The Ultimate Guide to Postmodern Design and Decor

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How To Decorate Postmodern in the 2020s

Postmodernism is probably one of the MOST CONTROVERSIAL design trends of the decade. People have some pretty strong feelings about it! 😅

Bold postmodern sitting area with gorgeous sunny yellow chairs
Domino. Photography by Michael Sinclair

But at the same time, it’s one of the major trends that is already shaping the entire interior design landscape of the 2020s!

Today we’re going to take a deep dive into everything Postmodern: we’ll look at what Postmodern was and what it is today, Postmodern furniture, materials and color palettes, how to decorate Postmodern, where to shop Postmodern and after all that, if you’re still not sure, we’ll even try to figure out if Postmodern is for you.

Watch the video instead!


WHAT IS POSTMODERN DESIGN?

Postmodernism, sometimes referred to as PoMo, started a little earlier in architecture, but really hit interior design in the 1970s and it lasted until the 1990s.

The core idea behind Postmodernism was a desire to break free from modern design, or what we all know as mid-century modern.

Postmodernism celebrated everything unconventional, flashy, complex, and weird, and often prioritized form over function, which is pretty much the exact opposite of mid-century modern!

It’s always been a very controversial movement, and now that it’s coming back, many people are having a knee-jerk reaction. And can you really blame them? The 70s and 80s both had some pretty questionable design moments. 😅

But don’t worry: the Postmodern that we are seeing today is actually more of a REVIVAL of the original style.

In a nutshell, today’s Postmodern is a combination of furniture from the late 1970s, paired with some of the shapes and colors seen in the 1980s.

The Memphis Group influence

the memphis design group founded by ettore sottsass is the basis of postmodern design

A lot of what we recognize today as the classic 1980s aesthetic started with the Memphis Group, a design collective founded in 1980 in Milan by the Italian architect Ettore Sottsass.

Memphis was all about bold shapes & bright colors, almost resembling a child’s building blocks.

Pretty crazy right? Just by looking at these images, you can see why so many people who weren’t used to seeing this sort of thing, wouldn’t have known what to make of it!

Well, believe it or not, this insane aesthetic actually had a HUGE influence on 80s design and beyond.

Postmodern design today

postmodern living room with white chairs and wood floors
Architectural Digest. Photography by Adrien Dirand

It’s a pretty well-known fact that style revivals are cyclical. Just as people grew tired of modernism in the late 70s, over the past couple of years people have been getting tired of mid-century modern and all-white Scandinavian. And whether it’s intentional or not, some are looking to postmodernism to switch things up.

This new postmodern we are seeing today echoes some of the things we were seeing in the Memphis design group, as it still favors bold, sculptural shapes, but the colors are more muted, and the shapes are softer.

There are still bold moments for sure, but it’s definitely less “screamy” and “everything needs to make a statement” and just better integrated if that makes sense.

At the time of writing this post, we’re just coming out of a global pandemic – so most people are looking for comforting living spaces, not spaces that attack your senses when you walk in!

POSTMODERN MATERIALS

Today, we’ve got a new, toned-down version of Postmodern that’s more relaxed and a little less loud.

Some contemporary Postmodern materials that you could introduce into your Postmodern space are:

  • Brass
  • Terrazzo
  • Plaster
  • Burlwood
  • Travertine
  • Colored glass & plastics
  • Lucite
  • Velvet
  • Boucle’
a graphic describing popular postmodern design materials

POSTMODERN COLOR PALETTE

The original Memphis palette was inspired by the colors seen in Pop art and Mondrian’s paintings.

the postmodern color palette was influenced by pop art and mondrian paintings

However the way Postmodern color is being used today in homes usually skews quite warm and neutral.

Then again, in commercial spaces, where they’re often trying to make more of an impact and it’s important to create “instagrammable” spaces, it’s not unusual to see pretty bold colors being used.

You can go bold, if that’s your thing:

You can go warm neutral, which is more reminiscent of the late 70s:

warm Neutral postmodern influenced sitting area
Sarah Sherman Samuel x Lulu & Georgia

You can go pastel which is more classic 80s:

postmodern bathroom with pastel hues and arched shapes
Image source unknown

You could even incorporate neon accents if you’re feeling daring, which would be a very postmodern thing to do!

POSTMODERN FURNITURE

The way we are using Postmodern furniture today is a super interesting combination of different things – on the one hand, you’ve got that blobby, bulbous, chubby, sometimes pool noodle-esque seating that comes from the late 1970s.

