Minimalism is Dead. Long Live…Minimalism?

published Nov 9, 2017
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(Image credit: Stadshem)

When I first started blogging for Apartment Therapy, there was a certain minimal, Scandinavian look that was absolutely everywhere. You’ve probably seen it: white floor, white walls, neutral palette, very little furniture (although quite possibly with a sheepskin draped over a chair.) Over the years, I’ve watched the interiors on our site (and others) grow more cozy, cluttered, and colorful. I’ve read countless articles about maximalism being the new minimalism. People are even dyeing sheepskins pink. Does all this mean that minimalism is Over? Or can this particular look never truly die?

(Image credit: Justice Darragh)

Is maximalism the new minimalism?

Since so many design movements are reactions to what has come before, the logical heir to minimalism’s (supposedly) vacant throne might seem to be its direct opposite, maximalism. Plenty of articles have been written on the subject, in publications as diverse as the New York Times, Lonny, and Business Insider. Business Insider blames Trump, the NYT says that minimalism is just boring, and Lonny figures that, since the stuff of life is colorful, we might as well just embrace it and go for broke.

It seems nice in theory, and looks great in pictures, but the problem with these incredibly colorful, hyper-decorated spaces is that this kind of decor is, for a lot of people, really overwhelming. This style, particularly the kind of eclectic maximalism you see now—as opposed to say, Baroque maximalism, which embraces ornament but within a very specific set of rules—can be very hard to pull off. And in an era when consumer goods are more affordable than ever before, having less stuff (and higher quality stuff) can actually be a class signifier. Although I have a deep love for color, and maximalism certainly has it charms, I don’t see this look having the same kind of widespread adoption that the old Scandinavian minimalism once did.

(Image credit: Alvhem)

Is Victoriana the new minimalism?

I can’t particularly fault any design writer for floundering about in an attempt to identify the “new minimalism”, because I’ve done it too. A few months ago I wrote about the rise of something I called the new Victorian, a potential successor to minimalism. It’s a moody, intricate style, heavy on dark colors and floral patterns. But, if you look very closely, you’ll see the same bones as in the old minimalism: simple shapes and minimal furnishings, just dressed up in darker colors and more intricate patterns. This is the old minimalism, with a change of costume. And while it’s not exactly maximalism, it possesses some of the same limits that maximalism does: although it’s very stylish, I wonder if this look is just too overwhelming to have mainstream appeal.

(Image credit: Another Ballroom)

Is bohemian minimalism the new minimalism?

For some time now, there’s been a certain arty, bohemian look running parallel to minimalism. Although this look never achieved the same kind of saturation in design publications, it’s undeniably very popular, and has, through the influence of proponents like Justina Blakeney, had an effect on the kind of interiors you’re likely to see in publications like ours moving them in a cozier, more colorful direction. I wrote about this fusion of styles in a post about “the new bohemian“, and of these three looks, I think it’s had the most widespread adoption. But this, also, I would say, is not exactly a new style so much as a twist on an old one, speaking to the old minimalism’s ability to adapt and to its enduring appeal.

(Image credit: Dimore Studio)

Is Italian modernism the new minimalism?

My current choice for an “it” look that feels truly new would be what I like to call Italian modernism—still a fairly minimal style, with simple shapes and uncluttered interiors, but rendered in richer hues and more luxe materials—and with a touch of playfulness to boot. It’s a look that was originated and also perfected by Italian firms like Marcante – Testa and Dimore Studio (and is also practiced with aplomb by Patricia Urquiola, a Spanish designer who now calls Italy her home). In fact, if you take a look at Co.Design’s contribution to the “maximalism is the new minimalism” conversation, a lot of what they’re calling maximalism isn’t what I would call maximalism at all—it looks a lot like Italian modernism.

But I also think calling anything the “it” look belies the fact that the hyper-accessibility and ubiquitousness of interiors content on blogs, and on Pinterest, and on Instagram, means that the idea of a single look that’s currently “in” may itself be going out of style. At a time when we’re constantly bombarded with images of interiors, the idea of all interiors conforming to a particular style just seems boring. And the internet makes it easier than ever for even novice decorators to find a style that appeals to them personally, rather than just following trends.

Scandinavian minimalism will endure, I think, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a decade from now we’re still seeing that same interior, with the sheepskins (and maybe a few extra plants). But I think it will endure alongside a lot of other styles (like maximalism, and Victoriana, and minimal bohemian, and Italian modernism) that wax and wane in popularity themselves. I think we’re entering a new era of diversity in interior design, and that’s good for everyone.

In short: minimalism is the new minimalism—but also, so is everything else. Vive la différence.