No, Memphis Style is not a style out of Tennessee. It's actually direct from one of the fashion and design capitals of the world: Milan, Italy. Memphis interior design is a style that emerged in the 1980s and was characterized by bold colors, geometric and exaggerated shapes, and a mix of wild patterns. It's named after the Memphis Group-- a group of designers and architects that invented the style and quickly took the world by storm.
The name is probably not familiar to you but the imagery of the style sure is. Think Saved By The Bell, Trapper Keepers and Michael Graves for Target in the early 2000's. You know Eleven's style change in season 3 of Stranger Things? That's Memphis!
Most of us just call it "80s style" but there's really so much more to it than that. It could border on cartoonish at times (looking at you Pee-Wee's Playhouse!) but there's a resurgence happening of this style that's a new and much more palatable take (more on that soon).
Here are 5 main elements of Memphis interior design:
Postmodernism: The Memphis movement was strongly influenced by the postmodern design movement that originated in Italy in the late 1970s. Postmodernism challenged the minimalism and functionalism of modernism and embraced eclectic, playful, and often ironic design elements. Think of the arcs and geometry of Art Deco design mixed with the colors, patterns and playfulness of Pop Art. See what I mean?
Bold Colors: Memphis design favored vibrant and contrasting colors. Originally, it was primary and other bold colors, all together in one space. Eventually we saw a lot of pastels and neons integrated as well.
Geometric Shapes: Memphis design incorporated geometric shapes, such as squares, circles, triangles, and zigzags, often arranged in a playful and asymmetrical manner. Feeling like you're seeing squiggles and wave motifs everywhere lately? Memphis.
Pattern Mixing: Memphis interiors often featured a mix of different patterns, including stripes, checks, polka dots, and abstract motifs. This always makes me think of the grid and triangle patterns indicative of Saved By the Bell.
Pop Culture References: The Memphis movement drew inspiration from popular culture and embraced elements of kitsch and irony. This aspect can be seen in the use of playful and whimsical shapes, bright colors, and references to everyday objects. A lot of the furnishings were very over-the-top and exaggerated. This is a style that DID NOT take itself seriously.
You might be tempted to not take it seriously either but I really want to emphasize that Memphis style was ground-breaking and avant-garde when it first came on the scene. Elements of this style have embedded themselves into a lot of us Millennial's childhood memories and will continue to be reinvented over and over again in the interior and fashion sector. There's a lot of Memphis-inspired things floating around Target, CB2 and Urban Outfitters these days and there's a good chance you own a thing or two influenced by this style.
Take a look at what I'm calling "New Memphis":
See the similarities? I bet you didn't even know that new vase you bought was steeped in such rich design tradition ;)
I love looking at patterns in interior design trends and I'm going to break down this style further, what it's looking like now, and some ways to incorporate it currently into your home on my next blog post. Look for Part 2 soon!