The New Maximalism 101

The comeback of maximalism has been viewed by many as the natural reaction to two decades of neutral-heavy minimalism and the midcentury modern revival.   And that is undoubtedly the case... just as, 20 years ago, the comeback of midcentury minimalism was the natural reaction to two decades of guessed it!--maximalism.

Of course, the term means different things to different people, but the maximalism of the 80's and 90's pulled mostly from traditional English, European and early American styles.  Antiques and reproductions reigned, and florals, plaids, ginghams, and stripes crawled across fabrics, rugs, and every wall in the house.  (In certain circles, it seemed some people would sooner go naked themselves than leave one of their walls un-papered).  Tufting, ruffles, and tassels were de rigueur, and amassing and displaying large collections --antique quilts, paperweights, blue & white porcelain-- was a huge Thing. (Thanks, Martha!)  Oft-published A-List interior designers like Mario Buatta, Charles Faudree, Sister Parish, and Charlotte Moss provided aspirational inspiration to the mainstream and design communities alike.   On the mass retail/lifestyle level, fabrics and wallpapers licensed by Waverley and Laura Ashley-- and anything with a Ralph Lauren label-- dominated the era.

So it isn't hard to see how the modern aesthetic gained such a stronghold on a generation that grew up with so much...decor.  Trends are an important reflection of cultural shifts and shouldn't ever be ignored,  but when it comes to the "-ism" spectrum, most people intrinsically lean toward one end or the other, and it's the interior designer's task to tease away the pop-culture influences and figure out which grounding aesthetic is their client's true north.  It can be as simple as determining what makes them most anxious: being in a "cluttered" room or a "sterile" one?

Once that's established, current trends can be carefully incorporated in fresh ways.  Today's maximalism is less about fussy details and more about making bold and interesting statements.

Design writer Diana Budds describes it this way after returning from Milan design week:

"This year the artistic influences ranged from ’30s art deco to ’70s eclecticism. Designers and manufacturers experimented with digital fabrication–like 3D knitting–and rediscovered artisanal craft techniques, like lacquering, metal casting, and jacquard weaving. But one thing was consistent: They’re embracing luxurious materials and textures, testing ambitious silhouettes, and piling on the details to yield products and furnishings that are visually enticing and emotionally evocative."

Fashion Snoops' home interiors guru Jaye Anna Mize attributes this emerging interest in bringing more details, layering, and meaningful objects into the home to the desire for self-expression that's been largely fueled by social media and digital sharing.  She calls this "trend story" English Rose"

"English Rose is the idea of eclectic living. This story celebrates the individual in its utmost form. Our world today is championing diversity from every angle, we are celebrating what makes us uniquely us. We are in a boom of self-expression, as consumers look to express their identity through discovery thanks to the usage of technology and travel... spaces are brought to life with a unique flair representative of worldly finds, artistic curation, and playful color mixes.  The idea of chaotic harmony derives from eccentric yet confident individuals, whose cross-cultural reference with vibrant decor transforms living spaces into unusual displays. Vintage furniture paired with contemporary influences leads to quirky friendships in the home, as the combination of old versus new brings a whimsical flair to interiors.

In the age of Instagram and Pinterest, people are looking for unique ways to stand out.  Eye-popping patterns, gallery walls, and custom embellishments create photo-friendly vignettes that have a visual richness that's hard to match with minimalist spaces and neutral tones.

While interior design pros know that the minimalist look is just as hard--if not harder--to pull off successfully, the resurgence of maximalism into the popular imagination is likely to be good for business as consumers realize that achieving a rich, layered look requires time, skill, and access to unique product sources and customization.

But this time around, designers don't need a massive library of sample books and catalogs to put together something truly original.  Digital sourcing and high-tech sample fulfillment have expanded the choices and possibilities for firms of all sizes.

What does maximalism mean to you? Are you seeing a renewed interest in maximalism and/or a moving away from modernism and minimalism with your own clients or potential clients?  We'd love to hear from you at

Maximalism has been Top of Mind for us this month.  Read more:

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Sandy Hughes