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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.”

  5. 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.).

  6. Midge Brock says:

    I was on of those Rockabilly kids driving around Hollywood in the 80’s , with a vintage dress and a guy with a 1950’s car sporting a greased Pomp! Oh what fun we had at shows at the Club Lingerie, The Palomino, or (the ULTIMATE) The PALACE !! “Thrift store” shopping on Melrose always produced such great finds! Now in my 50’s, I still love the styles of the 20’s-60’s…. (Don’t wear the crinolines anymore, but I do get compliments everywhere I go on my vintage Box Purse)

  7. Midge Brock says:

    Darn it, you beat me to the punch!! I was going to say “Nagel Prints” ! Also, Halogen lights ( Boy, were they hot!! ) ….

  8. Midge Brock says:

    or the Southwest print of a pot with a blanket on it…I’ve lived in Arizona for decades, but never once have I driven by along a road and seen a pot with a blanket sitting next to a prickly pear
    cactus!

  9. mary mcgraw says:

    Yes, lot’s of faux marbling! Lots of sponge painting!

    Tile with different color grouts.

    Leather chairs/sofas in varying colors.

    Light wood floors

    Lots of molding.

    Ikea makes its debut.

    micro aluminum blinds

    Black/gray speckled granite tops

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