Replace Your Houseplants With Bold 1980s-Inspired Decor


Jeffrey Westbrook

Look around your home. Locate the nearest plant. I know it’s there. These days, it’s illegal to live in a space without one. This wasn’t always the case. Not long ago, your home lacked vegetation. Then you read that plants could give your bedroom a “refresh,” so you bought a snake plant. You put a fern or a ficus in your living room. Before you knew it, your interior-decoration style had developed not through any cultivation of actual taste but through inertia alone—it became all about plants. The wealthiest among us have taken it to the next level by adding trophy trees, which, according to The Wall Street Journal, involves buying a fully grown oak from someone’s backyard and dropping it on your interior patio.

We’ve come a long way from the snake plant. How did this happen? Kyle Chayka, author of The Longing for Less: Living With Minimalism, dubbed the aesthetic phenomenon of personality-free locations that could exist anywhere “AirSpace.” Think bright lighting, midcentury-modern furniture, and, yes, plants. This is not something to shoot for.


TOP LEFT: Your new muse: Memphis design of the 1980s. TOP RIGHT: This Dan Flavin–inspired tube from Hay is only $75. BOTTOM LEFT: Chair by Peter Shire; rug by Nathalie Du Pasquier. BOTTOM RIGHT: Designer Alessandro Mendini knew bold.


Bored of AirSpace, I started following Instagram accounts devoted to the interior design of the 1980s—some must-follows: @the_80s_interior, @80s_deco, @jpeg_fantasy—and noticed these spaces had so much more than plants. People in the ’80s tried things. And not just Perrier and cocaine! They experimented with patterned coffee tables, red lampshades, neoclassical columns where they didn’t belong. Sure, there were missteps (carpeted bathrooms come to mind), but everyone was having fun. AirSpace this was not. Sometime in the past 40 years, we abandoned the liveliness and kept only the plants.

Soon we will be able to venture into one another’s homes for parties, and yours should feel like it belongs to someone who enjoys a good time. I’m not saying to go full Memphis—a style defined by vibrant colors and odd shapes; the most extreme version is Pee-wee’s Playhouse—nor would I recommend the minimalism of Le Corbusier. But filling your apartment with plants equals a lack of effort. So what’s the solution?

I asked Meg Gustafson, an avowed maximalist who runs @80s_deco, where to start. She loved midcentury modern ten years ago but believes that “tasteful is overrated” and “interior design should be funny.” In other words, the opposite of AirSpace. Gustafson suggested a neon tube from Hay, which you can get for $75. Too much? Try something in colorful laminate, like a waterfall console or coffee table. Her advice for the truly bold? “One oversize thing.”

A plant in the corner of a well-lit room has become a symbol of taste but not a substitute for it. Plants can elevate your living room, but only by about one inch. Aim higher, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You just survived a pandemic—go nuts! “A lot of Memphis didn’t work,” Gustafson reminded me, “and they didn’t give a shit.”

This article appears in the Summer 2021 issue of Esquire. Subscribe Today

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