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Living Rooms

“Modern Maximalism”/In Support of Colored Walls

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Green Bedroom
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***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.

Pink Room
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Pink Room
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Pink Room
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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.)

Emily Henderson Spanish House Living Room 1
Photo by Max Kim-Bee | From: A Spanish Living Room Reveal

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:

Hutton Wilkinson Maximalism
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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.

Jenna Lyons Home
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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.

Jenna Lyons Home
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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.)

Wallpaper Dining Room
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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.

Blue Room
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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.

Pink Dining Room
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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.

Blue Bedroom
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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.

Purple Bedroom
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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.

Green Room
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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.

Yellow Room
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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.

Yellow Room Ideas
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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).

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deb

Hallelujah, sister! Preach!

Rebecca

So so so so so so so SOOOOOOOOO sick of white walls and white kitchens! Could not agree more!!!! Love Jenna Lyons house and that yellow dining room. 😍😍😍 So much more interesting and fun and alive than all white boringness. More of this PLEASE

Mindy

Yes! Thank you! It’s fun to look at design blogs and Instagram accounts, but SO many are exactly the same. Make your home your OWN! I just painted my bedroom dark gray and I love it.

Nic

I did the same thing a few years ago and it was the best idea! My bedroom gets very little light and instead of feeling drab and bland it’s like a cosy cocoon now.

Lauren

Oh man. To me this are just busy and chaotic. My eyes would never rest (in a bad way). Cool in a hotel or bar… yes. Cool at home….nope nope nope. Many of these would never feel clean to me since everything I own is sitting out on top of all the things. I would constantly feel the need to edit.

*full disclosure – I am not a jewel tone or pink girl so maybe that’s why this isn’t for me*

Peggi

Give me all the colors! (Except yellow) That Hovey sister apartment killed me!!! Seems like paint is fairly low-level rule breakage… Go for it.

Alison

Just watched a video house tour of Jenna Lyon’s apartment (https://www.nytimes.com/video/t-magazine/100000005577705/house-tour-jenna-lyons.html) and the painting is off-centered because there’s a hidden TV that slides out from behind the fireplace! Still looks a little weird to me but that’s a fun explanation 🙂

Ashley

OMG YES!!! I recently purchased a home that is literally half bright and perfect for white walls, and half dark and in NO WAY suited for them and agonized on color for 6 months. Finally we just went with it and haven’t looked back. BRING ON THE COLOR!! Please keep us updated on your color exploration Arlyn (and just paint the walls… that’s what a security deposit is for 🙂

Amanda

YASSS! I love this post. It may just be that we’re all coming out of the all-white-everything era, but I really think Hovey-style “Modern Maximilism” is my ideal style… I’m layering leopards, painting walls dark, saturated colors, and doing my best to capture the look in my own (rental) apartment. Thanks for sharing – would love more posts on the topic.

Brandyn

OMG YES! In addition to being bored silly of white walls (and kitchens), I just don’t find the white/minimalist trend very practical for people who actually live in their homes. I like my stack or two of library books and few pieces of mail sticking out of a junk bin to not look like major eyesores and that’s what happens in minimalist and white rooms. Don’t even get me started on power cords. Plus, over half of the country doesn’t live somewhere with the kind of sunlight required for white rooms to look good over half the time. This is… Read more »

Emily C

Yessssssssssssssssss!!!! I have been thinking this to myself for so long now. While I can appreciate the ‘clean’ and ‘simple’ look of a good white wall with neutral furnishings… I have been craving something more interesting and full of color for a long time.

Marcia

I appreciate that a different perspective, but I gotta agree with another poster that this just isn’t for me. It would give me anxiety to have that much going on in a room. It’s the same reason that I have to stay out of my husband’s office – I just want to declutter and put stuff away. However, I do like seeing different designs, and this was a treat in that way.

Laura

I always need color in my life! Love the color! I want to find a bold paint color for some areas in my home.

Sarah C Bradshaw

PREEEEEEEEACH!!!! And yes, for the love of all that is Farrow & Ball, BRING BACK THE COLOR!! But only in appropriate doses. haha

Megan

I could never live in a home with this much color, I am one of those people who loves neutrals, thought not white walls. I like all shades of beige and gray. But, I appreciate the way these designers use color. I think Studio Ashby uses color really well. And I also love Mindy Kaling’s home (featured in Architectural Digest).

Sarah Foster

Such a good call on Studio Ashby- gorgeous!!!

