The beginning of the 1980s was an exciting and creative time for interior design. While many homes retained their floral-patterned links to previous decades, British society was undergoing a sweeping transformation due to a combination of different social and cultural factors.
Each would play a significant role in turning our homes from the style relics of the 70s into the forward-thinking, minimalist homes that were the norm by the end of the 90s.
Margaret Thatcher allowed millions of people to become home-owners and to have permanent homes they could decorate
The implementation of Margaret Thatcher’s ‘right to buy’ scheme in 1980 signalled a watershed for the British homeowner and interior design. Millions of new homeowners realised they had the freedom to decorate their homes as they wanted and at first, the response was reactionary.
In much the same way 70s punk was the reaction to the hippy movement of the 60s, interior design in the early 80s reacted to the floral designs of the 70s. Out went garish floral prints and bright colours. Instead, homes were decorated in more neutral tones. Beiges, browns and natural greens predominated as homes across the country were ‘toned down’.
Yet this situation did not last long as social, cultural and technological changes in the mid 80s had a major impact on home design. Within the space of a few years, CD players had replaced record players and our televisions had a small metallic box attached to it that could play VCRs. Kitchens contained microwave ovens and most households had a telephone. Meanwhile, increasing numbers of people were buying these incredible new machines called computers.
Advances in the 1980s transformed interior design
These technological advances, combined with the mid 80s fashion trends for brighter patterns and vivid colours, saw a transformation in interior design. Out went the understated colours of the early 80s and instead, people began to decorate their homes in brighter styles. Floral patterns came back, but were used sparingly, mainly on borders and bedding. Polka dots too were a popular choice and mirrors made a big comeback in many rooms around the home.
Driving many of the changes in interior design was the sense of home ownership. Homeowners developed the confidence to express their individualism within it. Further, the rapid rate of technological change towards the late 80s and 90s was having a clear and notable effect on home design.
This trait was typified by the emergence of the ‘yuppie’; an upwardly mobile, relatively wealthy young person who embraced domestic modern conveniences. Their ‘pads’ quickly became the by-word for cutting edge interior design, with their simple colour schemes, vast open-plan spaces, top of the range appliances and mod-cons combining to give a luxuriant yet minimalist feel to the home.
The ‘yuppie pad’ was one of the first that embraced both minimalism and technology as part of the whole design ethos of the home and this notion would play a significant role in interior design throughout the 90s.
The 90s gave direction to the design trends of the 1980s
If the 80s signified great change in interior design, the 90s sought to give some degree of sense and direction to these changes. By the turn of the decade, the 80s colour schemes were viewed as somewhat gauche and the emphasis in interior design once again changed.
Perhaps as a reaction to the advances in technology, natural colours made a big return throughout the 90s. Simple white kitchens (in the minimalist style but with ivy trellis wallpaper), pine furniture, gentle pastel hues on bare walls and (towards the end of the 90s) the first fleeting signs of a return of floral designs were all popular. Yet these changes did not herald a return to the gaudy tones of the 60s and 70s, as the minimalist approach ensured that these features were used sparingly, often to provide a contrast within a room.
Minimalism continued well into the 90s and beyond as our phone and computers shrunk in size but grew in power. Our walkman became a personal CD player and then mini-disk player. Even the headphones we used to listen to these machines shrunk.
The technological revolution had an indelible and lasting impact on home design throughout the 80s and 90s. It ushered out the remnants of 70s design and although tastes and fashions changed radically throughout the two decades, the general trend was always towards the technology-inspired drive towards minimalism, practicality and ease of living