The Shop

1980s Design is Back—And Much More Palatable

April 17, 2017

When the buying team shares trends of what they're seeing at design shows, in other stores, and in images with Amanda and Merrill, Food52’s founders, it's an opportunity to gut-check the distinction between style suggestions for the Food52 Shop, such as the dusky hues and turquoise skies of Santa Fe and industry trends that might fit less organically in the shop.

When Amanda and Merrill like a trend, the reaction is quick and excited. They might comment about recognizing a piece or suggest other products that would fit into the overall story. But when we declared in our presentation that the 80s were the next big decade making a resurgence in the home...crickets. Gut, consider yourself checked!

Yet, on an industry level, the 80s are undeniably back. Last summer, the buying team attended the Sight Unseen Offsite show and were struck by the bold uses of color and pattern the designers were showcasing. Cobalt blues, bright pinks, and electric yellows grabbed the eye. Geometrics stood out both on prints, with lines reminiscent of cut paper, and as shapes of furniture.

The trend is more specifically a resurgence of Memphis design, the Milanese design group that had its heyday in the 1980s. Memphis design is signified by geometric shapes, high contrast prints, and aggressive colors. As Gizmodo has reported in the past, this trend has been heating up since at least 2014. Design trends, especially for the home, tend to move slowly, so only now are these looks trickling down from forward-thinking design shows like Sight Unseen Offsite into everyday, accessible products.

Memphis design makes for a great trend in that it demands you form an opinion.

Memphis design in the 80s can clearly be seen influencing everything from Windows 95 graphics to the title cards from the Rugrats, both of which came about a decade later. Similarly, the trends’ resurgence is sticking around and becoming a bit subtler as it influences everyday products.

Our founders’ reaction to the trend is understandable. Memphis, even in its prime, was not fully embraced, and is now seen by many as encompassing the worst parts of 80s design. The look can cause some nice childhood nostalgia for some, especially those that only encountered the trend in its echos (hi, Saved by the Bell titles). For those who lived fully through it, though, it can seem like reliving a bad memory. The designs, even in current-day reimaginings, are not always the most practical, and at their worst feel like weird computer renderings come to life.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“It's funny - the toned down version of the 80's seems very 50's to me. All we need is some boomerang outlines on those trays!”
— Bonnie M.

But by being so dramatic and polarizing, Memphis design makes for a great trend, in that it demands you form an opinion. For all but the most ardent fans, it also allows you to use it as a jumping off point for more subtle designs. So even if you don’t love multiple bright colors jammed up next to bold black and white squiggles, you might see something worth experimenting with in those contrasts. The look can be a mental exercise—how would I make something this crazy work for me?

80s design you can live with (and like!) Photo by Bobbi Lin

In our own shop, we’ve already introduced products influenced by this era, if not screamingly so. The bold pastels of these trays recall the cobalts, teals, and pinks of Memphis, though a bit subdued. The speckled black corian lids on our new garlic jars and salt cellars seem a softer reimagining of Memphis’ prints of starkly contrasted black and white squiggles. The lines and iridescent finish of these book displays feel graphic and bold, if a bit more practical than some Memphis shapes.

The 1980s Memphis look may be more of an industry trend than a perfect fit for our shop (or for your home), but it is a great reminder that we can search for home inspiration even in the more jarring styles of the past!

Tell us: What design trend do you never ever want to return?

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Bonnie McNabb Myszka
    Bonnie McNabb Myszka
  • melissa
  • Matt
Jackson Fust

Written by: Jackson Fust


Bonnie M. April 21, 2017
It's funny - the toned down version of the 80's seems very 50's to me. All we need is some boomerang outlines on those trays!
Matt July 7, 2018
One of the Memphis Group's major influences was the 1950's so that's probably it.
melissa April 17, 2017
GAHHHH I'm not ready for the 80s to come back. Seems like just yesterday we were returning to popped collars and Madonna.
melissa April 17, 2017
I guess that was Pop 80's, and the new version is High Art 80's.