"Less is Bore": Memphis Design is Coming Back | NONAGON.style
“Less is Bore”: Memphis Design is Back in Vogue

“Less is Bore”: Memphis Design is Back in Vogue

Quintessentially Postmodern

Cissy Wang
Written by –
Cissy Wang
on April 2nd 2019
Cissy is a fresh graduate from CUHK with a major in English and Comparative Literature. Her writing gears towards the poetics of space in social, cultural and urban spaces. "In libris libertas" has always been her motto.

Memphis, the 1980s design movement that’s back in a big way. The Milan-based design collaboration started off one evening in 1980 with 22 designers sharing ideas and realizing they had something that would make a great collection; led by Italian architect and designer Ettore Sottsass, they formed Memphis Group. So the story goes, they named themselves after the Bob Dylan song ‘Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again’, as it played several times during the evening’s party.

Ashoka Table Lamp by Ettore Sottsass | NONAGON.style
image courtesy Casati Gallery

Era-Defining Design

The unveiling of the Memphis Group’s furniture collection at the 1981 Salone del Mobile turned heads and set the direction for a new trend in international design. Remembering the 80s as a decade involves a vibrant color palette, brash patterns and eccentric geometric silhouettes; it’s all slightly garish and can all be traced back to the Memphis Group. Materials like plastic laminate, terrazzo, and neon stood out against the earthy demure colors of the 1970s.


Memphis design fell out of fashion, as minimalism took hold of the 1990s. Nevertheless, almost 40 years on since its influential debut, this design movement is back in vogue.

Interior space decorated in the Memphis Design style | NONAGON.style
image source

Then and Now

The Iconic “Carlton” Bookcase, 1981

Carlton bookcase by Ettore Sottsass for Memphis Milano | NONAGON.style
image source

The “Carlton” room divider designed by Ettore Sottsass is arguably the most iconic piece among all. A bookcase, a room divider, or a dresser? This multi-functional piece is designed to blur functionality, or lack of functionality, which is typically postmodern. Produced in 1981, the original Memphis design can still be seen as a display piece in art shows and design museums around the world, such as its exhibition at Salone del Mobile in 2014.


Dennis Zanone's formidable Memphis Design furniture collection | NONAGON.style
image courtesy Casati Gallery

David Bowie was a collector, as was Karl Lagerfield who bought the entire first collection from Sottsass to decorate his Monte Carlo apartment (although he later sold it all at Sotheby’s in 1991). Now it’s down to Memphis aficionado Dennis Zanone who vies for the title of largest collection. Zanone collects all items from the ’81-’87 time from, using them as functional pieces in his home. When IKEA launched their Memphis-designed collection in October last year, we saw bold loveseats and abstract patterned textiles infiltrate more homes.

Kartell’s Tribute

Memphis Design: Kartell goes Sottsass. A Tribute to Memphis, 2014 | NONAGON.style

At the 2016 edition of Maison & Objet and IMM, Italian furniture and homeware brand Kartell offered tribute to the Memphis Group’s quirky style with their concept stores by showcasing their 2015 collection “Kartell goes Sottsass. A Tribute to Memphis”.


The energetic collection had been designed by Ettore Sottsass back in 2004, but at the time Kartell had decided not to produce due to technology restraints at the time. The collection is made up of vases, stools and lamps in bold shades of red, orange, yellow and indigo — as colorful as they are experimental.

Memphis Interior Painting Design

Bedroom decorated in the Memphis Design style | NONAGON.style
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More and more, the sensual play of bright colors and squiggly lines of Memphis design have made their way into editorial. In the bedroom above, a cheerful palette with “pop” colors is paired with patterned bedsheets and geometric-shaped bedside tables for a Memphis look.

Walala and Contemporary Design

Leader of Memphis Group revival: Camille Walala | NONAGON.style
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The London-based textile and interior designer Camille Walala claims Memphis Design as a key reference on her creative epiphany alongside the Ndebele tribe and op-art. In 2015, Walala created a line of homeware collection for the London design store Aria, done up in Memphis-inspired prints mixing her signature tribal pop style. The collection includes floor cushions, cube-shaped pouffes, pillows, plates, mugs etc., featuring eye-popping color blocks, dots and dashes, and bold geometric patterns.

Memphis-inspired mugs designed for Aria, Camille Walala | NONAGON.style
image source

What do you think of these 1980s design aesthetics? Let us know your comments below.


For more nostalgia make sure to check out the rest of our Furniture Guide series, and learn more about design trends from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. You can follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest for your daily dose of interior inspiration!


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