But on the other hand, we’ve got these basic geometric shapes, which come more from the 80s. And if you think you’re seeing some Art Deco in there, well you’re right.

Because in the 80s, there was an Art Deco revival, so a lot of what was influencing design in the 80s, was actually coming from the Art Deco movement from the 1920s and 30s. Just to make things a little more confusing 🙂

With 2020s postmodern, what we’re looking at is essentially a delicate combination of organic, raw shapes and materials juxtaposed with harder, sleeker materials and geometric shapes.

If you’re shopping for Postmodern furniture, some things you can look for are:

  • furniture with chunky profiles
  • pedestal tables
  • low coffee tables with short legs
  • mushroom coffee tables
  • rounded seating
  • waterfall tables
  • tubular and spherical shapes
  • fluted finishes

Here are some iconic Postmodern pieces that top designers and Instagrammers are losing their minds over:

Oo LAMP

This lamp is a really great example of what the new Postmodern design looks like in an actual object: it’s a combination of sculptural yet functional, geometric paired with organic, smooth and rough – it embodies characteristics that many of today’s top designers are striving to achieve in their work.

This Lamp was designed in 2018 by Eny Lee Parker.

CESCA CHAIR

cesca chairs surrounding a pale wood round table
Sitchu. Photography by Alana Landsberry/Bed Threads

Marcel Breuer designed this gorgeous cantilevered chair back in 1928. Then the chair had a revival in the late 70s, and now, because 70s & 80s furniture is back, these chairs are stylish yet again.

Cyclical design, I’m tellin’ ya! 😉

Fun (nerdy) fact: this chair was originally known as the B32, but the chair was later renamed after Breuer’s daughter Francesca, who was nicknamed Cheska. I actually think this chair is pronounced “Cheska”, and not “Sessca”, like everyone else says. Fascinating, I know. 🤣

Several B32 replicas were made in the 1970s and 80s when the chair had its first revival. As such, while original B32s from the 1920s are far and few in between, you’ll find several of the 70s/80s vintage originals floating around for sale. Or you can buy an original Cesca chair, produced today, from Design Within Reach.

CAMALEONDA SOFA

The Camaleonda sofa was designed by Mario Bellini originally in the 1970s, then it was discontinued, and then re-released again in 2019.

It’s a modular sofa that can be combined in an infinite number of ways. Looks kinda like bubble wrap covered in velvet. Apparently it’s comfortable!

You can purchase a Camaleonda at B&B Italia.

TOGO SOFA

caramel leather togo sofa
image source unknown

This Jabba the Hutt type sofa was designed by Michel Ducaroy in 1973. Togo sofas are still being manufactured today and come in a few different sizes.

You can purchase a Togo from Ligne Roset.

BENTWOOD FLOOR LAMP

This lamp was designed in about 1971 by Mads Caprani.

Pleated lampshades are definitely a trend right now, and now you know where the trend is coming from!

ULTRAFRAGOLA MIRROR

the ultrafragola mirror is the ultimate postmodern decor item
Pinterest

This wavy acrylic pink mirror doubles as a lamp as it lights up from within with a pink neon light. This iconic postmodern piece was designed by none other than Ettore Sottsass himself.

This mirror has become the ultimate selfie mirror due to its flattering warm, pink glow.

An original costs upwards of $10000 dollars through Poltronova. 😨

MURANO GLASS MUSHROOM LAMP

Original 70s Murano glass mushroom lamps sell for several hundreds of dollars, sometimes more!

Luckily, if you’re into these shroom lamps, it’s possible to find some pretty great affordable dupes online – for example check out the Ansel lamp from Urban Outfitters – it’s pretty spot on! The lamp is currently a bestseller at UO 😉

WHERE TO SHOP POSTMODERN?

Kind of like with mid-century modern, when you’re shopping for Postmodern you’ve got 2 options: you can go for originals, or for what’s being manufactured right now.

Shop vintage

If you want authenticity, go for originals (vintage). You might get lucky and find something at your local thrift store or at estate and garage sales, I definitely have before.

BEST VINTAGE DEALS:

I recommend shopping Craigslist, Facebook marketplace and your local thrift stores if you want deals.

MID RANGE PRICES:

You can also shop vintage dealers, for example there are a lot on Instagram, but also there are several on Etsy as well.

