Homestyle: Maximalism -- More is more decor

Elaine Markoutsas
Universal Uclick
AT HOME for release JUNE 2018 BY DESIGN Caption 04: The multistory staircase for the Kips Bay Decorator Show House sprang to life with exuberant patterns reminiscent of the Memphis design movement from the 1980s. Sasha Bikoff designed the space, with a range of mesmerizing wallcoverings in the "Stairway to Heaven" collection by Voutsa (Swiss Cheese, Candy Ribbon and Borderline patterns) and custom carpeting by The Rug Company.

Just when you thought streamlining, mid-century modern or minimalist style rules in decor today, here comes the polar opposite:

Maximalism is back.

In a big way.

"A state of excess has taken hold in the interior design world," says Bethanne Matari, a spokesman for lighting and furnishings manufacturer Currey and Company. It's "a layered style peppered with the offbeat, which some may compare to Aladdin's cave. Maximalism is not about clutter or hoarding, but about curated collections and displaying the things that make us happy. Rich color, embellished walls, vintage brass, gilding, flowers, antique rugs and flashes of red are all elements of the style, along with a mix of materials and patterns."

At the highly revered trendsetting Salone del Mobile exposition in Milan, there was color -- lots of it -- as well as pattern. Retro prints and lush florals on walls setting off sleek kitchens and baths. They were even on appliances, on furniture, inside furniture, on lampshades and on floors -- either solo or in modern patchwork mashups.

At the Kips Bay Decorator Show House, which just completed its May run in Manhattan, a spectacular staircase channeled Memphis (a 1980s furniture collective framed around blazing color, pattern and bold shapes) in a riot of pattern on walls and custom carpeting, designed by Sasha Bikoff. Ceilings in many rooms often enjoyed their own decorative spotlight. And that also was true at the Hillside Designer Show House in Greensboro, North Carolina, this year.

In Milan, fashion brand Etro's home collection featured its signature paisley, especially striking on a fabric-covered cabinet. Dutch designer Marcel Wanders' Globe Trotter collection for Roche Bobois was riveting in explosive patterns -- graphic and nostalgic at the same time. And you couldn't take your eyes off of the packaging for his new fragrance collection for Alessi, as you breathed in the delectable aromas.

The delightful fashion brand La Double J, known for its vintage prints, launched additions to its dinnerware line and introduced a smashing collection with Kartell, pairing its vintage-inspired fabrics with Kartell's signature clear and colored plastic furniture. 

The Italian fashion brand Dolce and Gabbana added to its boldly patterned collection of limited-edition hand-painted refrigerators (and small appliances) for Smeg. Among the new pieces were a range and stove hood, as well as a new model fridge in a blue-and-white majolica pattern. And Alessandro Mendini created a showstopper for the Japanese company Sanwa: a simple cabinet with rounded corners and artistic geometry, painted in citrus shades -- with a micro kitchen inside, including a sink and cooktop.

Even at the spring High Point, North Carolina, biannual furniture market, maximalism showed up big time, with a collection at Maitland-Smith celebrating the late, legendary Tony Duquette. It was designed with Hutton Wilkinson, current president of Tony Duquette Inc., and a collaborator for more than 25 years. Considered the father of maximalism, Duquette's work is over the top, with stunning surface decorations like malachite, lots of gilt and materials like abalone, pen shell, coral, rock crystal, bronze and lapis lazuli, which were used to handcraft the accessories and furniture in the new collection (

If you're thinking '80s excess ... well, OK! It took on many forms. Like the layering of florals in English country style, popularized by Mario Buatta, dubbed "the prince of chintz," and the modern, playful Memphis. 

Ettore Sottsass and the group of designers behind the Memphis design movement, were known for explosive patterns in modern patchworks on laminate from the Italian company Abet Laminati. Furniture, ceramics, glass and metalwork originals are highly collectible at the online marketplace 1stdibs and featured in shows like The Collective in New York. A small group were on display in a Soho popup called Rachel's Dreamhouse during New York's design week in May. The walk-up loft space was full of Memphis spirit, starting with alternating brightly hued stairs.

For Jason Oliver Nixon and John Loecke, the gents behind the Madcap Cottage label and authors of "Prints Charming: Create Absolutely Beautiful Interiors with Prints and Patterns" (Harry N. Abrams, $35), it's about time. They've been evangelizing their brand of maximalism for a while, with several licensed furnishings collections. Their pattern-on-pattern treatments are equal opportunity, a symphony throughout their own home in High Point, where they live what they preach.

"It's so exciting to see this across the board -- from Gucci to Lilly Pulitzer at Pottery Barn," says Nixon. "It's really trickling down -- in fashion at H and M, on sneakers and handbags. Go into a Calico Corners (fabric store) and there's an explosion of prints and patterns from florals to graphics, Justina Blakeney boho to Thom Filicia. It's not just the playground of the 1 percent any more."

No doubt, there will always be the lovers -- and the haters -- of disparate styles. Pick a lane: Mies van der Rohe's "Less is more" mantra or architect Robert Venturi's maxim "More is more. Less is a bore."

"There's always some kind of maximalist movement going on," says Cecil Adams, vice president and creative director for Currey and Co. "Color makes people happier. It's uplifting. Chinoiserie, Hollywood Regency, the whole boho thing. In a way, it's sort of social, too. For someone who wants to embrace a lot of things, being bold in his/her own look. Like a Diana Vreeland red room. Those looks are never really off of the radar. They just send a stronger signal sometimes."

Jason Oliver Nixon loves to quote Mae West: "It is better to be looked over than overlooked."

"Who wants to be a shrinking violet?" he asks. His own mantra is: "Go big or go home." The Madcap Cottage book is a primer in putting patterns together.

So you think you can be a maximalist?

It all depends on your visual tolerance. If you loathe visual noise, maximalism to the max is not for you. But there are degrees. You can have a lot of stuff in a space and not feel, well, suffocated. 

Consider, for example, going monochromatic. Keep it all in shades of blush, or your fave blue. Mix up textures, and choose accessories accordingly. It can be easy on the eyes.

Layer it. Pattern on pattern can look amazing when the prints are compatible in color and somewhat in scale. Go lush with artwork and accessories as well. As Nixon says, "Our living room may seem like too much at first, but it's really inviting."

Limit it. You don't have to totally commit to the overindulgent. Choose a statement pattern -- a wallcovering or a piece of furniture that's more flamboyant than your comfort zone. Actually, the maximalist-minimalist combo is an amazingly strong one, too. Keep everything else quiet, with simple lines and a carefully chosen "piece de resistance" for pop.

Decorate with your heart. Says Matari: "Each room should include the unexpected and tell the story of our lives, our travels and childhood, or any moment that defines who we are and how we live. With all the woes of today, it is nice to hunker down into a cozy room surrounded by what we love."