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Maximalism & Minimalism: ‘Opposites or maybe two sides of the same coin?’

Highgate interior designer, Esther Ivshin mulls over why maximalist and minimalist interiors are currently having their moment in the sun, and if they are in fact, as different as they initially seem…

Photo: eliinterior

Scrolling through my Instagram feed I’m tempted to believe the world is full of colourful homes with luscious tropical wallpapered rooms contrasting smartly with pattered curtains and lovely rugs. Staircases painted in dark colours above some vintage style floor tiles and many (many!) plants – on the floor, on shelves, hanging from the ceiling! 

Photo: Pine London Photography & eliinterior

And yet, whenever I meet new people and go into their homes they are, well, empty. My design process is mainly focused on unraveling who my clients are and what will make them feel comfortable and balanced. I don’t like trends, yet I’m being asked about them all the time. Maximalism is everywhere now. So is minimalism. Opposites or maybe two sides of the same coin? 

I see it like this – maximalism and minimalism exist on a wide spectrum but in fact stem from the same root.  

Maximalism is a celebration of colour, material, pattern and textures. When done properly there will be great thought behind every choice and although it will seem like some pieces contrast and clash with others it will all have a common thread running inside its metaphoric spine.

Minimalism will seem bare, neutral or empty but do not be fooled by the empty spaces – great attention had been taken in the choice of materials, lighting and composition. Every piece was considered and every choice to add or remove was contemplated. Minimalism is not the decision to not include, but in fact is the decision what to include and how.  

A recently completed project that I designed is a great example of this concept. A client of mine wanted to give her beautiful home in north London some character, make it feel like her second skin in a way that will help to increase her wellbeing and create balance in her life.

Photo: Pine London Photography & eliinterior

To help with that we created two sitting rooms: The larger one was named ‘the calm room’ – a minimalistic space with a very muted palate and natural materials. The client wanted it to be a place to go when the rest of life become simply too much; a place where she could just breath out and not be triggered by any bright colours or patterns.

The other sitting room was named the drama room  room designed around the idea of the garden in the winter and the theatre of nature. This room was designed as a maximalist space with bold wallpaper, deep dark plum paint framing the bay windows and a powerful black bookcase wrapped around a cubby hole window.

Photo: Pine London Photography & eliinterior

The centre of the whole design was a hexagonal stage that was tiled with contrasting terrazzo tiles where a sculptural Gaudi chair and a textured footstool were positioned. This was created around the idea that sometimes my client, who is a creative person with her hand in many pies (metaphorical and physical) needed to get her juices flowing, to be within the creative process, to feel it all.  

When I come into the home of a new client it will more often than not be fairly devoid of clear design choices. A neutral sofa, grey carpet. Sometimes I will see one bold, large, colourful artwork on the wall and I’ll ask, Who are you, the sofa or the artwork?

Photo: Esther Ivshin

In the last two years our lives have become so extreme and perhaps this explains why we want more extreme, or rather, clear choices in our home’s design – we’re locked in, we’re set free, the world is ending, we’re celebrating life.

Is it any wonder that we need our homes to be extreme to balance out the crazy world that exists outside our protective walls?  

Or maybe it’s actually the opposite? Maybe, with life being so messy so unpredictable, maybe we crave some simple definitions?

Since 2020 our lives have been pretty much turned on its head and all that we’ve taken for granted. That work happens outside our homes and schooling in a classroom have been put into question – maybe we are now looking for clarity inside? One big all encompassing idea that we can name and will guide us when making decisions.  

Choose minimalism – declutter, remove, think then add. Choose maximalism – google wallpapers, paint bannister, add rug, raid parent’s loft, put items on display. Choose one or the other, but does it really matter which?

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