Growing up in the 1980s, I would sit and admire the ostentatious interiors flashed on the TV as I watched Dynasty or Falcon Crest. Many folks are quick to write off 1980s interior design, summing it up to mauve wallpaper borders and tacky lacquered brass fixtures. However, I have an appreciation for the era, from the shabby chic charm of Laura Ashely to the decadence of Mario Buatta, “The Prince of Chintz.” If there’s one thing the 1980s taught it, it was to be fearless. Join me as I share some of my favorite lessons learned from 1980s interior design and how to implement them today.
No one has fun always playing it safe. Fearless Design is a blog series where I examine interior design schemes, trends, and elements that require a leap of faith. Don’t be afraid to be fearless.
Meeting a 1980s Design Genius
I started my interior design career at a design firm in New York City. In one of my design jobs decorating a Park Avenue townhouse, I was privileged to meet a true 1980s interior design genius — Robert Denning. He was one-half of Denning & Fourcade, the design firm that defined 1980s exuberance and glamor. This firm catered to clients with “anything but American” tastes, creating transportive, European-style spaces for notable figures like Countess Rattazzi, Henry Kissinger, and Oscar de la Renta. The home they decorated for Henry Kravis was even parodied in the 1990 movie The Bonfire of the Vanities. The duo designed iconic spaces across New York, even doing temporary makeovers just for lavish parties. Can you imagine anything more decadent?
Watching Mr. Denning practice his craft was design theater. I was immediately hooked. He selected colors and fabrics with surety and never second-guessed himself. And his selections were bold. He did the most gooped-up interiors in the best way possible, leaving no surface unadorned. His spaces were very European in spirit. There was so much to learn from him. He was self-confident, funny, and just as over the top as his designs!
Lessons to Learn from 1980s Interior Design
After the peak of ‘80s glamor, interiors began to trend to more muted, uniform, and safer designs in the 1990s and early 2000s. However, that’s changing as more folks embrace 1980s inspired interior design trends. Even if the ‘80s aren’t your thing, there are a few lessons to learn from the shameless luxe of the era.
Revisit Something Old
Robert Denning created transportive spaces, referencing the Regency and Neoclassical eras. Many 1980s design elements were pulled from the old world with a new spin instead of looking to the modern period. Thus, the term “post-modern” was born to describe it. Referencing past decades in design adds layers of history and charm to a space.
Try Something New
In the ‘80s, we weren’t afraid to try old things in a new way — even if we regretted it later. So, rather than playing it safe with your space, be intrepid and try something new.
Don’t be a Wannabe
With design magazines, HGTV, and Instagram, we have a constant view into a glut of others’ private spaces. Consequently, we moved toward a copy-and-paste design mentality. Don’t be a copycat. Instead, be courageous enough to be original.
Lean into Your Favorites
As a designer, I’m noticing more and more clients are taking a page from the ‘80s and are not shy to lean into their favorites. People are going for unique choices, from pink walls and animal prints to antique mirrors and Gothic cabinets. I love that! So, lean hard into what you like, and don’t be afraid to be valiant.
Interior design doesn’t have to be flat and safe. You’re going to be living in your space, so why not give it life? Don’t take yourself or your design decisions too seriously. Instead, be ready to play and experiment with something decadent or off the wall.
Don’t Care What Anyone Else Thinks
Ultimately, we work to design a space around you. You will be the one living there, so who cares what anyone else thinks? Let your natural inclinations fly without concern.
Being Fearless is Pretty Rad
While we’re not decking out our homes like the stars of Miami Vice, I am pleased to see some of that exuberance from the Dynasty era coming back into interior design today. For example, we worked with my client in my latest South Austin project to create a wonderfully outlandish space that tapped into her “witchy” side. Walking through the home, I see some of the principles of ‘80s decadence, originality, and even a few popular colors. Overall, ‘80s designers like Rober Denning taught us it’s ok to be over the top or extra as long as we’re ourselves.
And, don’t we want to feel most ourselves at home?
Amity Worrel is an award-winning interior designer based in Austin, Texas. She has worked on high-end interior design projects for celebrities and tastemakers in NYC, LA, and the Bahamas. In 2008, Amity decided to bring her passion for diverse design back to her hometown of Austin. Her spaces pull from timeless design concepts ranging from coastal contemporary to cozy cottage to Austin eclectic. Emotional connections, functional flow, and a touch of humor remain central to every interior design scheme. Her work has been published in national and local publications, including The Wall Street Journal, House Beautiful, HGTV Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, and Austin Home. In her free time, she loves perusing estate sales and diving into design history. Learn more about Amity.