1980s design and decorating trends — let’s make a list

1980s design and decorating styleA while a back we had some serious fun building a list of the major design and decorating trends of the 1990s. Now — let’s do it for the 1980s, before we forget. Okay, even if we want to forget. My memory on this one is pretty sparse — in the 1980s I was focused on building a career and finding a mate (not necessarily in that order). So I need your help: What did “everyone” want to put in their houses in the 1980s?

I think I can remember a few things, but help me, should these really make the list?:

  • Disco influenced decor — Lots of chrome, gray and black. My husband and I once rented a fancy 1986 house, an early McMansion (smaller than 1990s McMansions, but well on the way.) It had black lacquer wallpaper… gray plush carpet with insets of white and a darker gray… black laminate kitchen cabinets… and the powder room had a mirrored ceiling.
  • Polished brass — on plumbing fixtures, as insets in furniture pieces. And was there a lot of lacquer on furniture, too?
  • Southwestern — I remember this in textiles — bed sheets and comforters, to be exact. What do you think?
  • Corian — First days of Corian?
  • Colors: Emerald green… Peach… Purples… Teals. Think: Alexander Julian, the menswear designer; those colors, but on upholstery and towels and carpet, too. Go watch some episodes of Moonlighting 
  • Navajo White paint on the walls. Yes, I used this color on all the walls in the house I bought around 1986.
  • The term ‘yuppie’ seems to have entered common use in 1983. As I recall, yuppies revived bare wood floors – stained natural… bare brick walls… what else, when it comes to decor in the 1980s?
  • The Preppy Handbook was written in 1980. Trivia: I had dinner with Lisa Birnbach once. The Wikipedia page says this book influenced clothiers L.L. Bean and J. Crew. But what, if anything, did it do to influence interiors? Same as above for yuppies… or what? Ducks? Were ducks a 1980s thing?
  • Fern bars. OMG: TGIFridays! That’s one of the place we went looking for mates…. Again, though: Did fern bars influence home decor?
  • Memphis design — Ettorre Sottsass and friends try to break the old mold and create a new one. But it doesn’t last long.
  • White melamine kitchen cabinets with integrated blond oak handles. Like this kitchen, before it was remodeled.
  • What about Provence style kitchens? 1980s or 1990s? I recall this story I did calling this a 1980s kitchen.

Okay. That should get us started. The big trends? In kitchens? Bathroom? Decorating in general?  Let the contributions flow! P.S. I have started wearing a pullover sweater I bought around 1985, again. It’s purple with black flecks, kinda Memphis now that I think about it. And it’s long — like the kind you would wear over black stirrup pants ala Cathy. Good times.

1981-kitchen-harvest-goldAbove: Kate — and little brother Pat shown above — grew up in a 1981 ranch house. The kitchen had all harvest gold appliances (dishwasher, refrigerator, stove), butcher block laminate counter tops, sheet linoleum flooring, dark wood cabinets and trim, and grass cloth-like wallpaper. Photo courtesy of Kate’s Mom.

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Remember: Be kind to those who came before us.

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  1. Beckyvfrom Iowa says

    Brunswig and Fils polished chintz in a cabbage rose pattern…”tiffany” lamps, Laura Ashley everything, Edwardian golden oak, “Victoria” magazine…Now, let’s talk about the Ninties: Craftsman mania!

  2. Beckyvfrom Iowa says

    When I look, now, at pictures of my decorating efforts in the 80’s (my very first as a Real Grownup…all that chintz and peach and mauve, the golden oak and ferns and Laura Ashley, wicker and Country cottage chic) I almost cannot BELIEVE I thought it looked so wonderful. And I worry: 20 years from now, will I likewise cringe at my Danish modern teak, pole lamps, rya rugs, Milo Baughman style furniture, my fiberglass chairs and pendant lamps, and those turquoise, avocado and burnt orange colors? Will I say, “you must have lost your mind, Becky!”? That makes me sad…

  3. Meghan says

    We had a living room with a shell pink, puffy sectional sofa, a wood veneer wall unit, glass and brass tables, and funny shaped mirrors on the wall. Beige wall to wall carpet. The kitchen had oak cupboards, and my bedroom was all Ikea.

    My dad who lived in the country had a kitchen with tons of wallpaper – dark green plaid on the bottom half of the walls, flowers on a white background on the top half, and a wallpaper border of country houses between them. And I think there were some geese in there as well.

    A lot of my dislike for wallpaper comes from trying to deal with houses decorated during that period. What a pain to get off all those layers and borders.

  4. Al W. says

    I haven’t seen anyone mention the elaborate layered window dressings that also served to completely hide the fact that a room had windows.

