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How to Achieve Maximalist Interior Design Without Extra Clutter

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Tired of being told to get rid of all your treasured stuff to suit the latest design trend? Welcome to the exuberant world of maximalist interior design. Sometimes seen as a rebellion against decades of pared-down minimalism, it's just as likely that it's simply time for the pendulum to swing back from our mid-century modern, Scandinavian-inspired minimalist interiors and return to embracing the sheer exuberance of luxury and excess. If Japandi and minimalist decor leave you feeling cool and washed out, if you adore surrounding yourself with bright colors, bold statements and your most loved treasures, it's your time to shine your light.

But wait — isn't that just an invitation to introduce chaos and clutter? What about all you've been reading about the simple joys and benefits of living a minimalist lifestyle? 

Turns out that 21st-century maximalist design has a lot more in common with Marie Kondo-inspired minimalism than you might think. Here's how to incorporate the "spark joy" philosophy underlying the minimalist movement into the exuberant excess of maximalist interior design, with ideas to help you infuse color, luxury and boldness into every room of your home without turning it all into a chaotic mess.

The Elements of Maximalist Interior Design

The high-fashion design mags will tell you that maximalist design is the celebration of excess, but they may be missing the mark. At its core, maximalism is a celebration of YOU — of the colors and textures and patterns and things that you love. The key philosophy that underpins this design trend is that your home should celebrate you, and every room should surround you with the colors and elements that make your heart sing. There are very few "rules" — more like suggestions and guidelines — and they exist to be bent and twisted until they create an environment that showcases everything that makes you happy. Play with these eight elements, and use the guidelines to help you build a home where you feel inspired and joyful.

1. Focus

One of the most important rules to remember is to highlight one or two focal points in each room and build around those elements. A statement couch with bold vertical stripes, an enormous monstera fig casting shadows on a solid color wall, a glamorous upholstered and gilded headboard, a baker's rack holding an entire herb garden in your kitchen. As long as you keep the major focus points to a minimum, you can fill in lots of small details around them without things feeling chaotic and cluttered.

2. Color

Bold colors are the hallmark of maximalism — but that doesn't mean you have to dive straight into eye-popping tomato reds and electric blues. Go for rich, saturated tones of your favorite colors — on the walls, the upholstery, the window treatments, the floors — even the ceiling, if that suits your fancy. The key to keeping everything from clashing into an assault on your eyes is to choose a couple of colors and use them to anchor everything else in the room.

3. Patterns

Stripes, plaids, florals, geometrics, animal prints — patterns play big in this design trend, and we do mean big. Pretty much anything goes, as long as it's big, bold and colorful. To keep it all tamed and cohesive, choose patterns with similar colors or shapes that echo each other. For example, splash a pink paisley wallpaper on the wall, and cover your sofa with deep teal that echoes the outline around each swirl. Or carpet your floor with a paisley carpet in more muted tones. 

4. Shapes

Use shapes to make a statement. Choose oversized table lamps in the shape of a glossy O, S-shaped chairs, or an abstract overhead lighting fixture that commands attention. Use color to highlight the shape of architectural details like crown molding and window frames. If your rooms are oddly shaped — with bump-out nooks or sloped ceilings, for example — embrace the oddity and make them stand out with patterned wallpaper (in lush, rich textures and bold colors, of course). It's all about highlighting individuality and making each element shine.

5. Texture

Let different textures play off of each other. In a world where microfiber upholstery covers and pressed board furniture are on all the furniture showroom floors, change things up with knit throws over the arm of a sofa, crocheted doilies — in unexpected colors — on a glass tabletop, or sculptured rugs on the floor. Mix glass with fabric, wood with steel, driftwood with velvet. Be playful and enjoy the contrasts.

