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Movements to Know: Chatting With a Design Historian About the Memphis Design Movement

When you think of interior and graphic design from the 1980s, what comes to mind? Geometric black and white patterns? Squiggly lines in primary colors? Zany patterns in loud color combos? While these design elements might just seem like part of the spirit of the decade, they’re actually all connected to a larger design movement. It’s called Memphis design, and it’s a style that had a huge impact on the culture of the 80s and beyond.

 


David Bowie was an avid collector of Memphis pieces—the dining table pictured above was his!

But Memphis is much more than that ubiquitous “look” of the 80s. It was a design movement that changed the way the industry thought. And in the past several years it’s shown up all over the place, in new formats and through new applications. Memphis design style is quite popular today, and it’s possible you’ve seen Memphis-inspired designs without realizing it—in celebrity homes, in the fashion industry, in retail concepts and restaurant design.

With 1980s-inspired design trends returning to the popular consciousness in the last couple of years, we thought it was time to take a deeper look at this iconic style. So we talked to Modsy’s resident design historian, VP of Style Alessandra Wood, to learn more about Memphis interior design—both its history and impact. Read on to get the scoop on this zany, groundbreaking 80s interior design style, and learn more about how it’s showing up in the design world today!

Memphis Design Style Living room

What is Memphis Design?

“Memphis style is a postmodern design movement that developed in reaction to the modern designs of the mid-century,” says Alessandra. “It’s a fun and frivolous style that doesn’t take itself too seriously.”

The way that this style uses colors—a lot of primary colors, along with some pastels—makes it feel youthful and lighthearted. Patterns are also a huge part of this style—from geometric shapes like circles and triangles to terrazzo, squiggles, lightning bolts, and spirals.

80s MTV logos featuring a variety of Memphis-inspired patterns.

“Memphis design pushed boundaries—pushing the design world into new frontiers,” says Alessandra. “In the postmodern movement, especially out of Italy, designers were challenging the forms that came before them.” And the way these designers used shapes was a huge part of that. 80s Memphis design style was unlike anything the design world had ever seen.

And yet, there were elements that were subtle nods to the past. “Designers in the Memphis movement were actively trying to go against what came before them, but they were also making references to the past,” Alessandra adds The geometric shapes they used referenced Art Deco design of the 1920s and the vibrant color palette was borrowed from the Pop Art movement of the 1950s.

Where did this design style come from?

“In the 80s, huge cultural shifts were taking place in Europe and America,” Alessandra explains. “The US had a really strong economy that was rebounding after the recession in the 70s, and there was a new wave of wealth that came into play.” People were revelling in new technology and were looking toward the future with excitement.

Members of the Memphis group gathered on the Tawaraya Boxing Ring, designed by Studio Azzurro in 1981

Members of the Memphis group gathered on the Tawaraya Boxing Ring, designed by Studio Azzurro in 1981

Enter: The Memphis Group

In late 1980, Italian designer Ettore Sottsass gathered a group of designers at his apartment in Milan. They started by simply sharing inspiration, bouncing ideas off of each other, and getting feedback on their sketches.

But, in their excitement of the concepts they were creating, they decided to develop a collection of furniture and decor, which they showed at an exhibition in 1981. This collective of designers formalized their connection and shared aesthetic, dubbing themselves the Memphis Group.

Fun fact: The name “Memphis” seems odd for a group of Italian designers. But it comes from Bob Dylan’s song “Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again,” which the group was listening to at their initial gathering.

Carlton bookcase, designed by Ettore Sottssas in 1981

The iconic Carlton bookcase, designed by Ettore Sottssas in 1981, is probably the most recognizable and widely known piece of design from the Memphis movement.

Taking Design to the Next Level

The furniture and decor the Memphis Group created was unlike anything that had been made before. “It was a counter-movement against the very minimal and modern design of the mid-century,” says Alessandra. “They were looking to create designs that were lighthearted, funny, futuristic, surprising, and—most of all—pushing against the trends of the day.”

They rejected the trends of the past—but at the same time, they did borrow or make reference to certain elements from the past, which gave their zany pieces a look that had a sense of familiarity. “They were very intentional about their use of youthful colors, shapes, and patterns,” says Alessandra. “The Memphis Group took design to the next level, with the intent of bringing this playful spirit to the forefront of popular culture.”

Their actual furniture designs never widely made their way into people’s homes—but the overall style entered pop culture in a way that solidified its popularity, inspiring a lot of design that we’re familiar with from the 80s.

Miley Cyrus’ new home,

Miley Cyrus’ new home, designed by her momma Tish and featured in Architectural Digest, is adorned with a few iconic Memphis designs.

