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Less Is Not More Anymore - Maximalism Is Back



I’m no historian, but the parallels of the Roaring 20s and the 20s of today are not lost on me. Both involved reactions to a pandemic that kept folks pent up for months. In the 1920s, the Western world responded with an era known for excess, luxury, and Great Gatsby-like parties.


Today, a similar explosion is happening in our homes, say top designers. We may not be running out to speakeasies or sporting flapper dresses, but home design trends are far from tame.


“Having fun is back on the agenda across all aspects of our lives and that includes at home,” said British interior designer Benji Lewis.


“Restraint is giving way to permission to live larger, and to not play it safe all the time,” said Courtney Sempliner, a designer based in Port Washington, New York. “People are keen to get on with life and live to the fullest. Everyone is ready to push it a bit.”


Hello, maximalism. Good-bye, minimalism. We are over living like monks, and are ready to show “less is more” the door.


“The more-is-more approach gives us freedom to be loud, chaotic, and colorful and to create a collision of styles.” Lewis said. “Think traditional floral wallpaper with a supersized photograph of Jimmy Hendrix playing live at Woodstock.”


“More is more lets us push the envelope a little farther,” Sempliner said. “The pendulum has swung away from minimalist looks. Now everyone is open to embracing the ornate.”


After a long, drab spell, where gray minimal interiors dominated home decor, this explosion of color and abundance feels, at least to me, like a like rain on the desert. But, before you go hog bananas, know the rules. Here Lewis and Sempliner answer questions about the move toward more and share their top tips on how to make the most of maximalism:

What’s driving the trend toward maximalism?

Lewis: It’s a reaction to the events of the last 18 months. People found themselves stuck in their homes, and wanted to find some joy in their living areas, so they began treating themselves to more color, pattern and texture. Though we will always have a place for gray on gray, maximalism has nudged it to one side.


What defines the maximalist look?

Sempliner: Maximalism means more of everything. More of your favorite colors, fabrics and accessories. It’s about embracing color and pattern; layering pillows and blankets and area rugs. It’s about full drapery and sofas with trim. It’s about replacing one bold piece with three.


Lewis: It’s using heritage items and period pieces, and reimagining old items in new ways, so everything is not brand new. It’s gallery walls, and a drink trolley. We have moved passed rooms that are so stark and scary that you’re afraid to sit down.


What’s the difference between maximalism and clutter?

Lewis: Maximalism does not happen by accident. It is not chaos or disorder, but rather controlled, curated chaos that incorporates balance.


Sempliner: Maximalism is tailored and tied together. It is not putting out everything you love.

To keep your decor from looking too random, find a few common colors or patterns to repeat through the room.


How is maximalism different from traditionalism, or is it?

Sempliner: Maximalism is more about pushing boundaries and being a bit over the top.


Lewis: You can incorporate maximalism into all styles, traditional, contemporary or even modern interiors. Mix it up. Putantique French armchairs with a modern glass cube table. If I were doing a modern maximal space, I would think in terms of layering textures and tones.


How can home decorators introduce Maximalism in their spaces?

Lewis: Don’t wing it. Build a room scheme with a well-planned furniture layout. Once furniture is in place, add pattern, maybe a floral chair or striped wallpaper. Then look to see which of your existing possessions you could add to dress the space. Edit what doesn’t make sense. Don’t fixate on making everything match. Be prepared to clash a little. Don’t be shy. Think floral chintz, woven geometrics, bullion fringe.


What are five décor moves that say maximalism to you?

Lewis: A key item in a maximalist interior is a drink trolley to bring the illusion of entertaining in grandeur. Layers. Prints and patterns, especially an animal print. Leopard is so much fun. Strong jewel tones, like garnet, sapphire, turquoise, emerald. A portrait of an ancestor. If you don’t have one, buy one. Who will know?


Sempliner: Clusters of three items in a vignette, instead of one. A move away from gray toward a colorful palette. More whimsy, less restraint. Larger scale everything. Collections of plates or artwork hung on a massive gallery wall.

How do you know you’ve created a successful interior?

Lewis: You know when, at the end of the day, you go into the space and all those elements we discussed are in place, the emerald and the garnet, and this fantastic feeling surrounds you, and the room feels so dramatic, you say, “I love this! I am going to have a really good time here. I could dance here all night.” That is a successful interior.


Sounds like the Roaring 20s to me.


Photo caption: More, PleasePrints and patterns, layers and textures, those are among the hallmarks of maximalism. Photo courtesy of Benji Lewis.

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