Memphis Style Interior Design 101: History and Elements

Memphis interior design is a retro style popular in the 1980s. It utilizes bright colors, geometric shapes, and a mismatch of decor.

While it was short-lived, Memphis interior design began to reemerge in the fashion and home decor world in the early 2000s and is gaining traction again. Here’s the history and elements of this bold style.

The History of Memphis Interior Design

Characteristics of Memphis Design

In 1980, Italian architect Ettore Sottsass met with 22 colleagues to discuss the future of design. The group of architects, known as the Memphis Group or Memphis Milano, opposed the popular streamlined styles, such as mid-century modern and brutalism. 

The group created and debuted 55 pieces in their new Memphis style at the 1981 Milan Furniture Fair, known as Milan’s Salone del Mobile. Their furniture combined Art Deco style and pop art, featuring bold colors, geometric shapes, cheap materials, and mismatching patterns. The style became recognized globally and was one that consumers either loved or hated.

Ettore Sottsass left the Memphis Group in 1985, and the rest of the group broke apart in 1987. Still, the impacts of their designs left a lasting mark.

In the early 2000s, Memphis design reemerged in the fashion world. The style inspired a 2011/2012 Christian Dior Haute Couture collection, a 2015 Missoni collection, and a 2014 American Apparel collection. In 2017, home furnishing company West Elm released Memphis-inspired designs.

Characteristics of Memphis Design

If you’ve ever watched the hit 90s show “Saved by the Bell,” you’ve witnessed a Memphis design scheme. Here’s how to get the look in your home.

Bright, Bold Colors

The Memphis style is full of bright, bold hues mixed without rhyme or reason. For example, a single chair may feature a bright pink cushion, red back, and yellow side. Memphis colors are unexpected and in your face, so if you want to adopt this style steer clear of muted color palettes.

Geometric Shapes and Squiggle Marks

The Memphis style uses a lot of geometric shapes in furniture, decor, and pattern. Look for rugs and wallpapers that feature a mix of triangles, squiggly lines, circles, and squares. Also, opt for unconventionally shaped furniture such as an octagon stool, triangular lamp shape, and circular shelves.

Plastic and Laminate Furniture

Rather than the high-end or natural materials in most interior designs, the Memphis style utilizes cheaper pieces like plastic and laminate. Using these aids in the opposition against the modern designs of the time that favored raw, natural materials.

A Clash of Patterns

In most interior design schemes clashing is discouraged, but not in Memphis-style decor. You can use a different wallpaper on all four walls, each with its distinct pattern. Likewise, you can choose a different design for your bedspread, curtain, and rug.


Terrazzo is a composite material containing marble, quartz, and glass chips. While it’s often a floor treatment, Memphis designers use it in furniture like lamps and tables.

A Fun of Aesthetic

Memphis design is a revolt against streamlined, modern interiors. And rooms decorated in this style often look fitting for children. A mix of vibrant colors and shapes leads to an energetic and youthful look.

Examples of Memphis Style Interior Design

While the Memphis group was only together for seven years in the 1980s, this style is returning. Here are some examples of contemporary Memphis interior decorating.

Memphis Style Living Room

Characteristics of Memphis Design

The designers went with an authentic Memphis style in this living room, using retro furniture and unconventional shapes. Every piece is unique, giving the space a fun, throwback aesthetic.

Memphis Style with Softer Colors

Characteristics of Memphis Design

The designers of this living room incorporate Memphis-style furniture and geometric shapes. The color palette is toned down compared to the original 1980s designs.

Memphis Style Bathroom

Characteristics of Memphis Design

The wallpaper in this bathroom encompasses the geometric designs and patterns of Memphis decor. It makes such a statement that other decor pieces are unnecessary.

Memphis Style Teen Bedroom

Memphis Style Teen Bedroom
Hollub Homes

The designers of this bedroom drew inspiration from Memphis style with the vivid pink accents, geometric shapes, and colorful rug. The circular shelving unit also pays homage to this style.