How are we seeing this look show up in design today?

Though Sottsass officially dismantled the Memphis Group in 1988, the Memphis vibe has lived on in various ways ever since. It’s an aesthetic that has infiltrated fashion, architecture, product design (see: the original Apple watch from the mid-90s), retail concepts, television and movie sets (think: Pee Wee’s Playhouse and “The Max” from Saved by the Bell), and so much more. The bright colors, bold graphic prints, and vibrant patterns have been applied in so many different ways since the 80s.

“Today, we’re seeing elements of Memphis design in retail and public spaces,” says Alessandra. One element of Memphis style that’s become quite a trend in the past couple of years? Terrazzo. “It’s a current trend that has a similar ‘soul’ to Memphis,” says Alessandra. Depending on the colors used in the terrazzo pattern, “it can elicit thoughts of confetti or sprinkles, which speaks to the playful, almost celebratory feeling that Memphis design creates.”

But we’re also seeing pop culture icons latch onto the zaniness of this style. Exhibit A: Miley Cyrus’ 80s glam home. It has some blatant references to Memphis design in some of the rooms—including a Memphis original. In her glam-room lounge, she has a Carlton bookcase, designed by Sottsass in 1981. But the playful and over-the-top style found throughout her home captures the playful spirit of the design movement.

 

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What’s the lasting impact of the Memphis Design movement?

“What I see as the lasting impact of the Memphis design movement is the ability for designers to take themselves less seriously,” says Alessandra. “The way they created also acted as an invitation for people to be less serious in how they design their spaces.”

“In the 80s, the Memphis Group was Introducing moments of quirkiness and fun into interior design,” she adds. “We’re seeing that sensibility in design today in the way that GenZ and some Millennials before them, are feeling the freedom to add quirkiness to their home’s design.”

 

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You’ll Know it’s Memphis Design When You See…

Furniture and Decor With Playful Forms

Pieces designed with the Memphis aesthetic feel fresh and different. The forms are non-traditional—some might even say wild and wacky! They tend to be fluid and have a sense of movement and playfulness to them.

Squiggle patterns, also known as the Bacterio print

Squiggles

Squiggle patterns, also known as the Bacterio print, was actually designed by Sottsass and quickly became Memphis’s trademark pattern. It’s a pattern that comes to mind for many people when they think of 80s graphic design, and it’s often used in conjunction with other patterns.

A Bold Use of Color

Whether it’s the primary colors mixed together or softer, pastel colors like seafoam green and light purple, the name of the game is bold. These colors are used in prints and patterns, offering even more visual boldness. And these color schemes are often accented with pops of black for contrast.

Visual References to the Past—With a Twist

Even though Memphis interior design was all about looking to the future, the iconic Memphis pieces all had some allusions to the past. But those references were always a twist on the original—reinterpreting a popular visual or cultural reference point from the past. Some examples? The Proust Armchair by Alessandro Mendini is an iconic example. Mendini was a member of the Memphis Group—but he actually designed the Proust Armchair in the late 70s as he began exploring postmodernism and the idea of REdesign. The armchair is inspired by 18th-century Rococo style—but the wooden frame is hand-painted in bright colors with a pointillism technique, and it’s upholstered in a matching fabric. The result is a bold chair that captures the heart and soul of the Memphis movement. Sottsass’s Casablanca Shelf is another great example of a piece designed with visual references to the past. The design was inspired by Victorian-era hall shelves but is given more modern lines and finished in that quintessential Memphis style.

Black and White Patterns Galore

Graphic, high-contrast black and white patterns—especially patterns that feature geometric shapes and squiggles—were a major element in the Memphis design movement. And these bold patterns in black and white show up a lot in today’s take on Memphis style.

Laminate and Terrazzo Used on More Than Just Floors

Before the 80s, laminate and terrazzo were materials used in flooring. But the Memphis Group gave these materials new applications, making tables and lamps out of these two materials. Today, you can still find tons of laminate furniture on the market. And terrazzo? It’s a pattern that’s been applied to just about everything, from tables and lamps to notebooks, art prints, pillows, mugs, and so much more.

 

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The Secret Ingredient Every Room Needs – How and Where to Add Natural Texture

living roomHere at Modsy, there’s a design element we talk about ALL the time. It’s the secret ingredient that turns any room from blah to beautiful. It helps create a warm and inviting space. And it is the key to making any room look perfectly polished. What is it? Texture! Layers and layers of natural texture.

There’s something so cozy and inviting about using natural textures throughout your home. Most people know how important color is in decorating, but not everyone appreciates the need for texture. Whatever the theme or style of your design, texture adds warmth, comfort, and nuance to your room. This can be in the form of visual or tactile textures—think colors and patterns vs. materials. Without it, even rooms filled with the most beautiful furniture can fall flat.

