What Is Memphis Design And How Can You Incorporate It In Your Space?

If there's one interior style that defines the 1980s, it's Memphis Design. Though the name may suggest something different, it didn't originate in Tennessee but rather in Milan, Italy. The design force behind the style was architect and designer Ettore Sottsass, along with other Italian designers. Together they wanted to challenge the design principles that had been the norm by turning them on their head.

And Memphis Design did just that. The style uses bold colors, graphics, and clashing patterns, which were controversial at the time. You can see the influence of pop art and Art Deco in sculptural furniture, curved lines, and eccentric artwork. Memphis Design was polarizing, but this made it a reference point for pop culture and other designers in the fashion, movie, and television industries; think of the set and fashion style seen on "Saved by the Bell." Love it or hate it, Memphis Design is an enduring part of interior design history.

Characteristics of Memphis Design

Colors are bright in Memphis Design; this isn't the style that uses a lot of neutrals or muted shades. Think radiant, primary colors combined with pastels and neons. Color combinations in the design scheme and on individual furnishings were unorthodox, even clashing at times. The eclectic combination of hues can best be seen in the famous Carlton bookcase from Memphis Milano, which employs a variety of shades across the angled arms and shelves. 

Black and white were often used to create graphic accents and eye-catching patterns, such as stripes, squiggles, zigzags, and abstract and geometric shapes. Multiple shapes are usually combined in a motif to create a colorful and chaotic scheme.

When it comes to furniture, Memphis Design retakes the abnormal route. They're angular and uniquely shaped, often featuring curves and arches. They're also geometric and post-modern, using cantilevering methods to create pieces that look as if they defy gravity, such as spherical legs on a coffee table. Memphis Design was also eccentric in the materials used, incorporating terrazzo and laminate when those materials were more common for flooring rather than furniture at the time.

Memphis Design in your home

You don't have to go hunting through vintage stores to find Memphis Design pieces unless you're keen on having an authentic Memphis interior. Though, if you're eyeing the iconic Carlton bookcase and the Bel Air chair from Memphis Milano, the original designs are about $17,000 and $15,000, respectively. Many may love the characteristics but may find Memphis Design overwhelming overall. But that doesn't mean you have to forgo the style completely. Modernize Memphis Design by restricting the color scheme to three or four contrasting colors to incorporate the aesthetic without feeling swallowed by color. You can also ground the bright shades with neutrals.

Bring in bold patterns in unique ways like graphic rugs, art, and pillows. Graphic wallpaper is another great way to make Memphis modern, especially in squiggly linework and abstract shapes. Also, look for light fixtures with curved arms and geometric lampshades. For example, the Jonathan Adler Miami Pendant from Paynes Gray has a sleek geometric design with squares that add an exciting pop of color. As for art, modern and contemporary pieces that play with shape and form and incorporate bold colors are best. The overall style is playful, so creating a fun space that reflects you is key to nailing the look.