa and Roche Bobois’s Mah Jong sofa—pillow-y, flush-with-the-floor seating inspired by the counterculture movement—can clearly be seen as a precursor to 1980s furniture designs. (See: the Pacha chair designed by Pierre Paulin.)

The 1980s also saw an Art Deco revival. On-the-rise designers like Karl Springer crossed Art Deco elements like rounded corners and pyramid shapes with architectural simplicity. The result was oversized pieces with one or two dramatic curves. (Think: waterfall consoles.) Similar to the Art Deco style of the 1920s, the 80’s Art Deco revival movement showed an appreciation for exotic construction materials. Parchment, lacquered goatskin, and shagreen were all commonly used. Brands like Maitland-Smith were at the forefront of this movement, incorporating multiple materials into mesmerizing, tessellated designs.

The 1980s also took stylistic cues from 1950s kitsch, especially as it pertains to color palette and pattern. The influence of the Memphis movement also can’t be ignored. Spearheaded in the late 1980s by Italian designer Ettore Sottsass, the Memphis movement celebrated a bold and brazen approach to design. Vibrant color, unflinching pattern, and adherence to abstract shapes defined the movement’s core.

Design by Black Lacquer Design / Photo by Eron Rauch Design by Black Lacquer Design / Photo by Eron Rauch

Pastels

If your memories of the 80s feel sun-faded, it’s probably because they were. Whispery pastels were all the rage. Mauve and teal, in particular, earned status as the decade’s unofficial colors. (Refer to the ubiquitous "Jazz" solo cup scribble and the interiors of 1980s Taco Bells, if you need a refresher.) You don’t necessarily need to brighten up for the 21st century, but do work in a surplus of pattern and texture. It will make the look less one-note than the 80s were originally known for.

Travertine

The blocky silhouettes of the 80s were seemingly made for stone—and travertine, with its minimalist markings, was the perfect choice for tables that could easily overwhelm if crafted from a more extroverted rock. In the 1980s, travertine tables were often puzzled together with living room seating sets, producing a visually weighed-down effect. For modern 1980s living room reinterpretations, try integrating a stylistic mix of seating, including seating from competing eras. In contrast to the tip above, you might also consider pumping up the color saturation level. It will banish any of the washed-out palette connotations that plagued authentic 80s digs.

Rosie Case Home Tour Dining Table with Custom Mirror Photo by Laurey Glenn

Memphis

We love Memphis design for many reasons. (That it was named for a deep cut Bob Dylan track is just one of them.) But the movement’s ardor for boisterous color can definitely be off-putting. To make the aesthetic’s signature geometric shape and sawtooth edges feel more modern, wash them in neutral, monochromatic hues. Rendered in shades like ecru or blush, a Memphis piece’s sculptural qualities are truly allowed to shine.

Overstuffed Silhouettes

It wasn’t just blazer shoulders that became supersized in the 1980s. Furniture silhouettes were also pumped up. Consider Pierre Paulin’s Pacha sofa and chairs, Karl Springer’s Soufflé poufs, and Vladimir Kagan’s Nautilus chairs. While the 1980s trend was to go big-on-big, try varying the scale of furniture in your room when using one of these jet-puffed seating options today. Be it a spindly French modernist floor lamp or a small-scale coffee table, cue up a juxtaposition. A discrepancy in size can avoid the 80s pitfall of a room looking too matchy-matchy.

Design by Angie Hranowsky Design by Angie Hranowsky

Bamboo

It’s difficult to talk 80s design style without mentioning the Golden Girls’ bamboo-clad conversation pit. Bamboo furniture, especially modular, split reed-paneled designs are virtually inseparable from the 1980s aesthetic. To modernize the look, forgo partnering your bamboo sofas and chairs with theme-y palm-flocked cushions. Instead, opt for more neutral prints or solids. That said, you don’t need to stray from 80s tones, here. Bamboo still looks beautiful and sophisticated when fused with signature 80s mash-ups like mauve and teal.

Large Lamps

You’ll notice decor is almost clinically minimalist in authentic 80s interiors. Filling the void? Cannon ball-sized table lamps. Often used in pairs, 1980s lamps are frequently orb-shaped and feature trompe l’oeil style ribbon or sash embellishments. Textural sandblasted finishes and stacked pencil reed designs are also common finds. Not much is needed to upgrade these lamps for the 21st century. Rather, it’s worth noting that employing a pair of 80s lamps can be an excellent way to make disparate sofa end tables look more cohesive—in the event that you are opting for a mismatched set to break the spell of 1980s decorating homogeneity.

Design by Angie Hranowsky Design by Angie Hranowsky

Plaster

You won’t see much brown wood furniture or heavy metal populating 80s design. So it’s no surprise that plaster fell into favor. Its matte white finish and ability to assume sculptural shapes made it designers’ go-to for everything from end tables to wall sconces. In contrast to the 80s habit of petrifying a room with plaster, use plaster decor in small doses. Introduce a single statement plaster pendant or balance a room out with a pair of plaster lamps.

Art Deco

From stepped silhouettes to channel tufting, Art Deco resurfaced in a big way in the 80s. It’s fairly easy to distinguish 1980s Art Deco revival styles from their 1920s counterparts. In addition to simplified forms, these seating, tables, and lamps tend to have larger proportions. In the 80s, these pieces were generally partnered with the decade’s overarching pastel palette. For a new and now take, try syncing them with the original Art Deco era’s super-saturated color wheel.

Photo by Sarah Natsumi Moore Photo by Sarah Natsumi Moore

Who are some Famous 1980s Furniture Makers?

  • Milo Baughman
  • Jan des Bouvrie
  • Thayer Coggin
  • Gabriella Crespi
  • Louis Durot
  • Directional
  • Paul Frankl
  • Vladimir Kagan
  • Maitland-Smith
  • Pierre Paulin
  • Serge Roche
  • Saporiti
  • Karl Springer
  • Michael Taylor

Shop 1980s Design >>

Lead photo design by Sarah Vaile / Photo by Aimee Mazzenga

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