The Minimalist vs. Maximalist Debate

minimalist vs maximalist debate interior design

8 minute read

Hi and welcome to the Maximalism vs Minimalism discussion.

If you love or hate either of these styles, you’re going to want to read all the way to the end because we are going to get into the thinking behind both of them!


Thinking Like a Minimalist and Maximalist

Behind every well-recognized design aesthetic and known decorating style and is a method of working or a “way” of thinking.

Some aesthetic styles have evolved over great lengths time, while others have barely changed.

But while styles come and go, it could be said that fashions in style are simply swinging between opposite poles of design philosophy.

This is a documented effect known as the ‘pendulum affect‘ and it is an acknowledged phenomenon in both politics and culture.


Polar Opposite Philosophies

Two big examples of totally opposite design philosophies are Modern vs. Traditional and Minimalism vs. Maximalism.

Today we will look at Minimalism vs. Maximalism.

Can you bring an image to mind for these?

Let me help you out.


What Minimalism Looks Like

Here is Minimalism:

minimalist style interior design
This mood board shows an assortment of rooms with minimal decoration

What Maximalism Looks Like

Here is Maximalism:

maximalist style interior design
A mood board shows an assortment of highly decorated rooms in a maximalist manner.

Pretty self-explanatory, isn’t it?


Divergent Thinking

These two opposite ways of appreciating interior design, architecture, and graphic design can tend to divide people.

What was your own personal leaning when you first saw those boards?


Fun fact: For many new couples, the style of a shared home is as much a point of contention as who should perform their wedding service or what their first child’s name will be.


Undercurrents

There are many who are die-hard fans of either the minimalist or the maximalist aesthetic.

When we look closer we can often hazard a guess why they tend choose what they do.

Yes, believe it or not, there are actually socio-economic reasons for which people choose traditional and which prefer modern, for example.

But let’s consider the ‘middle of the road’ position of these two extremes before getting down to detail on the differences.


What Lies Between Minimalism and Maximalism?

Those who find themselves ‘on the fence’ of the debate beween one side or the other (minimalism/maximalism! traditionalism/modernism!) might wonder what all the fuss is about.

If you’ve read some of my other articles on style classification here on my blog you will know what I mean by the Eclecticcrowd here.


Eclecticism is Switzerland Doesn’t Take Sides

Eclectic people are the salt of the earth.

These people like their traditional and their modern in equal doses, or they’re not too fussed.

They happily mix styles with ease.

A perfectly 50/50 mix between Minimalism and Maximalism would also be a perfect Eclectic room and it could be accomplished in several ways.

My personal favorite way is to juxtapose modern furniture with a traditional ‘shell’.


Happy Accidents

The Eclecticdesign style” can also sometimes come about “accidentally”.

This happens when not much thought or planning has been put into the room.

It ends up being a mash-up of many different things.

A mix of different styles, periods and stylistic elements is prime Eclectic territory.

An example of rooms with varying mixes of styles, a look known as eclectic

But while Eclecticists are quite happy not taking sides, they’re not off the hook just yet.

Isn’t sitting in the middle just akin to not having an orientation at all?


It’s time to explore both sides of the argument for maximalism and minimalism.

You ready?


Maximalism: “Give Me All the Things” ?

An example of Classical-Eclectic Maximalism

To the Max

If you fall into the Maximalist camp you believe “more is more“.

Your decorating style boasts this belief loudly and proudly.

But contrary to popular belief it’s not necessarily because you are a materialistic person that you are lavish with the scenery.

For you, there is a certain richness you find in the wisdom of the past, or else in joy of discovering new things.


There are two types of Maximalists who come to mind, and I think the difference between them comes down to personality.


The Maximalist Introvert

An example of a maximalist-introvert space

Alice in Wonderland

You are a passionate collecter, and you tend to prize special objects (objet d’art) and artwork.

You are sentimental, but possibly also experimental.

Let it not be said that introverts are boring.

You won’t give things away. But you might be open to new things, as well.

Your collections will be meticulously curated and maintained.

You like who you are and you aren’t doing it for anybody else.

This is your private world, where you feel the happiest.


The Maximalist Extrovert

Interior by Kelly Wearstler from the LuxurientOpens in a new tab.

Fantasia

You can tend to be bold.

You’re all about the statement.

Bring on the ‘wow‘.

For you decor can’t just “be”.

It needs to slay.

You experiment with materials, scale, order, juxtaposition, texture, pattern.

You get the most joy out of the arrangement when you’ve styled it so that it sings.

Somehow your arrangements seem to come alive.

Whether you live for decorating or you’ve just done a very nice job of curating such a busy ‘art galley‘ of a home, you, my friend are telling a masterful story.

A never-ending story!