    Also, oak kitchens (my parents’ house was built in ’87, and it’s still filled with oak cabinets and faux butcherblock formica countertops). If it wasn’t oak kitchen cabinets, it was white formica cabinets with a thin oak strip along the edge that doubled as the pull.

    I’ve seen a lot of people mention country, but I think country crosses decades. I think it’s the trappings of country that change. The very ’70s place we lived at when I was very young had the wood-armed dark stained couches with the velour fabric with wagons and wildlife printed on them. Dark stained wood and animal heads seemed to be ’70s country.

    ’80s country, at least as done by my parents, went for light-stained or natural colored woods. Animal heads were gone in favor of animal artwork. Furniture went from having wildlife and wagon prints to being pastels with various colors swiped through them (IIRC, it wasn’t until the ’90s when they upgraded to hunter green chairs with a couch that looked like someone vomited colors on it and had the exposed wood bits only at the ends of the arms). Arts-and-crafts time wall decor with twigs and grasses and things adorned the walls and added accents to the wildlife portraits.

    Really, had this come up six months ago, I could have just gone to my parents’ house and taken a boatload of photos.

  5. Amanda says

    Definitely lots of burgundy and hunter green color palettes. Brass was big. And if you had a daughter, a bedroom decked out in Laura Ashley and a canopy bed with lots of ruffles. I remember ruffles being big in the 80s. They were everywhere – on curtains, beds, and clothing.

    Also, overstuffed, giant couches.

    Most styles I remember in the 80s were very traditional. If there was anything modern, it was lots of brass or silver & glass furniture, mixed with mirrors. My husband and I refer to it as “coke dealer modern”.

  6. Melanie says

    In the 80’s I was a young newlywed with no money. So the 80’s for me were all about leftover harvest gold, some burnt orange, and chocolate brown.

    I do remember those geese with the “country blue” bows around their necks. I seem to remember a lot of dusty rose. The one piece of new furniture I could afford has that muted pastels southwest upholstry.

    Having come of age in the 80’s, I have no desire to see any of that stuff make a comeback. I didn’t really like any of it. And, I can now understand why my parents don’t understand me collecting stuff from the 50’s, because they think it’s just all ugly junk. (They started married life with a pink bathroom and pink appliance kitchen. Swoon!)

  7. Karen says

    All I can remember about 80s decor (I’d really like not to remember) is This End Up furniture. My parents gave me a This Ends Up sofa and chair when I graduated from college and moved into my first apartment. Not my favorite furniture.

    My home is now furnished in my great grandmother and grandmother’s furniture.

    • lynda says

      This End Up was sturdy stuff. I still see it sold on Craigslist. Slip covers are easy to make for the cushions. It was not so attractive, but certainly was just perfect for starting out. Path of the furniture was probably family room; then to the basement; and then off to college with the kids!

  8. Teresa says

    Almost forgot Martha Stewart! She emerged as a real aribter of style in the early 80’s and love of all things Martha sent me scurrying for Moser Jadeite cake plates. I learned to cook, entertain, and decorate from Martha…. and she’s the main reason I prefer vintage to cheaply constructed/faddish stuff today.

  9. Julia says

    Futon couches, Inflatable palm trees, and christmas lights as lighting. Also, isn’t this when the whole blue and white “French Country” kitchen look started?

  10. Just another Pam says

    Every decorating age has something to offer but, personally, this one doesn’t offer anything I want. On the other hand can’t wait to let my son and daughter-in-law they are now officially vintage. I think my son is the only thing I kept from the ’80’s.

  11. Michelle Spencer says

    1987. Inspired by the salon at a Sanger-Harris store, I painted my apartment dark teal blue with black trim. This did not go well with the ugly brown carpet, so I pulled that up to reveal very unfinished wood floors beneath.No biggie; I just tossed down some cotton rugs from Pier 1. I may have intended to put down some peel-and-stick vinyl tile in a black-and-white checkerboard pattern, but I never got around to it.

    My landlord was not amused.

  12. Cindy says

    Pastels! My aunt and uncle had a beach condo decorated in the most h******** pastel color scheme. I seem to remember a mirror wall, too. *shudder*

  13. Lisa says

    I don’t know if this was just a Mid-Western thing but all of the houses had faux paint finishes of some sort: sponge painting, scrunching, dragging, feathering, combing, etc. Also, lots and lots of hand stenciling. All the stores had stencils you could buy in several different styles: primitive Colonial, Victorian, country, French country, etc. Also, using fake plants to decorate: ficus, ivy, ivy, and more ivy, grape vines…Perhaps this was just regional but there was a lot of Amish influence in the decorating. Quilts were great but to have an Amish quilt was the bomb. Oak furniture was everywhere but the best most desirable stuff was made by Amish craftsman. Wondering how regional design trends were.

