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.

NOTE: BE NICE — let’s be lovers not haters.
Remember: Be kind to those who came before us.

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  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

  4. 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

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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..

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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!

  14. 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.

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