There is a mural at the bagel shop in my hometown that haunted me as a child. It is massive and square, composed of blob-like humanoid shapes in shades of rust and orange with tiny faceless heads, all of them inhaling swirls of piping-hot java. I remember thinking that it was sort of threatening, but what I did not realize at the time was that it was part of a much larger and slightly insidious graphic design trend with an on-the-nose name: Global Village Coffeehouse.
It was TikTok where I learned this, thanks to a video by a woman who goes by the moniker Melina Bee and who has made dozens of videos explaining similarly niche graphic design and architectural aesthetics. Global Village Coffeehouse, for instance, is the term for late ’80s-late ’90s graphic design that combines the appearance of handcraftedness with ancient or tribal imagery, often with earth tones and vaguely nature-oriented motifs like trees, suns, and waves. It’s since been regarded more cynically as a way for corporations to profit from the look and feel of grassroots movements. It, she says, was the reason she started making the videos in the first place:
“My jaw just dropped,” she says of when she first discovered the term. “I had to share it with a friend who’s also like me, very visual, and I was like, ‘Did you know this is a thing?’” Since her first viral hit about the Camden bench and hostile architecture in March 2021, Melina has become known as the go-to source for design trends you know visually but perhaps don’t have the words to describe. While her background is in architecture and historic preservation, she credits a volunteer collective called the Consumer Aesthetics Research Institute for coining and curating many of the styles, which range from the 1950s diner favorite “Googie” (think retrofuturist “Space Age” architecture) to the ’90s New Age-y “Zen-X” (think Sting doing yoga).
We chatted about the ever-quickening speed of trend cycles and whether there were some styles that were too awful to ever revive, among other fun new words (“Whimsigothic!” “Frasurbane!”).
How’d you get into design history?
I have a master’s in historic preservation with a focus on craft material and design, which is more architecture-based, there are a lot of overlapping principles [with design history]. Last summer, I stumbled on something called the Consumer Aesthetics Research Institute (CARI) on Reddit, and discovered a style they called Global Village Coffeehouse. And there was this other one called “Whimsigothic” And I was like, boom. Each one of us fits into one of these aesthetics at times.
What was your first microstyle video to go viral?
The first was on Frasurbane, which ironically is not a style I’m personally into, but it really …….