***Written by Arlyn Hernandez
I’m either going to make a ton of friends or a bunch of enemies with what I’m about to say (well, probably both): I’m so tired of white walls.
I say that with the caveat that I actually really love white walls, for several reasons: in a room with enough natural light, they feel so fresh and lively (white can make a small, dark room feel dingy, FYI), they are a perfect backdrop for just about anything and any accent color, and they photograph beautifully. So why the need to call off the relationship? Well, because I’m feeling really uninspired, that’s why.
I’m currently in the process of redecorating my new LA apartment (quick catch up: I moved to LA from South Florida about six months ago to join the EHD team), which means deciding on color palettes, picking out furniture, an unending paranoid monologue of “will she or won’t she” about painting my landlord-approved beige walls (I am firmly an “ask for permission” person, not someone who “asks for forgiveness” so the idea of going against my lease agreement leaves me in a rule-breaking panic). In the process of creating moodboards for my living and dining rooms (which I’m actively working on), figuring out who I am and who I want to be (oh yeah, and my husband…he gets a say, too) in my home, and tons and tons of scrollliiinnnggg through blogs, design sites and Pinterest, I’ve noticed something. Interiors are looking whiter than the Supreme Court these days. For the love of Farrow & Ball, where is all the color? EVERYTHING IS THE SAME, EVERYWHERE. White walls, shag rugs, brass accents. Sure, that looks lovely—I often double tap that on Instagram, but I’m just craving something…different. I’m tired of vanilla, now give me some rocky road with rainbow sprinkles.
Okay, I recognize that I’m sounding a bit…spoiled (is being “design inspiration” spoiled a thing, because if it is, that’s how I’m feeling right now). Nothing puts you into a state of ennui like designing your own home, so many decisions that you have to live with every.single.day. I could help just about anyone make quick and confident decisions about what color they should paint their walls, how they should arrange their furniture, where they should look for a rug. But for myself? Oh boy is it procrastination central. And this time, it’s only exacerbated by my white walls-induced rut.
And then I stumbled across this image on Cup of Jo one day and it was like someone opened a window in a very stuffy room. I breathed a sigh of relief.
This is the home of Hovey Design (including the bedroom at the lead of this post), a sister team of home stagers and designers, and whoa did it wake me up from design hibernation. Look, I am nowhere near as bold as these creative women; my house will likely never look like this because it’s not exactly my style, but the use of color and the sense of individuality made my mouth water. That round sofa, the mushroom-y lamp, the unabashedness of it all. This house says “I’ll do what I want, thank you very much” with one big hair flip and for that, I applaud it.
From this point, I went down a Mario-sized warp pipe to find other rooms in the same vein. The images I started seeing and saving all felt really similar in a way…”modern maximalist” I started to call it…and guys, I think it’s a thing. Really. All the spaces I was finding were full of color, full of furnishings I’ve never seen before (which either means they are $$$ or someone is REALLY good at vintage shopping), full of a boatload of YES. They are exciting without being Tony Duquette over-the-top, a little restrained and totally fresh (to me, at least).
With minimalism and maximalism, one is usually born from the other. After a period of SO MANY FLORALS and chintz and chrome and peach in the ’90s (and, if you were in my house, country kitchen-appropriate chicken wallpaper borders), I could understand why neutral, simple, streamline (::cough boring cough::) rooms started popping up more and more in the early aughts and this decade. I can appreciate true minimalism (as a lifestyle). I can also appreciate a home that is less “decorated” because it’s soothing and relaxing to whoever lives there. I’ve heard a lot of designers say they prefer their own homes neutral because it cleanses their palate after looking at so many patterns and colors all day. But it’s all started feeling very “step and repeat” so BRING ON THE MODERN MAXIMALISM.
Look, I’m by no means saying I could move right into any of these spaces I’m about to show you (well, maybe Jenna Lyons’ home…but I’ll get to that), but they sparked something inside of me. Emily’s motto is “perfection is boring, let’s get weird” and I’m like YES. WEIRD. YES.
Speaking of weird, I remember when I saw this oil painting perched under a window. At first, I thought…wait, that’s weird. I might hate that. But wait…maybe I like it. I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHO I AM ANYMORE. I think I’ve landed on “well, it’s fun, it gets my brain percolating, it turns my eyeballs on,” like one of those “spot the difference” puzzles. It’s like “huh, what? wait I like this…do I??” (For the record, I still think it’s totally nuts, but I also kind of love it…and I’m not saying that just because this woman signs my paychecks every week and I want to be sure I’ll still have a job tomorrow…promise.)
And no, this space, in particular, isn’t “modern maximalism” as much as it’s just fun and funky and different. I mean, who puts an oil painting UNDER A WINDOW? Emily Henderson does, and thank goodness for minds like her’s.