  14. Maurice Fuentes says

    For “new” or “contemporary” homes in the 1980’s, I tend to think of the “New Wave” influence, like Ettore Sotsass’s Memphis design movement, or maybe Gary Panter’s set for “Pee Wee’s Playhouse”.

    For older homes, there was the Reagan-era-meets-“Dynasty” look of Ralph Lauren—sort of implying a baronial family history that never really existed.

    But I think what I remember most from the Eighties were drop-shouldered sweaters and “conservative” mullets. Think Michael J. Fox on “Family Ties”. All of his sweaters were made by “Colours by Alexander Julian”.

  15. Joe Felice says

    Navajo white–aka almond. Almond, almond, everywhere! Even the laminated cabinets with the oak pulls. If you didn’t have those, then you had dark oak cabinets. Vinyl floors finally came into their own, replacing linoleum. (Well, I guess they allowed Congoleum or Marmoleum.) The ’80 was the decade when color finally disappeared. Isn’t this the beginning of greige exteriors? And yes, in men’s clothing, preppy was in, complete with starched & turned up collars. Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein & Armani took over. I would say this decade set the stage for boring, a perfect segue into the ’90s. These are what I remember.

  16. Val says

    Ample use of glass block–both indoors and out. Showers, windows, full accent walls, half height pony walls. Bonus points if the wall was curved or rounded.

  17. sharon says

    Wallpaper borders everywhere!!!! White 6×6 backsplash tiles mixed with handpainted to match your wallpaper border if you were lucky!! White painted interior trim and molding everywhere (back again in a big way). White Corian countertops which I had and LOVeD and would do again!!

  18. Lena_P says

    It’s not that easy for me to think of *nice* designs from the ’80’s, despite enjoying the decade itself. I didn’t like the interior decorating styles of the time much then or now, but I feel like product design was pretty great. Stereos and boomboxes were straight-edged and a little chunky, but their “efficient” and sturdy design was easy to use, unlike my current blu-ray player which has the play and pause symbols just stamped into shiny, black plastic making it impossible to read unless you’re at just the right angle.
    And even if the decade was sort of derivative in recycling past decades’ looks (Victorian,20’s,30’s,50’s) it was nice to have many different “styles” to go to. My aunt’s house was bursting with geese and oak, while my mom had black and glass and chrome and both were “current”. And I still love my parents’ smoked glass dining table. Being round makes it easy to seat ten and still be able to hear everyone, and with the lights low the smoky glass really shimmers and sets of crystal and metal beautifully, plus it works surprisingly well with both “traditional” china and more modern settings.

  19. Joe Felice says

    I recall lots of brown to go along with the almond. When I bought a new townhouse in 1984, there were 5 choices of carpet–all shades of brown, and 3 choices of vinyl–all with brown in them. At least I can’t say the decision was difficult! I also recall butcher-block counter tops were popular, and trim was all dark oak, which people eventually painted. That morphed into white-on-white in the ’90s.

  20. Blondie7 says

    I apologize for being late on this topic, but I have been mad busy. Anyway, I looooooove and miss the 1980s. This is the era in which I was required to: respect my parents, go to school, hang around other good kids, and graduate.

    The 1980s TV shows were: Designing Women, Golden Girls, MTV, Flashdance, Miami Vice, Moonlighting, Scarecrow and Mrs. King, Different Stokes, Highway to Heaven, Dynasty, Mr. Belvedere, Dallas, Falcon Crest, and the movie Pretty in Pink etc…

    The classic TV shows in the 1980s were: I Love Lucy, Leave it to Beaver, Dick van Dyke, The Andy Griffith Show, Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C, Green Acres, Dragnet, The Brady Bunch, Dark Shadows, I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, Hazel, The Munsters, The Adams Family, Big Valley, and Bonanza etc…..

    The décor in my household and neighborhood in the 1980s: were mainly Victorian (and sometimes similar to the décor on Designing Women), traditional, Queen Anne, or art deco; however, I always had a love for French provincial and MCM (but during the 1980s MCM furniture was rare to find in thrift stores, maybe people had not departed with that type of furniture, just yet); also, as others mentioned: the Laura Ashley bedroom décor was in. Floral wall paper was the rage in the 1980s.

    The fashion in the 1980s was a mixture of: dressing like Madonna, or Michael Jackson; Norma Kamali fashion, huge earrings, big hair, the preppy look (or wearing stirrup pants and riding boots) ; just as other bloggers said: the Laura Ashley fashion was a big hit in the 1980s or the romantic look; Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan, Perry Ellis, MCM handbags were the rage in the 1980s.