Julie S

Haha, nice post, Arlyn. I think yes color maximalism is what you’ve noticed. I for one am still totally in love with my white walls (and lots of sunlight) in my calm house decorated 50/50 between neutrals and natural shades of green, blue, and terracotta. Yet at the same time I am soooo booooored whenever I scroll through the million identikit white/modern farmhouse/kilim accents pictures on pinterest. So I can understand the appeal of color! It was fun to see stuff with more color, but half of the images you posted here looked incredibly 80’s to me with the shapes… Read more »

Amber

I’m so excited by this! Can’t WAIT to see the end result (or even follow along?)!

Jane

Thanks for posting this! I love my white and brass kitchen…but not as much as my otomi tiled powder room or my fern wallpapered den. We all need a dose of color and pattern!

Paula Carr

Just googled otomi tile, and LOVE!!!!!

Jenny

Totally giddy. Yellow is my favorite color (unpopular opinion, apparently) and I am so happy to see it here!

Dena

Yellow is my favorite color too, you’re not alone!! I think people just associate it too much with the 70’s yellow, orange, brown theme when it goes great with so many other colors as well.

Brandyn

I adore yellow! That dining room pic totally inspired me to paint all my bookcases! I’ve been thinking about it forever, but painting bookcases requires extra motivation because I have to move all my books.

That dining room is my favorite of these pics (and I love them all) and it’s my mom’s least favorite. Our styles used to be so similar.

Ashley

I’ve been seeing this kind of design randomly pop up on similar sites and instagram and can agree that it is such a nice change from the white, california coast design that became so popular. I actually gasped when I saw the first image because I was like, omg someone is thinking about this too! I like day dreaming about how I would decorate a future home of mine and right now everything is totally in this style. I think whats awesome about it is you can have these beautiful colors while still maintaining some minimalism elements. When I get… Read more »

Rachel Shipp

You know why that picture is butted up against the molding in Jenna Lyons home….because there is a secret TV behind the wall that pops out! NBD. I thought it was so weird too so did some research and her home tour on NYT video gives us the answer!

Amanda

YES TO ALL OF IT. This is so refreshing to see after the onslaught of “California Casual” that has been everywhere recently. I love Jenna Lyons’s(s?) hallway and living room. My house is always a little cluttered…and it makes me feel comfortable. I love a lived in looking space, and adding all that color and texture makes me feel so happy!

Lauren

AGREED!!! You have made a FRIEND!! Thank you for showing us color! Color and pattern is what drew me to Emily and I am so glad to see it back on the blog!!

milo

YES!! I understand all white is for some people, but color is for others (like me!) and it’s great to see color getting some love. Color + minimal decor + plants is my jam.

Jasmin

YES!! I really miss Emily’s old style of lots of blue and vintage. I know people’s tastes evolve but I keep hoping the oil portraits/deep, bright blue walls/vintage flags Emily will reappear again someday.

Debbie

Agreed!

Elizabeth

I love this! It’s so interesting and fresh to see something other than white walls with black and brass accents. (Side note: can you imagine Emily putting a painting under a window these days? I cannot.)

Virginia

Can anyone say Monica (Geller) Bing? Especially the Hovey Design strikes me as Monica all grown up sophisticated yet true to her color roots. I say bring it on the rainbow : )

Ellie

This is a fun post, Arlyn! I can’t wait to see more of what you do with your own space.

I’ m pretty sure the art in Jenna Lyons’ apartment is placed that way because the TV comes out from behind the fireplace/mirror. I seem to remember reading that in a home tour when the apartment was first published 🙂

Rachel

Phew! Color maximalism is certainly not for my home (all white/gray/black/blue/muted), but I love looking at these photos. What a fun collection of different styles and bright colors. I can’t imagine that bright yellow is appetizing when using the dining room for an actual meal, but it does look fun and sassy! Also, Arlyn you are GREAT.

Cindy

As a landlord, I encourage you to ask permission to paint the walls. Especially if you were to say something like, “I’m willing to give you a $xxx painting deposit that I am willing to forfeit if I don’t prime the walls white before I move out.” Most landlords paint between tenants anyway, but if you’re going to paint the walls dark, that means more work.

Great article! My personal favorite is the peach and green.

Christa

Enjoy it! I think all these amazing color combinations do jazz up an Insta feed. I’ve had a stint of colorful apartments and after a while I found the color limiting – once you make that choice for walls, the choices for the rest of the room start to narrow down and the wall color affects everything in the room including my own art/design work. I ended up moving about 20 times over the course of my adult life. After a while I stopped trying to paint anything and was grateful if walls were true white, not glossy Navajo White.… Read more »

Ang

Well!! Move over you 70’s hippy with your denim bells and your hand knit poncho~ hello 80’s perm with your structured color saturated suit!!

