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What Does It Mean to Be Maximalist? Interior Designers Explain

There’s a misconception about maximalism— which is mainly, that it implies a lot of stuff.

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By Vogue US | August 13, 2021 | Living Room

Frieda Gormley and Jaavy M. Royle think there’s a misconception about maximalism—mainly, that it implies a lot of stuff.

That’s not true, they say. Maximalism is about lots of color. Painterly prints. Rich textures. Surrounding yourself with objets d’art, mementos, and curios that you love. When they undertake a new project with their firm, House of Hackney—whether its covering Kate Moss’s guest room in moody palmeral prints or upholstering chairs for Cara Delevingne—they always abide by the aesthetic adage of William Morris: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

It’s important to clear this up. Why? Because thanks to Gormley, Royle, and a slew of other famous interior designers, from Martin Brudnizki to Ken Fulk, maximalism is once again the design style du jour.

After enjoying a Dorothy Draper-induced heyday in the 1960s, followed by a decades-long decline in favour of minimalism and mid-century modern, the over-the-top ethos has made a triumphant return. Spurred perhaps by Brudnizki’s work at Annabel’s in London, interior designers have been espousing the joys of everything from jewel tones, to statement ceilings, to chinoiserie wallpaper. “Be bold and decorate with conviction,” Kathryn M. Ireland told us last December.

Yet the style continues to carry negative associations—mainly its association with rooms belonging to your great aunt or some other random distant relative, stuffed to the brim with junk and clashing chintz that raises both the eyebrows and the heart rate—as well as confusion. If maximalism isn’t just stuff, then what, exactly, is it? Here, we’ve put together a quick and easy guide to the eye-popping approach.

What Is Maximalism?

Maximalism is the art of more-is-more; layered patterning, highly saturated colors, ample accessories and art (likely hung "salon-style"), and a real sense of playfulness and bold gestures,” Keren Richter, interior designer at White Arrow, tells Vogue. Maximalism stretches across movements. “Maximalism might be found in an eclectic British home with patterned wallpaper, patterned drapery, and a somewhat chaotic collected atmosphere,” says Richter. “I also consider the Memphis Design movement—with its playful colors, patterning, and geometric and squiggly silhouettes—originating from the same exuberant spirit." So yes, a dark and moody Victorian-style room and a playful 1980s vibe can both be maximalist.

What Are Some Classic Examples?

Diana Vreeland’s “Garden in Hell” apartment (pictured above) by Bill Baldwin and the bohemian 1960s apartment of Baby Jane Holzer are both classic examples of maximalist interiors, according to Richter.

Gormley and Royle also love the historic example of Barbara Hulanicki's Biba in Kensington, a swinging sixties boutique that “was filled with ornate Victorian furniture and antiques, contrasted by peacock feathers and mirrored pillars.”

Meanwhile, Tina Schnabel, senior interior designer at BarlisWeldlick, says Tory Burch’s Pierre Hotel apartment designed by Daniel Romualdez is a perfect modern day ode to maximalism.

How Can I Incorporate the Style Into My Own Life?

Maximalism is all about going big, or going home—which is, well, a daunting ethos. Here are some tips, courtesy of Schnabel: “Maximalist spaces can be successful when a cohesive look is created by tying many different patterns and textures together with a consistent colour or colour family. The color(s) of choice can be added on the walls, ceiling, window jambs and millwork—even the furniture upholstery and window treatments,” she explains. “To ground the eye, consistent hard finishes like wood or marble coffee and side tables should provide relief to the room's bold patterns and colors. All in all, to be a maximalist, ensure as many spots in the room as possible aren’t left naked.”

This originally appeared on Vogue US.