    Ahh, the 1980s! I love and miss every bit of that gaudy era, they were great times!

  21. mcmsdmike says

    i rented my first apt in 1986 . it had the white euro kitchen thin oak trim around the edges. with no knobs . open with your . fingers under the door to open .i whore grey or red socks nikes , sperry deck shoes with no socks, still had my oP shorts, checkerd vans listened to it s a dead mans party on cassette all the time

  22. Maria says

    I loved the 80s also. Loved loved loved. I had an apartment back in the day with pink metal cabinets and a light green refrigerator. The building was late 50s-early 60s. Great kitchen that I miss.

    As I recall, a lot of us started collecting all kinds of things from the 1930s through the 1960s back in the 80s. Clothes, luggage, dishware, hats, costume jewelry — you name it. I know I did and I wore that wonderful stuff everywhere — including the office. Fabulous fabrics from decades prior were still very easy to find in those days. Curtains, especially.

    Anyway, whenever I think of interior décor, I recall the movie Wall Street and what the Daryl Hannah character did to and for Charlie Sheen’s back-in-the day luxury apartment. So funny to think about and look at now. What the character did to the place was not my style then or now but I remember being amused by how clearly her efforts were meant to be the height of 80s style. Distressed walls, billowing white curtains, columns, busts, Basquiat-type paintings (those I do like), and all manner of uncomfortable looking furniture.

  23. Marta says

    My house was built in 1987-88. It had huge globe lamps in all the rooms. They were very common (and cheap) in the eighties. I “upgraded” to fancier lamps after a while. Those fancier lamps were “upgraded” to even fancier lamps, until I started looking for mid century lamps, which now have substituted them. My house was designed in a style that more resembles mid century than eighties, because that was my style from birth, being born in 1955. There are almost no 80’s features in my house. I really was not in love with most of them. But if I could go back, the globe lamps were the ones I would not change.

  24. Kymberly says

    Dusty Rose (aka Mauve), and Slate/Dusty Blue (aka blue :) and shiny brass.

    All I have to say is if those white geese wearing the little blue bows come back. I’m officially done with trends.

    • Joe Felice says

      Ah, yes. Thanks for reminding us! And don’t forget the green ivy wallpaper border, complete with matching tablecloths, napkins, and kitchen canisters! I knew folks who had the entire ensemble. Also, seafoam-green was ubiquitous.

  25. says

    I remember Princess Diana had a big influence on fashion and decor in the 80s. Mario Buatta’s big floral chintzes were the thing – buttery yellow backgrounds with giant cabbage roses, lots of throw pillows, the Queen Mother’s silver on the buffet, and hundreds of silver and brass framed photographs on one table.
    There was the country quilt influence too – deep mauve colored walls or carpet, dusky blue painted cabinets or furnishings, quilt patterned borders on the walls.
    Borders were big, as well as tiny prints below a chair rail, and big patterns with lots of background space above. Judge’s paneling in family rooms too. Lace window treatments, or balloon-y shades. Lots of puddling and ruffles and pleats – dressmaker details.
    I always think of the 80s as the frumpy, pink-mauve-blue-gray decade.

  26. Beverly says

    Frou-frou window treatments. There was a sorta-embroidery hoop-thingy that was hawked on the TV shopping channels that you could pull yards and yards of fabric through so that you could make your own valances sans help of a designer.

    For a period of about 15 minutes during the mid-80s it was fashionable to have a bathroom with mismatched colors of fixtures. I knew of one house that sported a red bathtub, pink sink, chartreuse toilet and brown shower. Some years later I drove past the house, which had recently been sold, and all the fixtures were out on the curb for the garbage truck. ’nuff said.

  27. Cydny says

    It was hard to part with my vintage Ikea and Scan furniture from the mid-eighties. Black, Glass, Rosewood, unusual lighting, with colors from Georgia O’Keefe’s White Rose with Lakspar print..

  28. virginia says

    The 1980s were awesome not just because a lot of the decor, when not a caricature of itself, was quite nice, but because that decade brought interest in the 30s-40s-50s-60s into sharp relief. Most everyone was both exhausted and enthused as I recall — especially those of us then in our early 30s. The nostalgia thing hit hard and in good ways — in clothing, decor, movies, music, and even food — And we were still close enough to it to be able to either inherit it or pick it up for a song. Good times.

    The 80s began the moment of looking back and reassessing. It’s definitely vintage and, even better, the best of the 80s is vintage of vintage.

  29. Scott says

    How about “Mediterranean Regency Casual” which would have still made use of Avocado and Harvest Gold in the kitchen and bath.