One of our favorite ways to add texture (and a current trend darling of the design world) is through natural materials! Natural elements can infuse any room with life and add an array of interesting textures. But you might be wondering how and where to incorporate these into your space?

First of all, if you’re wondering what exactly qualifies as natural materials, this post will give you the full scoop. Then, check out these 7 places to incorporate natural textures into your home!

woven textureStorage Pieces

For a major way to add a pop of texture to a room, look for a storage piece that features natural materials. It’s a great way to make a BIG style statement, as these pieces are usually larger and pack a more prominent visual punch. Talk about a conversation starter!

A cool texture can also turn what could be just another boring storage piece into a beautiful addition to your space! We picked this credenza with a woven seagrass front. The natural texture agrees with almost any style while making a visual statement that won’t be ignored. You can also find beautiful wood (such as burl), cane, or even cork varieties.

Lighting

Lighting is a small and easy way to experiment with adding different textures into your design. We love a good pendant made of woven rattan or rope, which you can also find in table lamp options as well. Ceramics or stones are another fun way to bring natural texture in through your light fixtures.

On the other hand, if you prefer to go big with natural textures in your furniture, stick to more streamlined designs for your light fixtures, like those currently popular in the industrial lighting trend. 

woven texturesSeating

Your main seating is also a great opportunity to layer in some natural texture. Consider a sofa, armchairs, dining chairs, benches, and even poufs or ottomans that have a natural look. For sofas, go with a natural material that won’t compromise the comfort factor. Linen and leather are great places to start! With accent seating (like chairs and benches) you can think a little more outside the box. These are great places to incorporate materials like rattan, cane, woven cord or rope, or even woven leather.

Stylist Tip: Pick different materials for your main and accent seating that will look great together. This is an easy way to bring a more layered, textured look to life in your space.

Art and Decor

Art and decor might be the easiest way to incorporate natural textures into your home. Items like wall art, mirrors, baskets, and decorative objects are all smaller and generally more affordable than a sofa or storage piece, for example. They offer a great low-risk way to experiment with different trends or decor ideas.

For the natural textures trend, consider adding art with a woven design. These woven raffia plates from All Across Africa are our current obsession. Mirrors with frames composed of rattan, driftwood, or another natural material are also great options. And, of course, the natural texture possibilities are endless with baskets and other small decorative accents.

woven texturePlants

How could we talk about natural textures without mentioning the queen of them all? Plants!

Indoor plants are the trend that has never died (and hopefully never will) for so many reasons. They boost your mental wellness, add color and beauty to a room, fill up odd nooks and corners—and we just love the way they liven up a space with oodles of natural texture. Play with different plant varieties together in one room to add contrasting textures.

Stylist Tip: If a living plant isn’t in the cards for you, consider adding a few sprigs of dried pampas grass eucalyptus to a vase for some lovely texture (and it smells amazing to boot!).

woven textureRugs

If you want to know more about the many functional benefits of natural fiber rugs, this post has you covered! From a style POV, these types of rugs are also a great way to add natural texture. Jute, sisal, and seagrass are the main varieties, but you can also find options that are blended with wool for a plusher under-foot texture.

Natural fiber rugs are also an awesome choice if you like the layered look. Larger sizes are generally less expensive than their wool counterparts. Plus, they provide a lovely versatile base that’s perfect for endless layering options.

Textiles

Aside from rugs, consider adding natural textures in other textile elements in your room. This could be pillows, throw blankets, or curtains. Even a sheepskin throw is a lovely way to add a pop of natural plushness to your room. For window treatments, consider linen drapes or bamboo blinds (or both together!).

Bring Some Natural Textures to Your Home

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Surface Styling 101 – Tips for Decorating All the Surfaces in Your Home

Surface styling is key in creating a homey, lived-in look! From your coffee table to your nightstand, it’s those final touches that turn a room into an Instagram-worthy interior. But surprisingly enough, it’s these small decorative moments that can be the trickiest things to master.

To help demystify the surface styling process, we’re cracking open our Modsy designers’ playbook and giving you the inside scoop on our best decor ideas.

Ready to give your surfaces the style treatment they deserve? Read on for our best surface decor ideas!

decor ideas

1. Nightstand

Function is the number one rule to keep in mind when styling your nightstands.

Start with a table lamp – the main event – and then layer on your accessories. Consider a bedside clock (a great alternative to smartphones) alongside other smaller accents like candles, a small plant, vases, and framed photos.

decor ideas2. Dresser

When it comes to decor ideas for your dresser, always start with taller pieces on the outside edges of the dresser. A collection of vases in varying heights, potted plants, or table lamps are great options here.

