Not everyone tidied up and Kondo-ed away half their belongings during the pandemic.
Some doubled down on creature comforts. Others began or completed collections, since they were finally home to enjoy them. And some have always believed that more is more, preferring a home filled with things — lots and lots of beautiful things.
Rebecca West, the CEO of Seattle interior design firm Seriously Happy Homes, says maximalist style “is all about abundance, mixing and matching from every era and design style, and tends to include patterns or objects that feel large-scale in proportion to the room they’re in.”
Rebecca Rowland, who owns Rebecca Rowland Interiors in Seattle, describes it as “more-is-more decor. From floor to ceiling, everything is an opportunity for adornment. Empty spaces are just a holding place for the latest acquisition to your collection.”
When more is more, how do you organize your home so it looks intentional instead of cluttered? We talked to local designers, organizers, stagers and fans of the maximalist style to find out.
1. Show some personality
Catherine (Kay) Foster of Olympia describes herself as “maximalist all the way. Layers? Oh, yes.” She loves “my Oriental rugs, stacks of books and art hung salon-style climbing up the walls,” along with her collections of Nemuri-neko (the Japanese sleeping cat), Italian art pottery by Ernestine Salerno and an antique oak card catalog that she recently gave to a librarian friend.
When Foster moved from a five-bedroom house to a single level of a three-bedroom condo, she brought all of it with her. “I like beautiful things,” she says. “They’re comforting and warm, and they feed your soul.”
Those things are also a way for homeowners to showcase what’s important to them. “With staging, a space has to be generically appealing, so people can picture themselves living there,” says Diane Moorman, a real estate broker and stager at Keller Williams Seattle Metro West. “Maximalism shows people who come into your home who you are at a glance.”
Moorman is a maximalist, too. “My house is like a little museum. I have a lot of collections,” she says. “But you have to have a cohesive factor, like a color scheme or style.”
2. Find a common element
Moorman says focusing on a common element creates a cohesive design.
“I’ll mix Victorian with 1950s furniture, but they’re all bamboo. Or I’ll mix florals and stripes, as long as they’re the same saturation and color family,” she says. “You can mix away, as long as there is a commonality — the style of furniture or the wood finish is the same. It doesn’t have to be matchy-matchy, just cohesive.”
West suggests using color to “create a consistent story from room to room.” For example, a yellow lamp in a dining nook connects to bright yellow walls in the living room and continues in a yellow stripe in a rug leading upstairs — all tying a space together.
3. Layer and group deliberately
Maximalism is all about layering patterns, materials and objects, Moorman says.
“Paint or wallpaper on your wall is one layer, the next layer is a window covering, then you layer on your furniture, upholstery, pillows, carpet, rugs,” she says. A collection of special items would be yet another layer.
Rowland says she is relying heavily on layering for a maximalist den/library that she’s designing for a client.
“We’re doing a parquet floor, faux tin ceiling, wallpaper, a gallery of vintage flower paintings, a wide mix of patterns and colors and textures,” she says. When complete, “it will give off the maximalist vibes of an English cottage sitting room, except with a grand view of Lake Washington.”
Layering should be done deliberately, Rowland says. “There’s a big difference between a shelf of knickknacks and one that has been thoughtfully arranged in conjunction with the big picture.”
Michelle Dirkse, owner and creative director of Michelle Dirkse Interior Design in Seattle, says an easy way to work with a lot of patterns is to have moments of wall cover with solid color paint or drapes in between.
Dirkse recommends grouping collections in one location rather than spreading them throughout the home. “The items lose impact when you break them up. It starts to feel less thoughtful, because you don’t see it as a collection, you see it as stuff,” she says.
Moorman recalls a client with silhouette art all over her house. She pulled it all down, then created a more impactful display on a single wall instead.
4. Scale up
West says the maximalist principle of scaling up with larger pieces works in nearly every design.
“Most folks tend to go too small when choosing artful things for their homes, and that’s how they end up with a cluttered feel,” West says. “Fewer-but-bigger pieces sets the stage for great design, no matter what your aesthetic.”
Another way to organize pieces? Look up. Seattle organizer Rachel Corwin, owner of Spruce with Rachel, encourages clients to think tall.
“Look up to the ceiling,” she says. “Do you have tall shelves? Are floating shelves an option? That’s an easy way to display things.”
5. Edit and curate
West says careful editing and curation is as important to maximalist design as it is to minimalism.
“You have to decide what you need access to and when, and how much you need to store, then develop a system for storing it all,” she says.
Corwin says she does that with every project she works on. “People think all home organizers make you want to get rid of stuff,” she says. “But it just comes down to identifying what is the craft, hobby or collection that’s most important, what tools do you need, and how do we display the elements and get creative with storing the rest.”
A bonus: “Once you curate it, you’re more intentional about what you see and it does bring a little more joy, because when things are up on display, you can really enjoy them,” Corwin says.
6. Try a design rule — then break it
Dirkse and her design team follow a basic rule when decorating a coffee table: vase, bowl, book. “It ends up being what looks good and works,” she says. But you can also build upon that; Dirkse’s own coffee table has a vase, three pyramids and several books.
But don’t get hung up on rules, she says. “I don’t limit myself on art because I want to buy from local artists,” Dirkse says. “If your collection is too large to showcase, rotate it by season.”
Rule-breaking may be core to maximalism, West says. “A vibrant maximalist room is as hard to ignore as a fashionista walking down the street,” she says. “It exudes personality. It’s wonderfully unapologetic. It says, ‘This is what I love and I’m not asking anybody’s permission.’ ”
So don’t ask permission. Group, edit, display, arrange and, most importantly, enjoy your space — and everything you choose to have in it.