Clutter or eye candy? Can Maximalism and Minimalism peacefully coexist?

So after I posted Eternal style debate: Maximalism versus Minimalism, I got a great comment from Helen who blogs at It's about time:

Hubbie is an architect and we moved into our newly built home that he designed 6 months ago. Like so many architects he leans on a minimal aesthetic and myself? I am a total maximalist girl! The more eye candy the better. But its a constant battle between having too much eye candy and it just being clutter.  Perhaps you could do a post on that: how do you define clutter v. eye candy.

I see this question essentially as:  Is there a way for Maximalism and Minimalism two to co-exist and how?

I raided the galleries of Living Etc., one of my favorite mags, for some examples.  But I think these basic ideas could be applied to any style from traditional to cottage to mod.

1. Keep surfaces (like desks and coffee tables and countertops) relatively clean and clear. Keep clutter to a minimum.  Avoid teensy tsotchkes and nick nacks and dust collectors.  Instead use art, furniture, light fixtures, colors, wall coverings and floor coverings to express your maximalism.

*image from Living Etc. 

2. Or, if you do have "collections" display them all together in a dramatic way that looks like one display instead of spreading them out in bits and bobs throughout the house.  In this example of Jenna Lyon's home from Living Etc., the various mounted antlers are displayed all together, using many small items to create one large display.

*image from Living Etc.

If like me, you love vintage treasure hunting, instead of sprouting many "mini collections, focus on one or two, and use them for maximum impact. Like this fun example of kitschy portraits, hung all together to make one grand gallery, along with a unique light fixture, giving it all a fun 1970s mood.

*image from Living Etc.

3. Try to keep an overall feeling of airiness, spaciousness, and sparseness in your rooms, but use bold patterns and colors.  Leave open visual space.  If you have a shelf you're using to display, don't jam pack every corner with something.  Don't feel you must have something hanging on every single wall.

*image from Living Etc.

4. Think bigger is better.  Don't hang a small piece of artwork - use a LARGE one.  Think about playing with proportions to create drama.  For example, in this bedroom the extra large colorful painting and the disproportionate light fixture scream out for attention.  But the rest of the room is balanced with white and provides little in the way of visual competition (except for the purple patterned bed and rug).

*image from Living Etc.

 5. Use jolts of color here and there to express your bold aesthetic.  Instead of using lots of little things to visually fill up the space or draw the eye - use color.  This brilliant purple-blue bedroom wall and coverlet is a great example.

*image from Living Etc.

6. Be playful.  Have fun. But express your maximalism through a few selective grand gestures, instead of lots of little ones. And only use 1-3 grand gestures per room/space.

One amazing, eye-catching painting or photo might be your grand gesture. Or a statement making light fixture. Or a hot pink sofa. Or a zebra rug. Or a boldly patterned wallpaper.

In this room, for example, there are three grand gestures - The fantastic "I love u"  installation (how can I do one of these myself I wonder?), the bright red wall, and the patterned rug.  Everything else is simple and clean.

 *image from Living Etc.

7. If you can, try to carve out a space or two in your home where you can express your Maximalist aesthetic freely.  Maybe it's your office, craft room, or even a smaller space like your laundry room or dressing room/closet.

*image from Living Etc. 

8. Think of your home as a holistic unit and seek balance.  One room may tip a bit more in the Maximalist direction, another in the Minimalist, giving you both stimulation and serenity - and a balanced whole.

p.s. I'm dying to try all of these ideas in my own house!


  1. Oh thank you for this! It's exactly what I needed to read. You summed it up perfectly and your example pics are very helpful! thank you :-)

  2. Good, I'm so glad it was helpful! It was actually quite helpful to me too. I love the eye-catchiness of Maximalism, but I like things clean and open too. I am pondering what my next "grand gesture" will be in a room.

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