One you have these “bookends” established, layer in your smaller accent pieces alongside the larger decorative accessories – books, a jewelry box, or candles are all great options!

As far as crowning your dresser, if you need a mirror the place above your dresser is the perfect place. If not, a piece of art you love makes a great focal point.

decor ideas3. Pillows

Pillows are a great way to highlight a sofa, accent chair, or bed and introduce different colors, patterns and textures into your space. Layer your sofa with pillows to create dimension in your room and make your sofa look extra cozy for lounging!

Bonus idea – pillows can be an inexpensive way to change up your decor from season to season. When you get tired of the ones you have, swap in some new ones to totally mix up your look.

decor ideas4. Coffee Table

Books, candles and small decorative objects are the perfect decor ideas for dressing up an empty coffee table.

Keep scale in mind when choosing your accessories. Pieces that are too small will feel insubstantial and make your coffee table seem scattered. Accents that are too large will overwhelm the table and can make your space feel cluttered.

decor ideas5. Fireplace Mantel

If you have a fireplace, odd are it’s the focal point of your living room. This is a great opportunity to make your space shine!

Keep it simple with one large art piece or a mirror, or spice it up with an odd number of decor pieces on each end for a balanced look.

decor ideas6. Bookcase

Built-ins and bookcases don’t have to be packed to the brim with stuff! Styling each shelf with 2-3 decor pieces will help bring the room to life, without adding clutter.

Depending on how wide your shelves are, follow the 3-5 piece rule. The key is to group an odd amount of pieces together and switch up placement on each shelf. Be wary of too much symmetry, which can be distracting and often feel sterile.

Adding smaller pieces of artwork, books, and greenery are an easy way to fill up space and create that amazing, layered look.

decor ideas7. Credenza

Similar to mantels, a grouping of an odd number amount of decor on each end of a credenza or in the middle helps create a balanced look. The trick is to incorporate pieces of varying heights and shapes to keep the look visually interesting.

Credenzas are a great place to hang a large mirror, a statement artwork, or even create a gallery wall moment. Think about topping your credenza with bowls, vases, candles, greenery, books, and mini sculptures.

decor ideas8. Dining Table

No matter the size, all dining tables need some decor love! Consider one statement item, an odd grouping of smaller decorative pieces, or a few candles as quick and easy ways to complete the look.

Some of our favorite centerpiece ideas include bowls, candles and candle holders, vases, and flowers and greens!

Ready to see some 3D decor ideas in your room?

room-divider

Make It Multipurpose – 5 Ways to Work a Bench in Your Space

bench decor ideas

When you think bench you probably imagine something in a park or what you pull up to the kids table during holidays. And while many people think of a bench as just a bench – an afterthought to other staples of home decor – with a few clever bench decor ideas, a bench can easily become your favorite piece of furniture.

Benches are incredibly versatile and can be used in so many different ways. This makes them great investment pieces as you can repurpose them over and over when you move or get tired of seeing it in one spot.

Using one of our favorite multipurpose benches from Unison, we rounded up 5 of our favorite bench decor ideas to show you the many amazing ways to put a bench to work in your home.

Read on for 5 bench decor ideas and see if there’s a place for this versatile piece in your home.

bench decor ideas1. Seat in an Entryway

In busy households, there’s always a lot of traffic at the front door. A bench is a handy place to sit while taking off or putting on your shoes. They also have that handy area underneath the seat where you can put a basket to keep clutter tidy and out of the way, but still accessible when you need it.

We love the look of Unison’s Stippled Black Bench – it’s plush and comfy and the dark, textured fabric is great for kid-friendly households.

Need a little extra help containing the entryway clutter? Try a storage bench for a convenient place to stash winter boots, shoes, or umbrellas in a pinch!

bench decor ideas2. Coffee Table

Plot twist – You can even use a bench in place of a coffee table.

If that’s a puzzling notion, picture this: benches are ideal for small spaces where you need what little furniture you can fit, to pack an extra punch. By using a bench – like this Mesh Gray number from Unison – you get the same amount of surface area as a coffee table, but you can also use it as a foot rest or extra seating for guests.

Stylist tip: Place a tray on top of your bench to create a more sturdy surface to rest drinks and TV remotes.

bench decor ideas3. Tucked Behind the Sofa

If you’ve ever dabbled in the advanced art of “floating” a sofa – not a magic trick but a layout hack that can do wonders for your living room – then you may have asked yourself, what the heck do I do with the empty space in the back?

