I grew up in one of those typically suburban Colonial Revival homes, all bricks and columns and shutters. It wasn't old, but it was designed to look that way, and in many aspects it was quite convincing. In fact, it looked a lot like the quaint New England cottage owned by Barbara and Adam Maitland. Until they died.
The Maitlands' house, before the "accident"
As a teenager I watched Beetlejuice hundreds of times, the same number of times I saw Delia Deetz perform her extreme makeover on the maybe-not-quite-deceased Maitlands' home. I would glance around the VCR at the traditional decor of my typically suburban home, with its comforting floral wallpaper and frilly wainscoting, then back at the stark, cold, freakishly-lit furnishings on the screen. Forget the smarmy Beetlejuice, contemporary design was the villain in this film.
The bright primary colors, the geometric furniture—it all looked so foreign to me. I didn't know it at the time, but Tim Burton and his production designer Bo Welch were heavily referencing Memphis design, a collective of Italian designers who applied the postmodernist movement to furniture and graphics. Here it was cast as cartoonish and heavy-handed, like the city slicker characters who invade this quiet town.
But over the years—and I'm serious when I say I've seen the film hundreds of times—certain pieces of decor started to win me over. I began coveting the sundeck additions with their bright yellow beams. Those whimsical bowls that the shrimp is served in at the dinner party. And who wouldn't kill for a glass block island in the kitchen? I started to see the merits in contemporary design—clean lines, assertive tones, and overall, a sense of fun that you just couldn't have with a simple Shaker-style bed and prim Laura Ashley sheets.
Now my tastes run more along the lines of bold shades and bright patterns, and watching Beetlejuice again recently, I could see exactly how the Memphis Afterlife aesthetic opened my eyes to a whole other design world. I found myself cheering for every transformation that trades dusty antiques for fantastically over-the-top '80s design. I may have grown up in the Maitlands' house, but today, I would rather live with Delia Deetz. [Amazon]
All images are from the film via Hooked on Houses
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