Maximalism is for Rebels

Updated: Apr 5, 2019

Does this living room make me look rebellious?

Jay Montgomery @jay_mo_photos

In this day and age of minimalist everything, we have all heard the phrase “less is more” (adopted as a precept for minimalist design and architecture in 1947 by architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe). I would like to talk about its opposite. It’s called maximalism. It’s a thing.

Let’s delve into “more is more” or, in the famous words of architect Robert Venturi, “Less is a Bore.” Mr. Venturi asserted that the idea “less is more” is suitable only for architects, not for people.This man must have had a sense of humor.

I have spent many decades flipping through shelter magazines and gazing longingly at the spare, quiet, clean-lined, pale, tasteful, and nearly empty minimalist spaces featured. Oh, so serene, beautiful, and tasteful. “I want to be a minimalist,” I think to myself. Yet, try as I might, my house does NOT look like this. Why? Because I have four kids? A dog? I like color? And art? Yes. Yes, to all.

Now, don’t get me wrong—a beautifully curated and tastefully designed minimalist space fills my soul with an expansive, clear-headed, free feeling. I want to vacation there. I want to refresh and decompress there. I want to dream and plan for my future there. I am inspired and liberated by the absence of stuff in these spaces.

Instagram @Dominomag

However, there is an equal and opposite value in being surrounded and enveloped by interesting, personally meaningful, gorgeous, and unique things. Ironically, this principle of surrounding yourself with belongings that add happiness to your life is discussed extensively in a radically life-changing and delightful little book called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Japanese organization guru Marie Kondo. Your possessions should spark joy in your soul, people. (Also, read the book—it’s great.)

Enter maximalism.

“Maximalism is defined by the opportunities it presents. It welcomes diverse aesthetics, excess, decadence and extravagance by breaking traditional design rules” (The Rise of Maximalism in Design).

Not to be confused with a hoarding disorder, maximalism is thoughtful, curated, personal, tasteful, and far from boring. You’re probably familiar with this design style without even knowing it.

Instagram @Archdigest

Instagram @Dominomag

Maximalism is a party and full to the gills with visual punch. There are no rules. Therefore, if you’re the rebellious type, it may be perfect for you. This style does not adhere to any certain aesthetic. Pattern, color, texture—yes, yes, and yes! Dark or pale walls, wallpapered, or wood—everything goes. Art, fabric, textures, natural, shiny, industrial, gothic, vintage, modern, tchotchkes, books, plants—all are welcome here.

Instagram @Jungalow

Maximalism is very personal, which is

what makes it so great. You won’t see your space replicated anywhere else. Say goodbye to that embarrassing oh-my-gosh-we’re-both-wearing-the-same-dress-to-prom feeling. Your space will be like none other. Your space will be entirely and uniquely you. If you’d like to bring me in to create this look, the resulting space will be our collaborative interpretation of you. I am thrilled to help you discover this rendition.

Okay, I lied. There may be some rules...or for the you-can’t-tell-me-what-to-do types, let’s just go ahead and call them guidelines. Here are a few guidelines to tame the potential chaos:

1. Group like items. They will read as one big visual display. Think: salon wall.

Jay Montgomery @jay_mo_photos

Instagram @Toimageworks

2. Employ symmetry to add visual peace. Subdue aesthetic chaos with repetition.

Jay Montgomery @jay_mo_photos

3. Keep surfaces clear (countertops, floors, table tops, etc.). Hang your goods on walls and corral objects on trays, in baskets, under glass cloches, or in a glass-fronted display case. This way, you keep work and floor spaces minimalistic (read: functional).

Instagram @Collins_Interiors

4. When shopping, cultivate awareness of your own internal sparks of joy. Do you see something that gives you a jolt of happiness or delight? Let that be your guide. Buy original art: one-of-a-kind and handmade pieces.

5. Seek professional help. No, not therapy (well, not unless we need to talk about that hoarding problem or your childhood). Design help. Call in a pro (ME, pick me!) to curate, arrange, and add to your glorious, joyful riot of furnishings, décor, and art.

In closing, Let me be clear - there is a limit to the madness. Your space needs to work for real life. You need to live and function there, and it needs to resonate with your soul. That means that this style is highly personal and will require careful thought about what stays and goes.

Like minimalism, maximalism is not for everyone.

Maximalism is for rebels.

Now, for some gratuitous eye candy of our favorite iconic rebel, James Dean.

OK, so now I have just spent a million minutes crawling the interwebs for pictures of James Dean. Lord help me.

And, please take note of the similar taste that James and I have in tchotchkes.

Proof that I am a rebel.

Kristin Alvarado is an interior designer at Christine Werlin Design & Decor, serving clients on Bainbridge Island, Seattle, and beyond. If you would like to connect with Kristin email her at or follow her on facebook, instagram or Pinterest.

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