(And also a symphony.)


Your Maximalist Origins

Neither type of maximalist (the introverted or extroverted kind) necessarily plans to be a maximalist.

Rather, you might have evolved this approach to decorating and style all on your own, and it just represents who you are as a decorator or even as an individual!

On the other hand, maybe you just saw the style somewhere one day and said, “Hey, I’m doing that.”


Understanding ‘Minimalism’ for Maximalists

For those who find themselves on the maximalist side of the decorating fence, you might struggle with the opposite concept that “less is more“.

Objectively, that doesn’t even seem to make sense.

If you have less, isn’t that just less?

What Maximalists need to understand is that for minimalists, “nothingness” is not nothing.

Instead, it is the possibility of everything.


Minimalism: “I Am All Things” ?

Here is an example of a minimalist room

Keep it Min

If you fall on the Minimalist side you might nurture a certain appreciation for the esoteric.

Another reason could be that you dislike visually busy styles.

For some people, looking at a lot of color and pattern can literally drain them mentally.

Minimalists are often pragmatists.


The Minimalist Extrovert

A slick, modern Minimalist space

Block Party

You want the space to feel clean because you’re meticulous. However, you may be more interested in what’s going to happen in the space than the space itself.

You want everything to be functional and streamlined.

You definitely don’t want to be dictated to by any overwhelming style, color or pattern. Ew.

You had your designer plan your house perfectly and after that you didn’t think to worry about it any further.

You focus on the dinner party you’re having, and the lavish feast you’ll serve your guests.

Funny how they almost always end up commenting on what a great home you have, anyway.

You agree.

But, you remind them, they’re lucky they don’t have to heat it.


The Minimalist Introvert

A warm, elegant minimalist space

High Sensibility

You like to keep fuss to a minimum.

Clean lines make you feel calm and unruffled.

You have rich worlds inside your head and likely also in your impressive but minimally-displayed library of fantastic books.

Home for you is where you unwind and relax.

And most importantly, recharge.

You keep clutter out of the way because it helps you think better.

You have a busy, active life and you need your space to support that.

It needs to be a haven for reflection and for focus.

Minimalism keeps you grounded on what matter to you.

The things that matter are not always things you can display, but what you do display is meaningful in some way.


Understanding Maximalists for Minimalists

If you can get around the busier visual style that Maximalism is, try to view the entire thing as a kind of symphony.

A great piece of music has many different instruments playing many different parts.

Poorly-executed maximalism may totally miss the mark at times, but a beautiful example of maximalism can be intoxicating to the senses if you take time to appreciate all the layers and nuance.

Kelly Wearstler and Martyn Lawrence Bullard are two very popular examples of designers who decorate incredibly well in the maximalist style.

So, go on and give Maximalism a go.

After all, you don’t have to live with it to appreciate it from time to time.


How Opposites “Attract”, in Rotating Cycles

a man doing a presentation at work

Mainstays

Some styles can be considered “timeless”, (meaning they retain their popularity despite competition from the emergence of new styles!) and there’s a good chance that they will always be with us in some sense.

However, if you know anything about the world of design and home retail, you probably know that decorating trends, like seasonal fashion and even bull runs, tends to run in cycles.


Fashion Cycles

If you look closely at design fashion, you will also find that there are big swings between polar opposite trends.

These swings between extremes come about when everybody seems to go one way and then, when boredom with that style sets in, there is a trend reversal.

A trend reversal is a sudden rise in public interest in a style which is wildly different to, even the complete opposite of the reigning popular style.


group of multiethnic teenagers in casual wear in studio

Style Nostalgia

It has been said that people tend to become nostalgic for the homes of their childhoods over time.

What seems most like “home” to us is something we recognize as familiar.

This almost certainly influences how we feel about style.


Examples in Fashion

This notion of ‘nostalgia influencing style’ is often seen in the fashion world.

It’s one of the reasons why 1990s fashion became popular again in the 2020s.

Kids of a certain decade grow up and despite experimenting with different exotic things, most tend to go back to their roots when they have their own children.


Styles Can Be ‘Overplayed

Like Celine Deon’s most celebrated song from the soundtrack of the blockbuster movie Titanic, ‘My Heart will Go On”, when a song’s been overplayed, it’s been overplayed.

It’s the same with styles, no matter how popular.


Enjoy Your Own Preference

Minimalism has come back into mainstream popularity many times, but this year it seems Maximalism is having a turn in the limelight.

Hey, there’s room for everybody.

Which do you prefer? Are you minimalist, maximalist or happy somewhere in the middle?

According to our Five Genre Style system, we are “Modern-Eclectic” which would make us 75% minimalistic, lol.

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vonsassy

Designer, writer & educator living in East Asia since 2001

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