Sunday 30 April 2017

'80s revival - a return to the decade of floral chint

The decade that taste forgot? We don't think so…1980s style is back - and it's poppier than ever

Habitat has true blues popping against warm tones for an elegant updated take on the '80s
Habitat has true blues popping against warm tones for an elegant updated take on the '80s
1980s Cabrilo
Tingo 1980s style
TK Maxx
Animal shelving from Habitat
DFS 80s style living room

Eleanor Flegg

'It was acceptable in the '80s; it was acceptable at the time," sang Calvin Harris in 2006. The implication is that what- ever it was may have been acceptable then, but it certainly isn't acceptable now - and probably never will be. And that's the way most of us feel about 1980s interiors.

If you're old enough, cast your mind back (if you're not, just be thankful) to the decade of floral chintz. Wallpaper had borders. Curtains had swags and tails. Bathrooms were tiled in peach or 'knickers pink', with a frilly cover to hide the toilet roll, and sofas were so overstuffed that sitting on one was like perching on the lap of the Michelin Man.

Of course, it wasn't all bad. As a 1980s teenager, I longed for, but never got, a Laura Ashley bedspread. Her Decorator Collection was launched in 1982 and she had shops everywhere, including one in Dublin.

Laura Ashley's 1980s floral fabrics have dated dramatically, but at the time I thought that they were beautiful. Secretly, I still do. The pretty floral patterns remind me of the quilts in that TV classic Little House on the Prairie (1974-83).

When the interiors pundits of today pronounce the 1980s renaissance, they're not talking about Laura Ashley bedspreads, or chintz, or busy wallpaper. The modern take on 1980s interior design is a hybrid. It takes a few elements from 'the decade that style forgot' but it puts them together in a contemporary way.

Very few homes in 1980s Ireland would have sported the postmodern designs of the Memphis Group, an Italian collaborative that produced brightly coloured geometric furniture and design objects between 1981 and 1987. Their designs were expensive, niche, and once memorably described as "a shotgun wedding between Bauhaus and Fisher-Price". Not for everyone, so. But the style of the Memphis Group has proved to be one of the most revivable elements of the 1980s. In fact, they're a lot more visible now than they were then.

In 2016, the London-based furniture design group Made launched a range of Memphis-inspired items - geometric-patterned cushions (€23), a glass pendant lamp (€196) and a polygonal shelving unit (€383). The collection is dominated by a palette of blue, grey, yellow and orange.

Then there's the eye-catchingly upbeat 'Walking in Memphis' collection from TK Maxx: a pineapple mug (€5), a blue vase (€15), a yellow table (€20), a magnetic frame (€5) and a striped rug (€70). This came out in late 2016. What you'll actually find on the shelves in TK Maxx is anyone's guess, but it's likely that the 1980s flavour hasn't gone away.

There's more than a hint of Memphis in Habitat's SS17 collection - especially the asymmetrical Tingo shelves (€1,340 and €927) and the children's Walter crocodile bookcase (€175). Some of the furniture and accessories from Habitat are available in Ireland through Argos; the rest can be bought online. There is a delivery charge so it's worth grouping your orders together.

In general, the contemporary take on 1980s interiors is a lot of fun, but you don't want to go the whole hog. "A whole 1980s room would be too scary!" says Lauren Harris, designer for DFS. She's just finished working on two 'Back to the Eighties' room sets, which she describes as "1980s style for the digital generation".

The ensembles show a strong Memphis influence and no evidence of chintz at all, thankfully. It's all about clashing colours and mismatching geometric shapes.

In Harris' living-room design, a peachy orange DFS Lydia Sofa (on sale until February 20 for €1,169) is bedecked with geometric cushions from John Lewis and Habitat, and yellow velvet from the Designers Guild. "It's a retro look built around a modern sofa," she explains. "Typical 1980s sofas with puffy backs and padded arms are very out of date." The yellow coffee table is an Eero Aarnio classic known as the Mushroom (from €490).

The dining room shows the DFS Cabrilo dining table with a set of four Ambra chairs (sale price €1,299 for the set) combined with two twisty orange chairs. The latter are contemporary classics, the Kartell Masters Chair, designed by Philippe Starck and available from Willie Duggan Lighting for €200 each. The lamp is the Twiggy floor lamp by Marc Sadler (€1,035 from Haus London). The rugs (€463 each) - one with chevrons and the other with stripes - come from Dwell.

Lively as it is, I'm not sure how much this look has to do with the real 1980s. Back then, we wanted everything to match! But Harris has used one truly authentic item - the spider plant. That was a 1980s staple, preferably suspended from a macramé hanging basket. 'Houseplants', as we used to call them, went out of vogue in the 1990s, but now they're back in style, especially among the hipster generation. They can't get enough of spider plants, aspidistras and ferns - all the plants that were so recently considered dated and hick.

This is partly ironic (these are the same young folks who love 1980s anthems like Mad World by Tears for Fears). But it's also because the plants are cheap, indestructible and fun. And that, in fairness, was what the 1980s were really all about.

If you want to get the 1980s look (or any other), the interiors expert Roisin Lafferty of Kingston Lafferty Design will host two interiors events: one on February 21 in DFS Carrickmines and the other on February 23 in DFS Limerick (7-9pm). The events are free but seats are limited, so email dfs@ocarrollconsulting.com in advance to reserve a place.

See dfs.ie, habitat.co.uk, argos.ie, tkmaxx.ie, dwell.co.uk, aarniooriginals.com, made.com, hauslondon.com, gomodern.co.uk

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