What Is Memphis Design?

Pee-Wee’s Playhouse meets Miami Vice. A shotgun wedding between Bauhaus and Fisher Price. Wildly bizarre.

Memphis design has been described in all these terms and more.


The Memphis Group’s Carlton bookcase

During its early years, the Memphis movement was as polarizing as it was revolutionary. In the 1980s, the phenomenon rattled the design world to its core. But in its current resurgence, Memphis is being embraced for its history, boldness, and throwback appeal.

The Backstory

Inspired by a large collection of converging movements, including art deco, pop art, punk rock, early new wave, and, perhaps most notably, postmodernism, Memphis design peaked from 1981 to 1987.

The movement was begun by a small group of game-changing designers in Milan, Italy. (Yes, that’s right, the Milan that’s precisely 4,941 miles from Memphis, Tennessee – a town which was featured in the Bob Dylan song that played in the background during the group’s first meeting.)



Peter Shire, sofa Big Sur, 1986. From the Memphis Milano Collection


The style offers a strong illustration of many hallmarks of postmodern ’80s design, including

– Mixed materials

– Overtly angular geometry

– A riot of bright, saturated, and often contrasting colors

– A seeming refusal to embrace the streamlined or refined

– Incorporation of graphic patterns, often in black and white

What now?

So why do we love Memphis today? Because it’s design-forward but uber accessible. Thoughtful, but without taking itself too seriously. And it’s bold and fun. (Who doesn’t love bold and fun?)


A perfectly placed Memphis piece can bring a burst of whimsical glamour to the right space. So we’ll leave you with some practical tips for incorporating these oh-so-now looks into your own spaces:

Remember that less is more.
Minimalist pieces reign supreme in Memphis design.

Keep every detail feeling clean and open…
by incorporating mirrors, glass, and chrome. How about Stainless Steel Ice Tongs or a Titanium Bottle Opener?

Go graphic in every way.
Consider the lines of your furniture, the patterns of your upholsteries, the placement of your accessories, even the way shadows fall throughout the room.

Mix it up.
Your tabletop is a great place to start combining the bold colors and patterns of the Memphis movement. How about Splatter Plates, Falcon Tumblers, and a Grid Black Euro Runner?


Raid the storage unit for inspiration. 
That desk you said goodbye to in ’91 might be ready to make a comeback.

Take it beyond the home front.
Think toys, gifts, or jewelry, like a Laszlo Necklace.


If you’re new to the trend…
monochrome patterns provide a great starting point for your future Memphis adventures; they’re a bit easier to incorporate than the super-saturated hues ahead.

Want to start even smaller?
A few changeable accessories will update your look and let you test the waters. Try a few Shapes Drink Rocks or Ana Candles to light up the room, then see where the mood takes you next.