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The Memphis Design Style: Reviving Retro Chic in Contemporary Home Decor

Welcome to the captivating world of the Memphis design style, which features bold colors, playful shapes, and a riot of geometric patterns! This design movement, born in the 1980s, embraces an eclectic approach that continues to inspire and captivate design enthusiasts in the modern day. This interior design style draws inspiration from pop culture and the retro aesthetic of the ’80s, with references to Art Deco and Pop Art. It evokes a sense of nostalgia while still pushing the boundaries of what is considered expected or traditional.

We’ll take you through the history of this unique design style, its key characteristics, and how you can incorporate this vibrant aesthetic into your own home decor. At its core, the Memphis style is a celebration of bold colors and geometric patterns that create a visual feast by embracing asymmetry and unconventional shapes through furniture, wallpaper, accessories, and more. Get ready to explore this energetic and creative design style!

Photo Credit: Zanone / Wikimedia Commons

The History Behind The Memphis Design Style

As is fairly evident, the Memphis interior design style can be traced back to the vibrant, unconventional era of the 1980s. This particular style emerged in response to the prevailing minimalism and perceived restraint of design styles at the time. Spearheaded by the Memphis Group—a collective of influential designs and artists founded in Milan, Italy —this movement did away with traditional design norms to introduce a fresh, exuberant perspective.

The Memphis Group was founded by Italian architect and designer Ettore Sottsass in the early 1980s and sought to challenge the notions of what constituted “good” design. They embraced a playful and eclectic approach, drawing inspiration from a wide range of sources, including art, pop culture, and the Memphis, Tennessee, music scene. The name “Memphis” was chosen as a tribute to the Bob Dylan song “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again.” This unconventional design collective quickly gained international recognition and became a driving force behind the Memphis Style movement, which captivated designers and enthusiasts around the globe.

Memphis Design Has Reemerged in Modern Interior Design 

The public opinion of Memphis style interior design remains as diverse today as it was when it initially came to fruition. While there will always be some who view it as too unconventional or eclectic, there are those who appreciate the unique and energetic charm it brings to interior spaces.

In recent years, designers and homeowners are increasingly drawn to the vibrant colors, whimsical shapes, and bold patterns of this iconic style. With a renewed appreciation for retro aesthetics and a desire to break away from conventional design norms, the Memphis design movement has found its place once again as a source of inspiration and creativity. Contemporary interpretations of Memphis Style often blend its playful elements with minimalist or contemporary design principles, resulting in captivating spaces that harmoniously balance nostalgia and modernity.

If you’re falling in love with this bright design style and are looking to implement it in your own home, we’ve got you covered!

ai rendering of the memphis design style
Photo Source: Vecteezy

Key Elements of Memphis Style Interior Design

Bold Colors and Geometric Patterns

  • Vibrant, contrasting colors are a hallmark of Memphis Style, creating visual impact and a sense of energy;
  • Bold color combinations, such as electric blue and fiery red, are often used to evoke a strong visual presence;
  • The use of color blocking techniques, where large areas of contrasting colors are placed side by side, enhances the striking effect;
  • Geometric patterns play a vital role in Memphis Style, adding depth and dynamism to the design;
  • Squares, triangles, circles, and zigzags are commonly used, often in unconventional arrangements;
  • Geometric patterns are incorporated in various elements, such as wallpaper, textiles, and furniture surfaces, creating a bold and visually captivating environment.
colorful geometric display of cars at BMW museum
The BMW Museum in Munich, Germany hosts a particularly colorful display of vehicles, in the memphis design style.
Photo credit: Unsplash / Alex Suprun

Playful Shapes and Silhouettes

  • Embraces unconventional and whimsical furniture designs, defying traditional expectations;
  • Furniture pieces feature unique and exaggerated shapes, such as asymmetrical forms and exaggerated curves;
  • Playful silhouettes, like squiggles or geometric cutouts, add a sense of lightheartedness and creativity;
  • Asymmetry is a key element, with furniture and decor often arranged in unconventional compositions, creating a dynamic and visually intriguing atmosphere.

Eclectic Mix of Materials and Textures

  • Memphis design style thrives on the combination of diverse materials, bringing an eclectic vibe to interiors;
  • Materials like laminate, plastic, metal, and glass are frequently used, reflecting the style’s embrace of unconventional choices;
  • Mixing different textures is a hallmark of Memphis Style, juxtaposing glossy and matte finishes for an intriguing visual contrast;
  • Textural variety can be found in furniture, decor, and even wall treatments, adding depth and tactile interest to the space.
pink green and yellow memphis style rendering of living space
Photo Credit: Envato Elements

Pop Culture References and Retro Influence

  • The style pays homage to pop culture references from the 1980s, capturing the essence of that era;
  • Elements like neon colors, graphic motifs, and motifs inspired by technology or music reflect the influence of popular culture;
  • Art Deco and Pop Art movements heavily influenced Memphis Style, seen in the bold colors, geometric shapes, and energetic compositions;
  • The infusion of retro aesthetics and cultural references adds a nostalgic and whimsical touch to the overall design.
Photo Credit: Bruno Almela via Yatzer
electric blue and red kitchen cabinets with black accents, white & black patterned backsplash
Photo Credit: Architectural Digest

Implementing Memphis Style Design in Your Home Decor

Memphis Style offers a bold and dynamic approach to home decor, and incorporating its vibrant elements into your space can transform it into a visually captivating haven. Here are some tips and guidelines to help you implement this style in your home:

#1 – Start Small When Implementing a New Design Style

It might seem like a no-brainer but it’s worth noting that when you’re looking to implement a design style as bold and bright as Memphis style, you’re best off starting small. Begin by introducing a few elements gradually, such as with accent pieces of accessories, before you dive into larger furniture purchases or commit to a bold wall treatment.

#2 – Creating a Harmonious Color Scheme

  • Embrace vibrant contrasts: Incorporate bold, contrasting colors like vibrant blues, yellows, pinks, and reds to infuse your space with the energetic spirit this style;
  • Color blocking: Use color blocking techniques to create visually striking areas by placing contrasting colors adjacent to each other. This technique can be applied to walls, furniture, or even smaller decor pieces.

#3 – Balancing Bold Patterns & Textures

  • Mix geometric patterns: Introduce bold geometric patterns, such as squares, triangles, or zigzags, through wallpapers, textiles, or rugs. Play with different scales and arrangements to create a dynamic visual impact;
  • Texture play: Combine a variety of textures, such as glossy and matte finishes, to add depth and visual interest to your space. Incorporate materials like plastic, metal, or laminate to enhance the eclectic and tactile nature of Memphis Style.

Remember, the Memphis design style is all about embracing individuality and self-expression. Don’t be afraid to let your creativity shine! Following these tips and guidelines, you can create a harmonious, captivating environment that reflects the vibrant charm of this interior design style.


June Steele

I write for decoist.

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