    And, how can we forget, the 1980s brought us the first really big 1950s Revival. Aqua, Pink, Leopard. It wasn’t the faithful referencing of the period so many of us love today, but it was a big step in the right direction.

    Oh wait, and one more… High Tech! Metal pendant lamps and folding chairs, sawhorse desks and dining tables, and metal office furniture repurposed as coffee, end tables, and night stands. That was totally my college years apartment look with a little bit of (leopard) 1950s Revival.

  30. Pat says

    Hmmm, I definitely was an 80’s gal, having gotten married in 1983. But, my decorating style hasn’t changed much because about the only thing that has changed for me are the colors, not into the mauve anymore. That’s because I have always gone vintage in everything possible, including my 1950’s stove which almost kicked the bucket this winter, but hubby finally figured out what was wrong with it. Well, I guess I did have some wooden painted geese for awhile, lol!

  31. Marie says

    Every room in my parents’ house was (and still is) wallpapered in a variety of mostly floral – but always BIG – prints. Butterflies and not just ducks but also swans were big. Gold trimmed art prints. Mauve or dusty pink and blue on everything (I still own some plastic-ware from the 80s in those colors). Bad floral prints on furniture and curtains usually featuring something large and cheap looking. Those creepy art prints http://31.media.tumblr.com/61f695c234053acc94bb3e8fd3f9d377/tumblr_mm6ccbM25j1r34zhyo2_1280.jpg Our fridge was brown and the dishwasher had to be rolled over to the sink to hook up and get water….for years after it sat in the middle of the kitchen as an extra countertop. Butcher block countertops were common as were fixtures in brass/gold.

  32. Alex Ellsworth says

    Actually, stainless steel commercial-look appliances and granite countertops are an 80’s trend. They started in the very early 80’s on the high end and took 20+ years to filter down to the masses.

    It’s very important to distinguish between “high style” and commercial style. Look at back issues of Metropolitan Home from the early 80’s and you’ll see the kitchens I’m talking about. But what was in the high end publications was different from what was accessible or even known to the masses. TV shows, by the way, often reflect the higher end of mass taste. Architectural Digest interiors of the time could hold up today as art pieces, while the mass-market commercial trends would be panned as tacky and dated. The same has probably held true in every time period, including now. THAT’S why to look, as we do, for really good design rather than blindly following trends.

    • pam kueber says

      I disagree with your statement that good design was only shown in high style, high end publications ergo high style, high end houses. In addition. looking at high end magazines today I see plenty of stuff that appalls me.

      • Alex Ellsworth says

        Sorry Pam; I didn’t mean to come across that way. I totally agree with what you have to say. Tex-Mex or Taco Bell, Burgers or Beef Bourgignon, I love it all. A Mozart Symphony, an Elvis classic, and a disco tune are each distinct experiences that provide distinct pleasures. Some people may like one more than another, but I think they’re all worthwhile and complimentary. Same with styles.

        Since I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be different, so I’ve tended to eschew the trends of the present and look toward different eras in the past. In 1991, when all my middle school friends were drooling over CD players, I was an 8-track fanatic. At 11, I was begging my father for a thrift store Eames chair. I’ve loved foil wallpaper since I can remember, and I’ve always been obsessed with the state-of-the art of yesteryear. My style has broadened from an original 70’s disco fascination up through the 80’s and down through the 50’s. So here I am on Retro Renovation!

        There is beauty to be found in virtually any style – it’s all about color, balance, and creativity. Style is very personal, and I like things that challenge me just a little: right on the edge of gaudy or “tacky” (in the eye of the beholder), yet somehow fabulous. I did NOT mean to come across as elitist: I respect all styles for what they are.

        • pam kueber says

          Hi Alex,

          Thanks for the follow up. Welcome! I have a pretty immense tolerance for design styles and can see the beauty in much much much. Some folks are not much into design, but if they keep a tidy house and display what they love, it’s beautiful in my eyes. Others are more into design, and may take chances that go over the top — but hey, they are pushing into new frontiers, well done!!! Others who are into design and are very careful, very cautious and curated — hey, it’s your house, make it a place that makes you happy — well done.

          I continue to want to make this blog a place of great acceptance of diverse approaches and gratitude for the fact we even have so much abundance we can be dallying into such topics. There is no single or narrow swath of “what is right” or “what is better” or “what is best.”

  33. Ed says

    Well, if the music from when I went to high school is a “Classic Flashback”, the style from the first decade of my life must be “Vintage”. Makes me want to find early 80s PBS children’s programming on DVD (3-2-1-Contact, Reading Rainbow, etc.).

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