October 27, 2020
Somewhere in a room with bright white walls lies a light wood grain desk boasting gold, geometric legs. On that desk sits a white and gray marble-covered notebook and a single potted plant. For many, this minimalistic scene is the epitome of productivity and style, but to some it signals an individuality crisis.
Minimalism started as an art movement in the 1960s that focused on removing any pretenses about “deeper meanings” or what art should represent. During this movement, sculptures and prints were geometric and subtractive. Hard edges and lines kept things simple and contrastive. Sound familiar? Today, minimalism is continually used in interior design and has similar principles that emphasize space by utilizing a small number of furniture pieces with limited colors and texture palettes. Both forms of minimalism, past and present, celebrate using a minimal number of elements to create something visually and psychologically pleasing.
It is hard to deny that minimalism does have things going for it. As evidenced by just about every show on HGTV, there is something cathartic about knocking down walls to build a breakfast bar in a kitchen with white cabinets. The light colors make the room feel brighter and larger, bringing the freedom of the outdoors inside. Likewise, having fewer objects presents less clutter, and as we find ourselves spending more time at our desks or on sofas, a clutter-free workspace can lead to increased productivity. But if everyone has the same quartz countertops and floating shelves full of Bed Bath & Beyond sculptures and succulents, then has minimalism failed as an expressive design technique?
While coffee tables with perfectly angled magazines and empty glass vases create the feeling of cleanliness, they can also represent a tragic void of personality. For instance, after watching multiple home renovation shows on TV, they all start to look eerily similar. Designers and construction managers choose to remove the walls, paint everything neutral, and stage homes with short-backed sofas and reflective decor. Most times, the only room for personalization is an accent color or the tile shape of kitchen backsplashes. Why has more expressive design become something to be afraid of?
For those who reject the notion of paring down and are newly curious about finding alternatives to millennial pink and marble contact paper, the very antithesis to minimalism awaits. Those interested in a little more than the occasional “pop” of color turn to maximalism.
Yes, the name could have been a bit more creative but it really does say it all. The pillars of maximalism are color, comfort, and personalization. Maximalists believe a home or a room is an opportunity to express oneself. If someone loves something, they should love it fully and unashamedly. Maximalism rejects all conventional practices examining what colors, patterns, or textures “work” together and instead places the utmost emphasis on the individual and their personal preferences. Even if their preferences seem contradictory, it is viewed as an avenue to try new things.
Although the movement’s goal is to better a person’s life through personalization, maximalism can be a slippery slope that starts as a room full of personality and ends as one full of clutter. Likewise, minimalism has its pitfalls. When architects take minimalism to the extreme, homes much like Kim Kardashian’s former home come to be. While many people thrive in the extremes of this design spectrum, individuals who seek a space full of color and organization may prefer to find a middle ground between the two styles.
Like any art movement, accessory or pop song, the nature of trends is cyclical. As a society we get tired of things and then change them. Then we get tired of those things and we change them again. Minimalism-inspired designs on the cover of most home and garden magazines offer a glimpse into a life of eternal natural light and warm breezes. While those notions are irresistible and undeniably appealing, for every neutral-colored living room there is an explosion of color waiting to come out.
Megan Elias is a senior double majoring in professional writing and linguistics with a minor in graphic design. In addition to working at The Current, she is also the content editor at Sherlockian.net and the junior history editor at The Tempest magazine. When she’s not working, she can be found riding around campus on her longboard or playing Tetris 99.