Photography by Getty Images, Burst, Thomas Yang, Vincent Rivaud, Christopher Stark, Julie Aagaard, and emre can.

Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe, one of the most renowned modernist architects, was born in nineteenth-century Germany and moved to the United States in 1937. He later became director of the College of Architecture at Chicago’s Armour Institute (now the Illinois Institute of Technology). Mies popularized the “less is more” philosophy, specifically in regard to architecture and design. Over the past few years, this age-old adage has morphed into a design style known as minimalism: a look that draws major influence from Japan and is typically defined in interior design as being clean, uncluttered, neutral or monochromatic, and simple, with emphasis on form, light, and function. On the other side of the spectrum is maximalism, a “more is more” response to minimalism. Colors, mixing of fabrics and patterns, decoration, and an overall ornate look are what constitute a maximalism approach to interior design.

But is one style better than the other? And what can you specifically do to bring one of these styles into your home? Is there a way to cohesively blend them?

Minimalism

This design aesthetic isn’t as austere as you may think, and it isn’t only comprised of whites, creams, and harsh lines. Minimalism entails taking a more functional approach to infusing personal touches into the home. You can still have artwork, a centerpiece on the dining room table, and a throw blanket in a pattern you like. It’s about looking at your space through a more subdued design lens—keeping items that are both reflective of your personality and serve a purpose. Kari McIntosh, founder of San Mateo-based interior design firm Kari McIntosh Design, lends her expertise on this style: “Sift through and ruthlessly purge your personal belongings, and create storage systems for anything you are keeping out of eyesight. Choose a light, unifying paint color for the home, and focus on clean-lined furnishings with a few large-scale accessories and artwork.

The larger the scale, the less individual objects are needed. Add something like a meaningful mural in sepia tones as an accent.” It’s also important to keep in mind that a minimalist look doesn’t have to require a complete modern renovation. If the bones of your space are more traditional and historical, you can still achieve a minimalist aesthetic.

In order to embrace minimalism, you should ask yourself, “How does each piece in this room inform the next?” For example, how does the pop of blue in this throw blanket on the couch flow into the couch itself or the coffee table next to it? Minimalism is about thoughtfulness and intention at its core. Less may be more in terms of actual things, but when it comes to thinking through the ‘how,’ it’s crucial to make purposeful choices.

Practical tips for a minimalist style

  • Limit a pop of color to one or two in a room, sticking to a neutral palette overall.
  • Declutter, declutter, declutter. Remove anything that doesn’t bring a sense of serenity to your space. Instead of a gallery wall, choose one or two pieces of artwork as focal points.
  • For cabinetry, drawers, and countertops, avoid jutting handles and unnatural textures Try stainless steel, quartz, or marble, with elements that don’t poke out.
  • Replace heavy curtains with a sheer material to let more light in.

Maximalism

Some people love variety and want to see bursts of vibrant colors and pieces of art in every nook and cranny of their home. This is where maximalism comes into play.

This extravagant style can be traced back to the 1970s, specifically when looking at the art world. During this time, artists embraced colors and patterns, taking a bolder approach to art that expressed the zeitgeist of that time. They aimed to set themselves apart from the minimalistic style of decades prior. Unsurprisingly, maximalism floated its way into the interior design realm shortly thereafter. McIntosh, who is partial to this approach to interior decorating, says, “To achieve a maximalist style at home, choose edgy wallpapers that play with scale, color, and shine, and embrace deep, rich colors. Don’t forget the fifth wall (the ceiling) to treat with gilding, wallpaper, or a fun cabana paint stripe.”

The key word? Fun. Maximalism should evoke a sense of playfulness. Are there souvenirs you’ve been hiding in your attic? Dust them off and put them on full display. Can’t decide between yellow paint or a patterned wallpaper for the walls? Maximalism says, “To heck with
it—use both.” McIntosh continues, saying, “Anything in multiples makes a charming statement if it’s gathered in bookshelves or custom framed. Some examples include pottery collections, vintage pennants, or even framed menus from Michelin-starred restaurants. I have
done each of these for clients. Add fabric and trims whenever possible through pillows or a draped vintage textile.”

Practical tips for a maximalist style

  • Floral, abstract, striped, animal, or geometric-printedwallpapers are fair game.
  • Layer various textures, colors, patterns, and fabrics.
  • Accessorize with statement pieces, such as stacks of books, antiques, throw pillows of varying patterns, and other eclectic items.
  • Add an assortment of plants. A boho design style is often associated with maximalism for this very reason.
  • Maximalism favors the bold, so don’t be afraid to pull out all your flea market finds or finally buy that leopard print wallpaper you’ve had your eye on. Infusing the space with your personal style will make your artistic expression shine brightly.

Merging of styles

Minimalism and maximalism don’t have to be mutually exclusive. You can have a colorful and boldly wallpapered bedroom while keeping your living room airy and monochromatic. Or you can layer textures and objects in the same room, while sticking to a neutral color palette. Think like a minimalist and a maximalist.