Even in a tiny apartment, more can sometimes be more. Having a petite home and a penchant for maximalism may seem like the ultimate design quandary. With only so much space, conventional wisdom might demand that you modify your style and opt for a muted, minimalist look in order to make the most of every corner.
Contrary to popular belief, you can indulge in punchy patterns, contrasting colors, and varied textures—and still have room to move, too. With some artful tricks, this type of “more is more” aesthetic is highly achievable even in tight quarters. Here, how to go all out while fitting it all in.
Consciously combine patterns and finishes
There is an art to mixing and matching, and it starts with scale. More specifically, it’s about varying the scale of the prints you’re using for a more palatable effect. “For instance,” says designer Lance Thomas of Louisiana-based Thomas Guy Interiors, “thin pinstripes, a medium-scale toile, and an oversized abstract [print] can make magic together,” he says.
Shine or luster is another an important quality that often gets overlooked. “Incorporating various sheens allows [certain] elements to make their entrance known first,” Thomas says. Higher shines, like lacquered furniture, will be noticeable at once, while more matte finishes will reveal themselves a bit later.
It’s that delayed interaction with elements that make themselves known gradually rather than bombarding the eye that makes maximalism effective. Thomas explains, “The more you look at a space, the more you see. Deep, sheeny lacquered walls with a decadent mohair textile, for example, is like maximalist butter for me.”
Pick your bolder moments
A maximalist aesthetic by definition is synonymous with, well, a lot of stuff in one space. Including so much detail can quickly make a room feel cluttered—especially if it’s small.
“While there is a very subjective threshold as to when a space feels cluttered, for me, it’s when every single element feels overworked,” Thomas says. “The drapes don’t need to be patterned, fringed, taped, beaded, banded, French pleated, and corniced while the sofa is also patterned, bullioned, tasseled taped… you get the drift.”
Instead, he pays attention to proportion to keep the look balanced. While Thomas says there’s no mathematical equation for filling a room, he likes to think of it as “the perfect dinner party” ratio.
“I prefer the loudest guest (or the boldest elements in the room) to speak the least but hit the punchlines to keep the party interesting,” he says. “I have the more nuanced guests (or the more subtle elements in the room) drive the conversation and maintain a design narrative.”
This could mean repeating a bold pattern or color story throughout the space but allowing a nuanced collection of French antique furniture to dictate the look.
Find a focal point
With so much detail, keeping a space cohesive hinges on creating a central focus. “Every element in the room needs to relate back to the original inspiration,” Thomas says. “It could be a rug or an heirloom piece of art. In a maximalist space, the goal is to see the intention behind why all these elements coexist.”
He also advises keeping things contained. If you have a collection of pottery or antiques, display it in one concise place. “Too many times,” he says, “I have seen someone try to tie the room together by placing one vintage item on the mantle, another of its kind on the coffee table, and another on the bookshelf.”
Make the most of underused space
Finding creative potential in unexpected places can help you maximize a small room. Using the verticality of a wall, for example, can create an inspired moment; think floor-to-ceiling shelves, a gallery wall, or different types of built-ins.
On the flip side, Thomas says, “People often forget to ‘decorate down.’ There’s a ton of conversation about bringing design elements up to the ceiling with shelving etc., but I like to think of the ways I can add elements to the floor.”
He suggests placing a beautiful stack of art books on the ground beside a sofa or nestling a set of plush pillows slightly underneath the cocktail table. In this way, he says, “I really try to create a full span of vertical levels of interest,” making the most of a room from bottom to top.
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