Maximalism has gotten a bad rap. The term conjures up images of overcrowded, cluttered, and chaotic spaces that remind one more of an overzealous collection of circus memorabilia than a home.
What is It?
Trends take pendulum swings as the world around us changes. Originally, maximalism was associated with wealth – or the desire to appear wealthy: opulent and overstuffed. In response to world events the pendulum swung toward minimalism: clear surfaces and spare furnishings. Excess became associated with negative and unflattering personality traits: it became gaudy or tacky and associated with lower social standing while minimalism signaled sophistication.
There is an emotional element: often said to be a rejection of minimalism, modern maximalism is more a rejection of conformity, of following a formula. It’s about self-expression in interior design.
You will still see an over-the-top exuberant room in a magazine. There is an expectation of maximalism. These equate to the wild designs seen on the runway. You can simply be inspired by the look and the feeling it evokes and not attempt a literal interpretation.
The expression “more is more” is often heard as a description. It may be more accurate to say in modern maximalism, “some more is more.” More is not an arbitrary amassing of things. It is a collection that creates a feeling. For example, a recommendation for large collections was to avoid clutter by displaying some, storing the rest, and rotating the displays. The modern maximalist version encourages display of the entire collection in a thoughtful and intentional manner. It gives a whole new meaning to Marie Kondo’s “sparking joy.” Today’s expression is about a home that is uniquely yours.
A few adjectives to describe a modern maximalist space are joyful, charming, playful, bold and eclectic. Color may be bold and vibrant but not jarring. A maximalist use of color may be using the same color on everything or splashes of several (or many!) colors used in accessories, artwork, and soft furnishings. Patterns, varied in scale, work together but aren’t “coordinated”. Mixing different styles of furniture is a theme: vintage, rustic, contemporary and traditional live together in an unusual harmony. Mingling metals and wood tones creates interest. This style of design is layered. It draws you in and takes you on a journey.
As often happens with a trend, neutral maximalism is an outgrowth of modern maximalism. The playful patterns are done up in nature-inspired neutrals. Living walls provide a lush backdrop. Neutral maximalism is a companion to several other design trends that appear to be here to stay.
Is There a Conclusion?
Modern maximalism in interior design is about self-expression. There are no rules. You could argue that there were no rules in “traditional” maximalism, but there was an implied “over-the-top-ness” that doesn’t exist in the current definition. There are degrees and you get to decide where you fall on the spectrum.