The Insider: Can Maximalism Keep Mum?

Adored for its intensity of style, the latest maxxed-out interiors have a shocking secret: They’re taking cues from a counter-movement, minimalism. How do the two meet? A few top designers are here to tell you.

Written by Sophie Donelson



Who can resist the breathlessly gossipy world of trend hunting? There’s the sparkling excitement of watching a color, a feeling, or a point of view gather stamina and then finally be deigned queen—at least for a moment. Then: The communal sigh of relief when an aesthetic gone awry is given a thoughtful burial. White bouclé: You were loved by many.

Without fail, you can’t go a season or two without encountering the debate between whether we’re in a maximalist or a minimalist moment. The question it asks is much bigger than, how do we decorate? It’s: how should we live? How do we make meaning in our spaces? Is it an hour for refinement, clarity, and space (also austerity and asceticism) or indulgence, comfort, and expression (along with abundance and ostentatiousness)? Friends, we’re making the call and it’s both. Minimal Maximalism isn’t exactly having it both ways. It’s not gilding in the powder room and a plinth of a sofa in the parlor, but more like cherry-picking the plumb aspects of each. Maximalism thrives in its richness and emotion. It’s noticeable, memorable and often rife with meaning. Minimalism appeals to the human need for simplicity and peace. Our appreciation of form over ornamentation. Our deep craving to chillllll outttt. On any given Tuesday, there’s utility in both.

Here’s how a few design pros are pairing the two for an opposites-attract, trend-transcending moment:

Taking Minimalism To A Dramatic Place

Purity of form and a focused palette are two hallmarks of minimalism, but that doesn’t mean you have to forego feeling when you’re presenting a streamlined aesthetic. For a touch of maximalism, turn to texture. It’s what bridges the gap between a slim wisp of style and a ka-pow of decor flavor.

Barry Goralnick, a NYC-LA design who works with famous clients (actor John Lithgow and Erica Jong are two) and often fellow architects, sees opportunities to learn from maximalist tendencies without mimicking its intensity. “I’m a rare architect because I love texture and pattern and wallpapers and finishes, " he says. “When working with other architects, I know that they want their work’s details to shine, so they opt for a non-decorative approach with the idea that you’ll see the architecture, not the decor. But if you add decorative painting, or wallpaper or stone, it makes the architecture pop even more,” he says. “The work sings with the contrast!”

Making purchase decisions isn’t dissimilar. If you’re ramping up one facet of style, it’s wise to turn down the volume on another. It’s a version of Coco Chanel’s “take one piece off before you leave the house” rule.

This season’s new addition to the Ann Sacks MADE Asha collection proves just that. The works are a head-turning new array of dimensional tiles and complements by Lisa Hunt, an artist based near New York City. Lisa’s collage art explores bold geometry, repetition and hypnotizing pattern, and is more often than not, imbued with gold. It dazzles.The new tiles? Well, they’re dazzling on another level.

Her signature shapes are wrought in stoneware. Depending on the glaze, the color pools with intensity (see the Currant colorway) or simply seems to glow from the inside. One even spells LOVE in a graphic relief. “I like the idea of using this in a herringbone pattern or end-to-end. How about literally turning LOVE upside down,” says the artist. There’s subtlety in not spelling it out just so — you get to enjoy the texture, the dimension, and then suddenly, there it is LOVE, plain as day.

Minimal Maximalism for the Ages

It doesn’t get more PATTERN than natural stone and stone tile. That’s a maximalism that’s truly ancient and not going anywhere. Baton Rouge, Louisiana, designer Rachel Cannon has a hot take on how to make maximalism lasting: She claims when you go all in to a bold design, it dates more slowly than a timid toe in the water of a big statement.

“I always think of Kelly Wearstler, the queen of modern maximalism,” she says. “In a room where she uses a lot of tile or stone—I can never seem to pinpoint the year it was done. It feels suspended in time, not a trend, but truly timeless. People seem to think that to be timeless, you have to be characterless, to play it safe, but I see the opposite. The more risk you take, the less you pigeonhole yourself into something that says, this is the late 90s. Drama stands the test of time. Just look at the Greenbrier!” She says, referencing the iconic and unapologetically maximalist West Virginia hotel.

Wearstler has numerous collections with Ann Sacks, including Maven a group of patterned ceramic tiles in the designer's hallmark graphics and executed fully in bold colors or black and white. The spirited, spontaneous-feeling illustrated tiles are truly impactful and the limited palette allows for full-throttle execution.

Surprise Maximalism ... Now You See Me, Now You Don’t

Here’s a fun aspect of employing texture in a space: it literally transforms in front of your eyes. All you need is light. “We’re installing one of my dimensional tiles in our sunroom where we spend a lot of time—I love plants!” says Lisa Hunt. “There’s a real artisan quality to them and they’re directly impacted by light. I imagine sitting there, enjoying an environment that isn’t static. The room changes with the light—evening entertaining is different from being alone reading in the space during the day.” A true living sculpture.

The idea of working with textured tile versus solely color lets you play it cool with a neutral color (or colors)—and allowing natural light, lamps, and spots change the character of the tile. You’ll even see the difference season to season.

May 5, 2023

Also in The Insider

What's Next in Kitchens by Sophie Donelson

The kitchen is a room so rife with ideas and innovations, it’s a world unto itself. As we move toward a beguiling new way of kitchen thinking, we asked the pros what’s exciting them for the busiest room in the house.

Kelly Wearstler On Her Newest Collections For Ann Sacks by Jennifer Dowd

Kelly spoke with us from her Los Angeles-based studio about her new tile & stone collections in partnership with Ann Sacks and the latest evolutions in her expansive world of design.

Past, Present, Future… And Beyond by Clinton Smith

Discover why one of the world’s oldest building materials feels fresher than ever.