Eighties design is a fascinating subject of study because of the peculiar arc it’s taken recently: from despised and reviled to avant-garde cool, all within the space of a very short period of time. But with all the love for Memphis and weird ’80s graphics, there’s one particular aspect of this design era I haven’t heard much about: the ’80s kitchen. Is it as terrible as we remember? Has the time for a renaissance finally come? Let’s take a look.
We’re off to an inauspicious start with this kitchen from Your Walls & Ceilings, published by Better Homes and Gardens in 1983, and spotted on Supreme Interiors. It perfectly demonstrates what people find off-putting about ’80s kitchens: the preponderance of heavy wood cabinets and, particularly, tile countertops. These might both be a hard sell, but the tiled range hood is something I’m seeing quite a bit of lately, albeit in more subdued subway tile. And patterned tile is definitely making a comeback in the kitchen. Could a range hood covered in boldy patterned tile be far behind?
This kitchen is another find from Your Walls & Ceilings, via Supreme Interiors. The thing about the wood cabinets is that they’ve already started to make a comeback, which seems inevitable, especially considering the current ubiquitousness of white. It’s more the style of ’80s cabinets that we object to, I think: those heavy doors with their heavy trim. The ones in this kitchen have stood the test of time a lot better, because the glass doors and open shelving keep everything from feeling too heavy. The pressed-tin ceiling is also a nice touch.
In case the kitchen above didn’t tip you off already, it’s worth mentioning that country-kitchen style was very, very, big in the ’80s. This kitchen from the Los Angeles Times California Home Book (1982) takes things to an almost manic level. But there’s still plenty to love here: the blue cabinets, butcher block countertops and subway tile backsplash would look lovely in a modern kitchen, even if the tiled countertops and intricate wallpaper might not.
(Image credit: Planning & Remodeling Kitchens & Bathrooms)
The kitchen pictured at the top of this post, and above, is from Planning & Remodeling Kitchens & Bathrooms, published in 1988. This is probably the ’80s kitchen that most of you remember: honey oak cabinets, white tile countertops and backsplash. (Another blast from the past is that giant microwave, which you can see top left.) A lot of my friends’ parents still had this kitchen well into the ’90s, and to me it’s just too much of a throwback to ever feel anything but dated. I do, however, like the mix of butcher block and tile on the center island.
Those honey oak cabinets may still feel mired in the past, but another aspect of ’80s kitchens, the terra cotta tiles, is coming back in a big way. Today’s terra cotta tiles tend to be a bit more subdued in color and patinaed in appearance: this interior, from from Sunset Books’ Remodeling with Tile (1981), shows off the orangier tones that were popular during that decade.
You definitely can’t fault ’80s design for being too subdued. Earth tones abound in this kitchen from The Los Angeles Times California Home Book (1982), which, while it may not seem particularly stylish today, still has a weird retro warmth. I could definitely see an Urban Outfitters photo shoot taking place in here. And that skylight is amazing.
This ’80s kitchen from The Giki Tiki, with its minimal wood cabinets and dark green tile backsplash, actually feels very stylish to me. I can imagine an almost exact replication of this kitchen in a 2010s design publication, maybe with quartz countertops in place of the laminate ones.
This kitchen from The Los Angeles Times California Home Book is not just my favorite ’80s kitchen, but probably my favorite kitchen from any decade, because of how absolutely bananas it is. Can excess this thorough, this dedicated, ever truly go out of style?
The verdict? There’s a lot to love about ’80s kitchens, even if there’s still a lot to hate (namely, those tile countertops). But I think kitchens from this overlooked decade are worth taking a look at — for entertainment, yes, but also maybe for a little bit of unexpected design inspiration.