Here’s How to Keep a Maximalist Room from Looking Sloppy or Cluttered

published May 11, 2022
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Credit: Minette Hand

You probably know the maximalist decor style when you see it. When done correctly, high contrast hues merge seamlessly in an artful mix of patterns, textures, and layers. Minimalist design enthusiasts may find the “more is more” aesthetic a little cluttered and chaotic. Well, that might be the case if a maximalist home is thrown together without any thought or care. The best maximalist spaces take as much time, effort, and energy to pull together as any other decorative style though, and there’s a method behind these spaces’ vibrancy. 

No hard and fast rules may define maximalism, but certain strategies can help your over-the-top space from veering into sloppy or disorganized territory. If you want to go on the journey of curating a well-designed maximalist space that speaks to you, here’s what you should keep in mind.

Always tell a story in your space. 

Maximalist decor tells a story at its core — more specifically, it tells the story of you. When tapping into the most joyous parts of your being, select furnishings and design elements that feel like a manifestation of what speaks to you.

In this sense, maximalism can be somewhat sentimental and can allow you to demonstrate your personality. Display family pictures and heirlooms, even if your individual pieces’ aesthetics, finishes, or materials are mismatched. Mix current store-bought furnishings with vintage ones; the clashing of old and new is a cornerstone of maximalism decor. You might also want to include unique pieces that speak of your family’s culture and heritage, your hobbies, and whatever destinations you’ve visited in your travels. Your personality can be a unifying factor behind disparate pieces, and you’ll find that if you use true to you items, they will likely always have something in common to create some unity.

Credit: Minette Hand

Design with a few of your favorite colors.

Color psychology is a science that examines how different colors may impact your mood and feelings. Although specific shades may alter your feelings in varying ways — for example, some studies indicate red influences aggressive behavior — these “truths” are somewhat thrown out the window in maximalist design.

If seeing red brings out a feeling of love and passion for you, why not include it in your decor? If you like bright teals, yellows, or purples, you could even find ways to mix them in, too. Add whatever colors and patterns speak to you. Don’t worry about a particular color being a risky choice; what’s most important is that you enjoy it.

Whether you use bold pops of color and pattern as focal points in a room or treat them more as accents, you can find a way to be playful without compromising all sophistication. The more skilled maximalist decorator can deftly use a rainbow of shades, but if you’re just starting out on your more is more journey, you might find sticking to a palette of two to four shades a better way to curate your space. Repetition will always be soothing to the eye, and using it as a decorating strategy in a maximalist space can help you reign things in a bit so the room won’t feel overwhelming.

The above space features a red sofa and lime walls as well as orange and teal accents, but the composition works because you see these shades used repeatedly throughout the space — and featured in other major elements in the room, like plants and art, so they never feel foreign or out of place. Another reason these clashing but complementary colors work? White is also used liberally in the room, providing a neutralizing buffer for all of that color. Black has a similar grounding effect, so remember to pepper both black and white throughout your maximalist space to calm it down a bit in this way.

Create some balance when styling out surfaces.

Even maximalist decor requires a touch of minimalism to prevent it from becoming messy. Editing is key here, mainly when it comes to styling shelves, tabletops, and mantles. 

Start with a piece of artwork — or even a focal wall mural, as seen above — and decorate around it with plants, sculptures, hardcover coffee table books, and other mesmerizing objects. You can avoid clutter and still maintain a strong visual impact by leaving out the tiniest of knickknacks. It’s often best to choose a few key medium to larger sized objects than a bunch of small ones. Skip paperback books here, which can be kind of floppy, and avoid smaller figurines, which can read as tiny and cluttered from a distance. Group together similar items or collections, such as a stack of collectible magazines or records. 

Be bold but methodical.

If boldness is in your DNA, don’t hide it in your maximalist decor. Your rooms should make a statement and represent who you are. Consider applying a vibrant, patterned wallpaper to your hallway or powder room, and swap out those standard builder grade lights. For example, you may want to include a brass sconce reminiscent of bygone days, or you might go for another lighting fixture with a retro-shaped shade.

Another bold style move may be to apply wallpaper to the ceiling. Even more intriguing: Ceiling wallpaper doesn’t have to match what’s on the walls. There’s a way to combine wallpapers skillfully though. Choose patterns in similar colorways with different scales, or consider pairing something classically bold, like a dark oversized floral, with a more subdued textural grasscloth or metallic foil paper. Again, it’s all about creating some balance between the different elements you choose for your walls and ceilings. You can also get the maximalist look by painting your ceiling a different color from your chosen wallpaper. Don’t just pick any color though; use the wallpaper — or a rug or piece of art — to pull your palette from. 

It may seem challenging to prevent sloppiness in your maximalist decor without actual design rules to follow. However, expert recommendations suggest designing a residence with your happiness in mind. You want to live somewhere that feels like an escape from the outside world, so create your space for your enjoyment above all else.