Lil

After 10 years of renting, I’ve spent the last three months in the never-ending struggle of completely decorating and remodeling my first home from scratch. The design inspiration I look at is all very beautiful…but just has never tugged at any of my heartstrings and always kind of just feels like I’m wearing the wrong sized pants. I’ve been going slowly crazy with asking myself “These things are pretty – WHY DON’T YOU LIKE THEM!!”. Reading this post felt like someone from the EHD team giving me a warm hug and saying yes, it’s okay, you do have good taste.… Read more »

Lindsay C

YES! I’ve been renovating a house for two years and while I initially tried to follow the minimalist handbook, I realized that any space I live in is going to be eventually filled with art, books, and houseplants. And it turns out that I really don’t like white. I’ve been calling my decor style modern maximalism lately and it’s working for me. So are these rooms!

Naomi

OMG you have just channelled my inner voice over the past 2 months—except way wittier! Dying over white as the Supreme Court (also…sob). Thank you so much for this post and I LOVE your writing!!!

I have a very large, high ceiling room in my house that is north facing and very dark and I’ve been struggling with how to bring it to life. I’m leaning toward apricot and this morning you’ve made me feel 90% braver about it. Thank you!!!! ❤️❤️❤️

Jennette

Agreed! I just bought two (yes two) houses and I just don’t know what I want to do to walls, so love all this inspiration. I was just thinking this morning maybe I need to take out my Abigail Ahern’s books, because she definitely embraces color. I can’t hardly look at sites like apartment therapy or design sponge because all the ever show is the white walled, mid century rooms. Yawn

Maria

Love this. Love seeing something different than white!

Melissa

This is so so good. Modern maximalism is definitely gonna be a “thing”. I can feel it lol. I’m stuck in that same rut. I feel like I need to go back to my master bath plans and tweek. Although I do love my clean white tiles, mixed metals, natural touches and industrial mix, I too feel like it’s.just.not.enough.😣

Sarah Merion

Love your writing and this post, Arlyn! Totally with you on white walls – this is why I love EHD – not afraid to shy away from what is “popular” to uncover more unique style and design.

Polly

Bring on the color!

CeeCee

I’m painting my house white and griege as I type, because I’m going to list it in the spring, but the next house is going to be a series of positively retroactively glowing Easter egg pastels. I am serious!

Karen

Color, color and more color please! With some white walls for breathing space. Great post!

Marni

If you are renting, go with a removable stick on wallpaper for colour/ texture. There are so many awesome options of patterns or murals. Not as cheap as painting, but unless you get the okay to do so, you have to paint twice to return walls to original colour. As a landlord, painting without permission is not appreciated, but it never hurts to ask!

CK

YES!!! Bring on color!! I’m so tired of seeing white walls everywhere. It’s wonderful to see rooms that shine with creativity and are just enough out of the box to make them interesting.

Meghan

Yes, please, COLOR! I’ve missed it so much on this blog. Originally started reading EHD for the Fig House, which is a bit like these references I think. I also think with all the depressing stuff in the news, injecting a bit of color and fun into our interiors could be therapeutic.

Maggy

wow!

I can’t wait to dive into this blog and read all about it! I love the citron colored bedding!

XO
Maggy

Sharon

you had me at “for the love of Farrow and Ball “

Paula Carr

Oh, man, finally a post that’s COMPLETELY me! I was a renter for too many years with landlords that insisted on Navajo White (a particularly nasty shade of whitish beige), so I have a built-in aversion to white walls. Also, being fairly light sensitive, all white rooms are too bright and glaring for me. I can’t relax in them. When I purchased a condo-townhouse with my sister, the one thing we agreed on above all others — no white or beige walls. Also, I have a lot of art, and I think most art looks BETTER against a wall with… Read more »

Margo

Thank you for making me laugh out loud with each paragraph description. Especially the red sock-white pajama comment.So funny. Maybe you should start a new career as stand-up designer. Really good design post too!

Addie

Yes, I am all for more intelligent, refined, and daring conversations about using color in our homes! I need to live with color, whether muted or bold, accents or whole walls. These examples seem similar in that the colors are all inspired by nature: leafy or oceany greens, sunny yellows, rich plums and violets, fresh melons, delicate roses etc. I think that’s what ultimately makes them livable (albeit not for everyone or necessarily in every room) palettes. And I do think there’s an element of maximalist design in the furnishings that goes along with the color: because a boldly colored… Read more »

Jessica

YESSSS all of this! I’ve been thinking the same things and was just recently drafting a very similar post for my own imaginary blog. Love it!

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