BIG BUDGET VINTAGE:

And lastly shop Pamono, Chairish, and 1st dibs if you’ve got cash to spare.

Chairish and 1st dibs are the sites where most A-list designers source vintage online, but obviously they usually have large budgets to work with!

Even if you’re not directly buying off these sites, referencing these websites is really useful for price checking if you find something interesting locally.

rounded armchair from urban outfitters
Ingrid Chair – Urban Outfitters

CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT MY FAVORITE CONTEMPORARY WHITE ACCENT CHAIRS!

Buy from contemporary manufacturers

Shopping vintage is great, but you don’t always find what you want, and it’s not always cheap.

So what do you do?

Well fortunately, large retailers have caught onto the Postmodern design trend, so you can find several contemporary pieces that have the 80s postmodern feel.

I’m not saying that shopping contemporary is cheaper than vintage. But at least you can find furniture easily, without having to hunt around for vintage. Everyone is different and not everyone has the time or the desire to shop vintage!

The stores that I would recommend checking out for really nice, contemporary postmodern design pieces are:

CB2

Urban Outfitters

Crate & Barrel

West Elm

Anthropologie

Lulu & Georgia

I think as time passes, we’ll see more and more retailers jump on board as they clue into what’s happening and respond to consumer demand.

HOW TO DECORATE POSTMODERN

Don’t overdo it

I think there are a couple of key things to keep in mind when you’re decorating postmodern in the 2020s. The first one is to not overdo it!

I definitely wouldn’t go all-in with this style. But then I wouldn’t recommend you do that with any style because it’ll look too “themey”. Chances are you’ll get tired of it and it won’t age well.

What I think is cool about Postmodern is that it’s actually really versatile! You can easily pair it with boho, midcentury, scandi or traditional. You can go minimalist with it, or you can go maximalist.

Whatever your style is, don’t be afraid to experiment!

Soften the look

And the second thing to remember is that a lot of postmodern materials are quite hard and cold materials.

If you’re going the chubby furniture route, that will help counter this problem a lot. But if not, definitely don’t forget to soften the hard chunky sculptural stuff with other natural, warmer materials like rattan, plaster, faux fur, velvet and materials like that.

Use (initial) restraint with color

When it comes to color, my preference is always a neutral base. But if you want to embrace pastels or bold hues, I would initially probably stick to a restricted color palette.

I would not recommend mixing a lot of colors, at least not at first. Wait until you get a sense of whether you like the style or not.

If you’re going to experiment with color, the “safest” way is with paint! And not by buying big expensive pieces in colors that you might get tired of and regret buying later down the line!

Use graphic patterns

If you decide to use pattern, I wouldn’t necessarily go with the traditional 80s patterns, but graphic patterns can work well with this style – so you know, try introducing bold stripes, grids or checkers. Or maybe a pared-back squiggle or a wave for some movement.

IS POSTMODERN DESIGN FOR YOU?

So hopefully by now, you already have a sense of whether or not postmodern design is for you.

And trust me, it definitely isn’t for everyone! But that’s the beauty of design, especially in this day and age – there are so many styles to choose from and there is no right or wrong. The only thing that matters is whether you love it, and if it makes you happy.

Postmodern usually tends to receive quite polarizing reactions, either people HATE IT or they love it – but if you’re still not sure, I would say if you’re drawn to more eclectic styles, or even if you’re just a little tired of MCM and Scandinavian, then you might want to experiment with a piece or two.

Not to generalize too much, but I think it might be that younger generations (like sub 40 years old) might be a little more receptive to these shapes since it’s all quite new to them. Older generations (40+) might still have some PTSD from the first time around. 😅

Personally, even though I don’t love ALL the pieces, I definitely love this more up-to-date look of the 70s/80s aesthetic. It may be a bit of nostalgia for me, as I was born in the early 80s, but after so many years of midcentury modern and Scandinavian, I feel like this style revival is really exciting.

My theory about today’s postmodern design is that interior design as a whole will be largely shaped by this revival. I think more and more of what we’ll be seeing and also what will be available to buy, will be affected by this trend.


I hope you found this article useful! If you’re curious about other major design styles then definitely check out my other in-depth style posts – most of them are linked here.

But I’m curious to hear what you think? Do you think the new Postmodern design style will stick around and become a defining style of the 2020s? Or do you think it will die out? 🙃

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One Comment

  1. My goodness! I’ve loved this design style for so long but never knew what it was called till today. Your post is excellent and so informative! Thank you!