Is minimalism dead? More is now more

After a year of sacrifice, people are filling their homes with what they love

I bet you haven’t thought about how a deadly virus affects interior design trends. Connecting the two “seems preposterous,” Spencer Kornhaber recently wrote for The Atlantic, “but this crisis is causing people to reevaluate all sorts of things that were once taken for granted.” Even all the junk we’ve accumulated in our homes.

Before 2020, minimalistic style overwhelmed high-traffic furniture brands (from the unsurprising Ikea to newcomers like Article) and popular interior design publications such as Architectural Digest with its clean lines, decluttered surfaces and sparse color palettes. 

Aside from feeling a sense of self-discipline over the mélange of what normally fills a home, there was an almost spiritual component to realizing that there is, indeed, very little that we need. A perfectly hand-thrown ceramic salad bowl placed just-so atop a well-hewn reclaimed wood table seemed to reflect an ability to see the significance of simplicity, the virtue of sacrifice and the pitfalls of wantonness.

But during the calamity of spring 2020, public health efforts unknowingly doubled down on stripped-down style to make things more clean and antiseptic — only this time prescribing actual sterile environments and reductive design. Spaces were controlled and economized, from the offices where we work to the grocery store aisles where we shop. As Kornhaber points out, the crisis tidied up the world. What once felt soothing now feels formulaic and pedestrian.

While the disinfection of public spaces is necessary in order to protect people during a pandemic, that cleanliness can translate to spaces ruled by scarcity and fear in our personal lives and homes. Whether consciously or unconsciously, we crave to find creative ways to deliver the truth of what we want our lives to be and the inner abundance we experience when bad news isn’t at the forefront of our minds. As fleeting as life is — and as we come to understand just how fleeting it is — we want to celebrate the wonder of it. And we do that in the ways we can control: with what we’re surrounded by in our daily lives and in our homes.

Now, after more than a decade of pared-down spaces and white-walled rooms, people are going in the opposite direction and filling their rooms with more of what matters to them and brings them joy — perhaps overcompensating for a year of sacrifice. Minimalism is out, and maximalism (or simply just filling your home with what you love) is in. 

Maximalist design (and mindset) encourages people to bring life back into their homes and to retire from all of the seemingly impossible Marie Kondo-esque rules demanding tidiness and mindfulness. In light of that, “maximalism throws the rulebook out.” These new spaces engage their inhabitants with color, texture, pattern and personality — an interior design boon of sorts, especially important after more than a year spent primarily at home. Walls that are filled with your favorite colors and pictures that are meaningful to the story of your life are welcomed. A dozen pillows strewn across a couch to make it extra cozy are a maximalist thumbs-up, too. It feels good to look across the living room and see the needlepoint pillow your grandmother helped you make, the watercolor painting from your friend and the shelves full of tchotchkes collected through the years. These spark joy, right? 

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Design authorities like Kristin Rocke — an award-winning interior designer in Salt Lake City — believe that though minimalism will never die out, maximalism is here to stay. 

We’ve reconsidered where and how we want to live, says Rocke. She’s seen an influx of people moving to Utah and, with that, a desire from new clients to be in “highly personalized spaces.” 

And while nominally an antonym, maximalism is not a rejection of minimalism. It is a stronger call for individual expression. “We live more maximalist than we live minimalist,” says Peti Lau, a Los Angeles-based interior designer featured in Architectural Digest and on HGTV. “We have a lot of stuff. A maximalist space tells a story. It invites you in.”

A pop of neon here and an unwieldy element there can be a reprieve from year two of rule following, as well as a celebration of the abundance of our lives and happy memories. Correctly distanced grids have become fixtures in public spaces. Life outside of the home has been controlled for the greater good. Per-person inventory limits have instilled a need for plenty. Now when we walk into our front doors we want to reenter ourselves and still feel joy and wonder. We are imperfect and full of life. Our spaces can be, too.

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