Nothing says 80’s like the Memphis design movement. Launched in 1980 by Ettore Sottsass when he gathered a group of designers at his home in Milan for a pow wow. The result was a visceral response to the austerity of modernism that had dominated for decades, and the quintessential, over-the-top-ness of the 80’s began.

They chose the name from a Bob Dylan song, “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again.” Apparently that was the soundtrack for the night.

For me the Memphis look is one of the few true original styles of design that didn’t come from a previous decade or look, much like the Punk movement. Nothing has ever been seen like it before or since. In fact, I’m hard pressed to think of a design aesthetic since that is so original. This makes me respect and admire it even more...

Primary colors, graphic patterns, geometric shapes mixed with bold black and white stripes was coveted by the likes of Karl Lagerfeld and David Bowie. Lagerfeld was known for periodically getting rid of everything he had and starting fresh. His Monte Carlo home in the 80’s is the best example of Memphis in full swing. Bowie was also a huge collector, though after his death it performed poorly at auction. Recently Memphis has started to gain popularity on the market and many of the designers that created the movement are discovering a rebirth in sales. You can see much of his collection in GQ.

I would never go so extreme with it, but the occasional statement Memphis piece really brings a sense of fun and contrast to a room. London was one of the first places to rediscover Memphis and about 5 years ago I started seeing pieces popping up in London home interiors which for me opened the vault to all things 80’s...

Speaking of statement pieces, the furniture design of Swiss architect Mario Botta has been high on my shopping list lately. Known primarily for his work as an architect, he too embraced pure geometric forms and major volume. Quintessential attributes of the 80’s.

He began his career working with Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn, he went on to open his own practice in 1969. His ‘Mountain Church’ San Giovanni Battista at Fusio is one of my favorite references. The fluid lines and intricate patterns are almost otherworldly. He built the church in Switzerland after a small town was destroyed by an avalanche in 1986. The innovative building is made of alternating layers of Peccia marble and Vallemaggia granite. The church has no windows, and the interior is lit only by natural light that enters through the glass roof. So so chic.

Modernist Superstar

I’m looking back to move forward and focusing my eye on the work of Charles Gwathmey, an architect and designer known for his innovative work that started in the 1960’s. At 27 years old, he designed his first home, a beach house in Amagansett made for his parents. The home was a study in geometric forms (a common thread of his DNA) and the building redefined the idea of the classic Hamptons beach house. The home appeared on a multiple choice question for his final exam at Yale, as one of the examples for ‘organic design’. The correct answer was Frank Lloyd Wright, but this was a clear nod to his early brilliance.

“I have always been interested in fashion as an informing design discipline: proportion structure, detail, materiality, texture, color and quality. With a heightened interest in, and awareness of the build environment, the ‘store’ has become a critical, perceptual and psychological component of merchandising as we as imaging. Architecture and fashion are partners.”  

I think Peter Marino would agree with this statement.

Gwathmey was dubbed a ‘modernist superstar’ and quickly became named as one of the New York five in 1969 (along with Richard Meier). His namesake firm has created countless private residences and iconic structures like his renovation of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum, the Astor Place condominiums, and the Yale Art Complex. He designed amazing homes for clients like Faye Dunaway, Jerry Seinfeld, Steven Spielberg and David Geffen.

In true modernist philosophy, Gwathmey’s designs were often led by the vision of how and who would be living in his structure. Form was a response to the need and reactive to the inspiration. A Gwathmey bedroom would be the first time I saw a bed positioned in the middle of the room. I recently moved into a new house and positioned my bed in the center of the space. One day while I was out and the cleaning lady was there I came home to find the bed neatly made, but pushed back into the corner of the room. This is what I love about design…

Who ever said the bed had to be against a wall?