And – you guessed it – one way to have your sofa’s back is with a bench! This gives you another space for storage, a place for guests to put their purses or jackets, and can be easily pulled into the main living space as an extra seat for company.

Read this next: 4 Ways to Fill the Empty Space Behind Your Sofa

bench decor ideas4. Anchor at the Foot of the Bed

Every bedroom needs a place to sleep, but fully functional rooms also give you a place to sit while you get ready.

One of our favorite bench decor ideas is to place a bench at the foot of your bed. This gives you somewhere to sit and put on your shoes, plan your outfit, or plop your purse or bag at the end of the day (and keep your bed clear and clean!). A bench at the end of the bed is not only an attractive addition to your room, it’s practical as well.

Read this next: 7 Ways to Add Seating to Your Bedroom

bench decor ideas5. Room Divider

Open floor plans are great if you want a breezy space with great flow. However, they can cause a bit of a design conundrum if you struggle to separate the space into distinct zones.

If this sounds familiar, try using a bench to create a sense of division between the dining area and living areas, or the play space and entertaining room. Unlike a full wall, it won’t add any visual bulk to your space, and you can still appreciate the open layout while creating distinct zones or “rooms within rooms” in your space.

Explore Your 3D Home

Are you struggling to redesign your home? When you sign up for a Modsy design package, you’ll get expert design plans laid out in a 3D version of your home. Then you can shop your look, knowing exactly how all the pieces will look and fit in your home.

Ready for a design experience that’s guess-free and stress-free?

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6 Fresh Takes on the Gallery Wall

Gallery Wall Ideas

Who doesn’t love a good gallery wall? And while oversized wall art may be trending for 2018, sometimes you just need a way to display your fabulous collection of art all on one wall.  To give you a few fresh ideas on this look, we’re exploring a few different takes on the gallery wall game that are just as inspiring and impactful.

Read on for some ideas and tips for creating your own new and improved version of a gallery wall at home.

 

Gallery Wall Ideas

Try Some Shelfies

Rather than hanging your art, try propping a few of your favorite pieces on a shelf or two, which gives your wall an eclectic, layered look. This is a especially great if you like to switch up your artwork or move pieces around on the regular.

Stylist Tip: If you’re doing this over a sofa or your bed, be sure to anchor the art pieces to the wall with little nails and hooks in the back to secure them in place.

 

Gallery Wall IdeasDeck Out a Corner

Double the coverage with a gallery wall that fills out a complete corner. Try creating a display with graphic photos, paintings, and prints that hang on both walls of the corner as way to anchor a reading nook or a seating area just below. This take on the gallery wall is perfect for small and awkward corner spaces or even the base of a staircase.

Stylist Tip: Don’t be afraid to go vertical and hang art high up towards the ceiling. It will add intrigue and give the illusion of height. Mix in 3D objects or sculptures for a more eclectic vibe.

 

Gallery Wall IdeasGo Simple Grid Style

For a slightly more traditional take, create a grid-style gallery wall with pieces in all the same size and shape. Be it three artworks in a row or four in a grid, this is low-lift approach that guarantees a clean-lined arrangement.

Stylist Tip: Pick one style frame for all your pieces to create a more consistent and cohesive look.

 

Gallery Wall IdeasGive It the Midas Touch

Try using gold picture frames for all your pieces to bring unity to a gallery wall where artworks vary in sizes and subject matter. An array of gold frames will act as a common thread that ties the pieces together while also adding a little polish and shine to the overall look.

Stylist Tip: The best part about an eclectic mix of frames is that you can’t go wrong. If you can’t find a consistent frame for all your art, just mix and match with gold frames in various styles. Your gallery wall will look just as bold.

 

Gallery Wall IdeasHang From a Baseline

Usually when hanging artwork, the rule is to pick a midpoint and arrange all your art centered on that line. Break the rule: Try instead to determine a baseline and then hang all your different sized pieces in a row above that line.

Stylist Tip: Place taller art in the center and then taper outwards with smaller pieces; this will help the overall composition feel more balanced.

 

Gallery Wall IdeasKeep It Classic

The traditional gallery wall is all about the mix, so if make sure you play around with a diverse range of artworks in all mediums. This is one instance where the more mismatched your art, the more eclectic and personal the grouping will look above your sofa, bed, or a credenza.

Stylist Tip: With a gallery wall, always start with a hanging game plan. Consider the overall shape you want the pieces to form and work your way from the inside out. Next, lay your pieces out on the floor and decide where each artwork will go. If that sounds intimidating or you just want an extra set of eyes, Modsy can help create a 3D design plan for you to tweak until its right (don’t nail it until you nail it!).

 

Need help crafting a game plan for your gallery wall?