Spark joy in interior spaces with the Memphis Design Revival

Remember when all we could see on Instagram were millennial pink sofas? That sweet, slightly muted shade was everywhere—and on everything. Little did we know that it was a precursor to a larger comeback: bright colours are finally taking over our Instagram feeds again—but this time it's all about brasher hues.

If you've been keeping up with design trends, then you'll know that nostalgia is always a crowd-pleaser. But unlike a retro revival that involves neon '80s workout clothes, the Memphis Design Revival is about having fun with your interiors and opting for design choices that make you happy.

It made us think of Dopamine Dressing, a recent Pinterest Predicts trend that focused on fashion –

People are headed somewhere over the rainbow this year with vibrant outfits and colourful palettes. From rainbow dresses to electric blue outfits, 2022 fashion will be all about feel-good fits with an electric kick. All genders and age groups are driving this trend.

Paris, a chair in lacquered wood covered with decorative laminate, legs in painted metal. Designed by Martine Bedin in 1986.


Clesitera, a decorative Murano glass vase handmade with traditional free-blowing and mould-blowing techniques. Designed by Ettore Sottsass, also in 1986.

Who created Memphis Design?

The Memphis design movement was inspired by a collaborative design group of people who referred to themselves as the Memphis group. It was established by Italian architecture Ettore Sottsass, and included 22 other designers in the collective.

They made their debut in 1981 at the Milan furniture fair, but in fact, the collective itself had a very short lifespan of only six years before they went their separate ways. It was only after Sottsass’s death in 2007 that Memphis design was brought to light again.

Contemporary brands that have obviously been very inspired by Memphis design include Missoni, Karl Lagerfeld, Christian Dior and Supreme. Even BMW got in on the action.

Adrian van Hooydonk, Senior Vice President of BMW Group Design:

“During the nineteen-eighties, the Memphis Group questioned the formal severity and classic functionality of design artefacts both in a somewhat provocative and humorous manner. In this way, Memphis became a symbol of contemporary design. With its design drafts, the Group challenged existing dogmas, aroused emotions and created designs with high recognition value.
The BMW Group pursued a similar approach when designing the BMW i vehicles, questioning typical car design language, breaking new ground and redesigning vehicles from scratch."

These designs were inspired by mass-produced consumer items such as plastic chairs, shopping bags, and children's toys. Its trademark materials are plastic laminate, stainless steel, and fluorescent colours.

This resurgence has been in the works for a few years now. In 2013, for example, Dutch trend forecaster Li Edelkoort curated an exhibition drawing parallels between the Italian Memphis movement of the 1980s and contemporary South African design.

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Left: the flamingo side table by Michele de Lucchi as part of David Bowie's private collection. Contemporary brands that have obviously been very inspired by Memphis design include Missoni, Karl Lagerfeld, Christian Dior and Supreme. Even BMW got in on the action, with the help of Garage Italia Customs, at the 2017 edition of the Salone del Mobile (right).

Why Memphis Design was created

Why was it a thing at all? The designers were united by a philosophy that rejected Modernism in design and everything that it stood for.

They considered each piece in their collections to be a rebellious statement, which is something you can see in the striking colours and shapes used throughout —playful colours like pink and orange, squiggles and patterns in black-and-white or pastel colours and plenty of white space around everything else.

They stood for everything that Modernism was against form instead of function, evoking emotion instead of contentment, and contrasting nature instead of integrating it. – Art in Context

Sottsass' goal was not only to come up with an innovative look but also an original way of thinking about design: "Design is more than just creating objects," he said at the time. "It's also about designing languages."

Why ‘Memphis’? Why not ‘Milan’?

The group was named after Bob Dylan’s Stuck Inside of Mobile (With the Memphis Blues Again), which was playing in the background the day the group was formed.

¨(The Memphis Design Movement) is Pee-Wee’s Playhouse meets Miami Vice,” in the words of Alissa Walker at Gizmodo. “It’s Saved By The Bell plus Beetlejuice.”

Further reading and coffee-table eye candy for studious designers:

  • More is More - Memphis, Maximalism, and New Wave Design, by Claire Bingham
  • Postmodern Design Complete: Design, Furniture, Graphics, Architecture, Interiors, by Judith Gura (2017)
  • Memphis: Research, Experiences, Results, Failures and Successes of New Design by Italian design critic, writer, and editor, Barbara Radice (1985). (Radice, Sottsass's biographer and widow, works to preserve his legacy. She curated an exhibit of designer Ettore Sottsass's work at the 2017 Milan Triennial).
  • Postmodern Architecture: Less is a Bore, by Owen Hopkins (2020)

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The 'Ashoka' lamp is one of the several lamp designs produced by Ettore Sottsass for Memphis.


Supreme skateboards in Memphis style by Alessandro Mendini.


A very 1990s advertisement for the very first apple watch, which debuted in 1995...and won't remind you to stand up every ten minutes. Read more.


Sasha Bikoff's show-stopping Memphis Design inspired staircase for the 2018 Kips Bay Decorator Show House: read more

How to evoke the joyful fun of Memphis Design in your own interiors

Memphis inspired pieces are popping up all over our favourite retailers right now—and they're pretty easy to spot, thanks to their rowdy blend of colour, shape and texture. You can even still explore authentic vintage pieces by known designers from the Memphis Movement and, if you’re fast enough, nab a few for your own collection.

  • To create a space that captures the spirit of Memphis, we recommend using daring colours in odd combinations, and to not skimp on decorative accessories or unconventional furniture.
  • Fabrics-wise (because of course we’re going to look at that!), narrow your focus to upholstery with smooth textures and finishes. The colour palettes used by Memphis Group designers had an ‘everything with everything’ kind of feel to it, with eye-catching combinations of fluorescent colours and deeply saturated shades.
  • You can really turn the volume up on this style, or you can inject a more sophisticated feel by pairing colours together that are more conventionally seen together, or through pairing furniture with traditional silhouettes with more Memphis-inspired pieces that that stands out.
  • Be sure not to neglect finishes either: think about using terrazzo, plastic, and stainless steel.

Over to you

Memphis Design as a concept was inspired by postmodernism — a style of interiors that first emerged in Italy during the 1970s as an alternative to Mid-Century Modern classicism.

It calls to designers now to have fun with their work and really let their imaginations run wild, into a land of daring shapes, vivid colours, and smooth textures and finishes.

Looking for more trends and insights from the world of design and colour? We’ve got you covered.

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