As an art movement, minimalism emerged in the 1960s, characterized by extreme simplicity of form and a literal, objective approach to composition. Though it was once the preferred aesthetic of the art world, maximalism—a rejection of simplicity—with its eclectic excess, began to attract the likes of many in recent years. Artists and designers alike are able to find beauty in both approaches: the thoughtful simplicity and “less is more” vision of a minimalist space or the vibrant mix of tones and textures, abundance and excess of a maximalist interior.
Minimalism and maximalism are two trends that can be applied to many disciplines including fine art, interior design, architecture, and fashion, and both approaches have evolved into a way of life. Here, we explore the basics and benefits of each to help you understand your preferred design style, and how you can create a healthy, enriched lifestyle that supports it.
Minimalism, in both art and design, centers around the idea of eliminating excess and making room for essential components. In terms of design, minimalism embraces clean lines, empty spaces, basic textures, mindful decor, and neutral colors and patterns. There is an absence of visual noise, and the focus is instead drawn to a select group of utilitarian items. Surfaces are usually clear of clutter, and storage is widely used as a way to organize and keep unused objects out of sight. In this way, architects and designers have embraced minimalism as a versatile aesthetic that can be easily altered with even the slightest changes.
In describing the aesthetic, Simon Townsend Jacobsen of Jacobson Architecture says, “True minimalism uses the refinement of materials and the poetry of intersecting planes with the relationship of objects and their proximity to each other.”
As with design, a minimalist lifestyle follows many of the same principles. Minimalists focus on simplicity, surrounding themselves with only what is truly needed to live an impactful life. There is a need for singularity, clarity, purpose, and intention. Minimalists focus less on material possessions and instead make way for items that have true value and meaning. This might take form in a variety of ways: clearing seldom-worn clothes for lighter, less stressful morning, donating unused children’s toys, decluttering kitchen cabinets, and focusing on objects that serve a purpose.
There is a common misconception that a maximalist vision embraces clutter. This is untrue. Instead, maximalist spaces are more visually interesting and eye-catching. Maximalism, from a design perspective, utilizes bold colors and intricate patterns. Spaces are generally more lively, and filled with a collection of storied objects with personal significance. A maximalist room isn’t overbearing, but is rather attention-grabbing where objects are in abundance and strategically placed throughout. Comfort is an essential component, and there are usually many seating and lounging options featured in living spaces.
On a maximalist space, interior designer Kelly Wearslter says, “There is a joy in designing a space without limitations and restrictions, where excess is encouraged and unlikely pairings create beautiful and unexpected harmonies.”
In terms of lifestyle, a maximalist is often a collector, displaying groups of objects that they may have acquired from travels over time. Rather than embrace the need for simplicity and order, maximalists tend to find comfort within chaos and excess, finding it both exciting and motivating. Their mindsets follow the idea that embracing an abundance of objects can be an escape from a world and culture that at times seems bleak. Embracing maximalism is about surrounding yourself with things that make you feel alive and glamorous.
Are You a Minimalist or a Maximalist?
Before adjusting both your living space and your mindset, it’s important to understand which lifestyle best suits your personal style. Use the flowchart below to see if you are a minimalist or maximalist at heart, and find tips for embracing each lifestyle.
Minimalism, as a genre of art, emerged in response to artists’ dissatisfaction with Abstract Expressionism, harboring the point of view that art should not refer to anything other than itself. The movement gained prominence in the modern design industry and soon transcended into a lifestyle that adopted its key characteristics: simplicity in form and function. Though it remained wildly popular for decades, maximalism has caught on in recent years, and designers and artists alike have begun embracing more luxurious textures, detailed furnishings, and more visually enticing details. As this movement easily translates into a lifestyle, embracing “beauty in excess” has become its mantra. Today, both minimalism and maximalism are widely embraced and utilized as both a way of life and a design aesthetic. Which one best exemplifies your approach?