6. Layering

Layer things on top of each other, just as you'd layer a flannel shirt over your favorite tank. Lay down a carpet over the wood floor, and a throw rug over the carpet under the coffee table. Layer items on your shelves, staging them with shorter items in front and larger, taller items behind them. Arrange a runner down the middle of the dining room table and use it as a backdrop for mirrored tiles, and use them as a backdrop for flowers or candles. Layer from bottom to top, front to back and even from floor to ceiling.

7. Surfaces

Make use of any available surface to display your treasures and your art. Hang paintings on the walls, stack shelves in corners, suspend plants and mobiles and shelves from the ceiling. Use your tabletops, windowsills and the moldings above your window casements. No surface is off limits, and every surface provides the opportunity to create a beautiful display, so dive in and decorate.

8. Intention

By now, you may have noticed how often words like "arrange," "style" and "consider" appeared in the preceding paragraphs. The most important element in creating a maximalist interior design that works is being intentional. The difference between clutter and design is intention. This is where Maximalism meets up with the Kondo style of decorating. You don't have to hold each item you own and ask yourself if it sparks joy — you already know. 

Basically, every item that you can see in your room should serve a purpose  — and if its only purpose is "because I like looking at it," then that's just perfect. Consider what you see from each vantage point in the room, and style the view to make it appealing. Ideally, you or a guest should be able to sit anywhere in a room and see beauty.

Maximalist Living Room Ideas — Playful Layers and Textures

Here are five quick ideas for incorporating maximalist design in your living room.

  1. Pick a bold, patterned wallpaper for one wall, and use colors from it in accessories and other design elements.
  2. Take inspiration from your favorite artists. Whether you adore Boticelli or are a fan of modern street art, choose a few statement art pieces and build your design around them.
  3. Soften the hard edges and surfaces of furniture with table runners, doilies or plants that trail over the edges.
  4. Choose plants that make a statement — and support your color scheme — like anthurium or a huge palm.
  5. Display your favorite trinkets in a glass-fronted curio cabinet, complete with lighted shelves.

Designing a Maximalist Kitchen — Bold and Unexpected Shapes 

In your kitchen, go bold with color and unexpected shapes that capture attention.

  1. Turn a baker's rack into a showcase for your most used kitchen appliances and utensils.
  2. Create a coffee station from a set of inexpensive steel shelves or rolling utility cart, and hang an LED Coffee sign above it.
  3. Layer your countertops, making use of space under overhanging cabinets for spice storage. Check out Amazon for inexpensive kitchen storage ideas that can turn your counters into a display.
  4. Create a floating bookshelf for your cookbooks on the wall.
  5. Remember, your kitchen table is also a surface that you can style!

The Maximalist Bathroom — Pattern and Color

How do you go big in the smallest room in the house? Your bathroom may not offer a whole lot of space for extra shelving and cabinets. That doesn't mean you can't make a splash with pattern and color.

  1. Bathrooms are the perfect place to perfect your wallpaper hanging skills — more often than not, you're only dealing with half the height of the wall! Pick a bold jungle plant print or get inspired by the undersea world.
  2. Over-the-tank shelves are a popular solution to add storage to a small bathroom. Turn them into a display focal point with little artwork, shells, and other trinkets. 
  3. Create a little "shrine" on a shelf, with an incense burner and collection of incense, because maximalism should take in all your senses.
  4. Take advantage of the humidity in the bathroom to decorate with moisture-loving tropical plants.
  5. Turn boring standard bathroom tiles into a focal piece with tile decals or removable vinyl cutouts — super affordable, and acceptable even in rented apartments.

What You Don't See

In some cases, what you don't see is just as important as what you do. When you're styling a room, especially in a small space, you will run up against things you need to have, but don't necessarily want to look at all the time. For items like extra blankets, cooking utensils and spare toilet paper or cosmetics, check out our storage hacks to keep them out of sight. If there are items you don't use often — like seasonal decorations, camping gear, or patio furniture, you can move them to your attic or store them offsite in a personal storage unit with SmartStop until you need them.

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