We’ve all heard of minimalism – pared-back interior designs based around calming shades of creams and pale neutrals that exude elegance and harmony while making the most of light and space. For decades, it’s been the go-to approach for decorating small rooms on the understanding that it makes them appear bigger. Well, no more. Enter maximalism, the recent design concept that turns everything on its head.
The problem with minimalist designs is that the restricted colour palette can make rooms feel cold, even sterile. They can also be extremely high maintenance. You need to be a very tidy person indeed to keep your home looking streamlined and organised at all times! A maximalist approach allows a much freer rein in terms of colour and design choices, encouraging experimentation and self-expression through fun and funky interiors that are much easier to live with.
“Maximalism is a loud style composed of mixed patterns, excessive, but curated collections, and saturated colours,” says one interiors expert. If you are struggling to reconcile the idea of visual excitement in a small space, you will be surprised to hear that a maximalist décor done right can actually make a home feel bigger, which is great news for small spaces.
Perhaps you have a box room in a small apartment that is crying out for an injection of personality and style? Are you planning a loft conversion in a terraced house and looking for decorating inspiration for the new attic room? Or maybe you’re stuck with ‘deceptively spacious’ living accommodation in a detached new-build home and simply want to make the most of it. Whatever your small interiors conundrum may be, maximalism has the answer.
The trick to making maximalist interiors work in a small space is intentional design. ‘More is more’ doesn’t mean randomly throwing more stuff at a room – there has to be a method to the madness. In order to get the right results, it’s important to focus on the overall effect you are trying to achieve.
Let’s start by breaking some rules. Newsflash: small rooms don’t work best with small-scale patterns. In fact, large patterns can visually expand a small space by drawing the eye upward and outward. Use blowsy floral wallpaper or floor-to-ceiling murals to create depth in the room and make it appear larger and taller than it actually is.
The same goes for dark colour palettes on walls and ceilings. From charcoal black to burnt toffee and deep navy, “going all over with one colour can blur the edges of the room, so the eye can’t focus on the dimensions of the room, making it feel larger,” explains Abigail Ahern, interior design guru and the queen of moody hues.
While you are heartily encouraged to go bold in your choice of colours, textures and patterns, do make sure they harmonise, not clash, with each other. You might pick items with similar patterns or shapes to achieve a sense of cohesion. Perhaps your sofa, coffee table and bookcase have rounded edges, or your cushions match the pattern of your rug.
With not much room to spread out, layering takes on a whole meaning. From walls and floors to furniture and accessories, all components need to play off one another. This is what tricks the eye: With only so much visual ground to cover in a small space, packing it with carefully curated elements helps to make the space feel larger.
That said, layering requires a confident eye for what works. This doesn’t have to mean entrusting your vision to an interior design professional. Instead, take your time and decorate slowly. The most successful maximalist interiors grow organically. Add one statement piece, stand back and see how it feels, then add another bit, and so on.
Don’t forget that even maximalist rooms need some negative space for the eye to rest. This helps to ensure that the room doesn’t feel too busy, helping the brain to compute what the eye sees. Open space on shelves, plain areas of wall, flooring visible under a rug – these are all tricks interior designers use to make a small room look interesting rather than chaotic.
When it comes to furniture, one easy-to-follow recommendation is to choose simple pieces to ground the room, then adding maximalist touches with decorative pieces to your heart’s content. Make use of awkward nooks and crannies with built-in storage, but give the room personality with a bold colour scheme.
That said, there’s no hard and fast rule about matching the scale of the furniture to the size of the room. Large pieces can absolutely be incorporated into a bijou room without crowding it. A statement sofa creates a focal point, and an oversized feature mirror tricks the eye and adds space. Create balance with other, smaller items to avoid a crowded look.
Maximalist decorating is an opportunity to show off your treasures. Whatever the size of your home, find a table, mantle or shelf where you can display meaningful keepsakes, heirlooms, travel souvenirs or junk shop finds. When your home is filled with all the things you love, it can boost your mood and increase happiness.
Gallery walls are all the rage, and they can be a fantastic feature for tiny rooms that are taller than they are wide. Use family photos, original artworks, wall hangings, old masters and curios to create a display of all your favourite pieces. Take your art gallery wall up to the ceiling to create the illusion of height.
Finally, take a leaf out of biophilic design and fill your room with living plants. It’s a great way to break up the space visually and add diversity, while counteracting any danger veering towards ‘stuffy museum’ vibes. Play with scale, texture and location to give the room both interest and balance.
Interior design trends may come and go but it looks like maximalism is here to stay. And there’s much more to it than ‘more is more’ – it’s about the art of more. With a bit of strategic thinking, that can be applied to any sized space, including the smallest rooms in the house.