Marie Kondo be damned — maximalism, the more-is-more design aesthetic — is back with a vengeance. A marked shift from the crisp white walls and clean-lined furniture of the minimalist movement, maximalism is defined by bold colors, loads of layers, clashing patterns and treasured collections. “It’s about curating things in an artful way,” explains interior designer Caitlin Murray, founder and CEO of Black Lacquer Design. “The more you’re adding to the mix, the more you have to worry about balance, flow, contrast and the overall palette. It’s part science, part intuition.”
Murray says the pendulum swing from minimalism to maximalism can be attributed to human nature: “I think people always crave something new and an answer to what they’ve grown to tire of.” Here she shares five tips for achieving a maximalist aesthetic that’s campy, but not chaotic.
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1. Find your ‘jumping off point’
“Look for a photograph, a piece of art, a wallpaper pattern or even a rug — something that has multiple colors in it,” suggests Murray. “Whoever created that piece has already done the hard part. If you like how those colors look together, you can use it as your guide.” That vintage kilim rug you recently scored off Etsy? Use it to build a color palette for the entire room. “I wouldn’t venture outside of that color combination, but you don’t have to use all of the colors,” says Murray. “Just try to keep it cohesive.”
2. Trust your gut (or turn to the experts for inspo)
If you’re a power-clashing newbie, mixing patterns and textures can be seriously intimidating. But Murray says it’s all about trusting your gut: “There’s a quote I really like by Elsie de Wolfe, who is kind of considered the first interior designer. What she says is, ‘If it looks right, it is right.’ You have to trust yourself — if something looks really jarring, there’s a reason and you’re probably picking up on it subconsciously.” If you’re still not sure where to begin when it comes to pairing patterns, Murray recommends browsing the works of interior designers like Kelly Wearstler, Jonathan Adler and Miles Redd, whose “[combinations] of textures, patterns and colors” have an artistic quality.
3. Mix the old with the new
“I think it’s really important to pull together pieces from various eras and styles because if you don’t do that, you’re going to end up with an interior that will eventually feel dated,” says Murray. Think of that brown leather living room set your parents bought in 2009 as a lesson in bad design. “The trick is to bring in special pieces that are vintage and mix them with contemporary pieces. It’s a balance of things that feel quirky, and others than feel clean,” explains Murray.
4. Ensure the space is a reflection of you
“You have to reject anything that doesn’t speak to you, which I think it kind of the opposite of what people have been doing,” says Murray. “People have been playing it really safe with all neutrals, and that doesn’t necessarily speak to their personality. They feel afraid to take a risk because what if they get sick of it?” Maybe you’ve been dreaming of an emerald green sofa upholstered in a plush velvet fabric, but ultimately settle for some gray polyester blend because it seems like the sensible thing to do. Murray says we need to cut the bullshit and prioritize personal taste over trends: “You really have to drop the anxiety around it because it’s not that serious. These things are totally replaceable!”
5. Know when to dial it back
“If you walk into a space and instead of looking chic and soulful and interesting, it just looks like visual clutter and chaos — that’s a good indicator,” notes Murray. Take a critical eye to your space, noting which surfaces look messy or over-designed. Snapping a photo can also help you see it from an outsider’s perspective. “If you’ve just got a lot of stuff out that doesn’t need to be there, that means it’s not well edited,” explains Murray. “The maximalist design shouldn’t extend to every single corner because you want to have some negative space — a place for your eye to rest when looking around the room.”