Back to maximalism…this is not what I mean:
This is true maximalism. Hutton Wilkinson (a long-time business partner of the late Tony Duquette, a Hollywood “wild child” of design who embodied the more-is-more way of decorating), is maximalism, and again, I don’t knock him for his vision, but this is why I’m calling the look I’m into “modern” maximalism. Well, maybe it’s more “refined maximalism” or “maximalism lite.” Yeah…that.
Okay, now we’re talking. With the exception of the very strange placement of the art butted up against the molding, Jenna Lyons’ home is serious heart eyes. It has some of those elements that I called out earlier as being things I’m tired of seeing (shag rugs, brass accents…but also, I love brass and you can pry it out of my cold, dead hands), but it also just feels…special. I look at this space and I can picture exactly who lives there (you know, if I didn’t already know that it belonged to the insanely stylish Jenna Lyons). That is what I want for my own home. This is what I love about maximalism lite. You can lean a photo up against a fireplace surround, add in two leopard-print stools, a printed folding screen and a library of books and it feels real. Throw in a pile of unread junk mail no one wants to deal with and you’ve got yourself an actual, live home.
There’s Jenna, in a PINK JUMPSUIT that on me would look like I left a red sock in the washing machine while laundering my frumpy white pajamas, in a hallway that makes me want to squeal with delight. Sometimes, you just have to take a dark hallway and make it even darker by painting the walls, moldings, and ceilings a delicious shade of…what is that? Tealish hunter green? (Actually, it’s Farrow & Ball Card Room Green.)
This dining room by Regan Baker is not maximalism, but it still was something I filed away in the name of inspiration because that wallpaper is weird and good. Does it look like a cracked and peeling wall that was once retirement home-yellow but was then painted green? Yes. Have I saved it multiple times over on Pinterest and Instagram because I forgot I ever saw it but loved it each time? Also yes.
This vignette from a coffee shop in Milan designed by Studiopepe is absolutely a bit Memphis-y, but it falls in the (made up) realm of “color maximalism.” I recognize that at this point, I’ve created a handful of “styles” all to describe the same look (modern maximalism, refined maximalism, maximalism lite…), but I think they all apply in some way. That blue wall paired with those blue floors and blue shelves, offset by some lighter neutrals really makes for a space that makes you want to stop a stare.
I am not really one for pink walls in my own home, but it doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate it on someone else’s. What could come off “feminine” and saccharine sweet actually renders out into something “cool” at the hands of Flack Studio. The rug kinda feels like a patch of fresh sod, but somehow, it still works.
Maximalism lite doesn’t have to be all saturated colors on top of saturated colors. Sometimes, it can be really subdued, moody, almost sexy, like in this room at the Hotel des Grands Boulevards. The plaster walls (or maybe it’s a lime wash…not entirely sure) add a really luscious texture that comes off almost like suede when the light hits it.
Why yes, that appears to be a set of plum-painted giraffes acting as a table base and I’M ALL ABOUT IT. Finished in the same color as the wall (a hue I would basically never think to use in a room but now I kind of love it), they feel more like a textural element than a kitschy addition. Allison Crawford, who designed this space, could have tipped the scales of the look here by going with a patterned duvet and tons of pillows, but keeping it crisp and white reigns it in, keeping it firmly in “refined maximalist” territory.
The home of writer and podcast host Emily V. Gordon and actor and comedian Kumail Nanjiani felt like a bit of a retro throwback when I first saw it on Apartment Therapy. File this under “not my style, but I’m still really digging it.” Multi-hued walls aren’t exactly my thing, but when I scrolled through the gallery of images of the house, I jumped straight to the comments to wax poetic on how it was refreshing to see something different with COLOR.
Dabito of Old Brand New has never shied away from GOING FOR IT in his home, and the recent reveal of his dining room that he did as a One Room Challenge is like a Sunny D explosion. That shade of yellow is not easy to work with, but he made it work and, well, I love it. The more I say “modern/refined maximalism” juxtaposed with the images I’m showing you, the more I think maybe this is “color maximalism.” If you stripped away the colored walls here—maybe even the green on the chairs—nothing about this room would feel “maximalist” surely. The styling is pretty restrained, the silhouettes are rather simple, so…color maximalism, yes, that feels right.
It may have taken about 1,900 words and a roller coaster of changing terminology (of likely totally made up style classifications) to land on what this look really is…it’s just color, and a bold use of it. After years of white walls being the king of design, who’s ready for something else? I sure as heck am, so, back to the drawing board for me (maybe, just maybe, I’ll be bold enough to ::gasp:: break the rules and paint those walls of mine…let’s see what happens).