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News / Life / Clark County Life

Taking it to the MAX: Cheerful excesses of maximalism offer a visual hug

By Monika Spykerman, Columbian staff writer
Published: January 30, 2022, 6:02am
5 Photos
Industrial bare-bulb lights are part of the pleasant contrast of styles enlivening Sarah and Ian Williams' Vancouver living room, designed by Brandi Oldham of Brandiwine Interior Design.
Industrial bare-bulb lights are part of the pleasant contrast of styles enlivening Sarah and Ian Williams' Vancouver living room, designed by Brandi Oldham of Brandiwine Interior Design. (Photos by Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Maybe you spent your pandemic lockdown reading Marie Kondo’s bestseller “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” and dutifully discarding clothing, knickknacks, books and that holey pair of sneakers you’ve had since 1976. Or maybe the gloomy past two years have changed your mind about blank walls and bare countertops, leaving you wondering “Where’s the pizzazz?”

It may seem strange that a virus could influence home décor, but the anxiety and isolation we’ve all endured have nudged us away from the austerity of minimalism, according to Clark County interior designers. Local homeowners are tipping toward the design world’s latest trend: maximalism, where more is always more.

“Pre-pandemic, we all had these very busy schedules outside the home, so in terms of what was happening in the home space, it had to be minimal. Clients really wanted homes to feel like a sanctuary space,” said Brandi Oldham, owner of Brandiwine Interior Design in Vancouver. “Then the pandemic hit and the summer of 2020 is when we started to see a flip of the switch in design trends.”

The concept of maximalism isn’t new. It emerged in the music and art worlds before the turn of the century and influenced the glitz of Hollywood Regency style in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s. It’s an aesthetic that thrives on layers of color, pattern and texture. It elevates unexpected juxtapositions and embraces dissimilar or even opposing elements. Where minimalism soothes by smoothing over contrasts, maximalism delights by multiplying them.

Make it maximalist

Have you had enough of bare walls and beige? Here are some maximalist elements to try in your home.

Bold colors like emerald, turquoise, red, mustard-gold, royal blue, coral.

Wallpaper with strong or high-contrast designs.

Layers of visible textures with textiles, baskets, ceramics and tiles.

Colorful art hung collage-style on a gallery wall.

Collections of objects displayed in novel or artistic ways.

Furnishings of many styles or eras, unified with color.

Personally meaningful heirlooms, artwork and knickknacks.

Touchable fabrics like velvet or plush knits.

“People are adding more art to their walls, adding textured rugs or tapestries, lots of bright colors and warmer hues,” Oldham said. “Visually and physically, we could all use a hug, and I would say that’s what’s happening in the design world.”

Our homes have become more than a place we escape to at the end of a busy day. They’ve became classrooms, offices, hobby workshops, exercise studios, entertainment centers and meditation spaces. We’re even cultivating indoor gardens with a proliferation of potted plants that we now have time to care for, Oldham said.

“The home has taken on a whole new meaning. It’s become the center of your world, so making it reflect you has become so much more important,” said Suzanne Simon, owner of LakeShore Design Studio. “We’ve all had a little more time to think. We’re not running around as much and that is showing up in décor.”

One of the things we’ve had a lot more time for is online shopping, Oldham said. Instead of discarding, we’re collecting and looking for novel ways to display those collections on bookcases and walls — like an artistic arrangement of china plates. However, that doesn’t mean chaos or clutter, she said. We still want structure and organization, and this is reflected in the current fondness for geometric designs and the popularity of websites like thehomeedit.com.

This need for clean lines and roomy interiors may be more prevalent in our neck of the woods.

“The Northwest is its own unique design zone. It doesn’t necessarily trend with the rest of the country,” Simon said. “The whole West Coast tends to be more contemporary. West Coast people like their space. They don’t want to fill every corner. So someone who says they want maximalism really means they want ‘maximalism lite.’ ”

Though most Clark County residents might shy away from maximalism’s extremes, Simon said, the pandemic does seem to have inspired them to make their homes more personalized with art, decorative objects and furniture that express the owner’s idiosyncratic tastes and individual experiences.

“The last couple homes I have done are super contemporary in style but they had family heirlooms and elements from early in their marriage that were important to them, like a chest of drawers, a mirror and some artwork,” Simon said. “Even if they don’t want a true maximalist space, it’s given them permission to bring in more things that are important to them.”

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Perhaps the biggest shift is the craze for color after so many years of beige and gray, Simon said. People are opting for warmer, bolder colors — deep emeralds, bright turquoise, red and mustard-gold. However, Clark County homeowners are using these colors sparingly, with pops of vivid color on artwork, pillows, lamps and blankets.

“The neutrals are still definitely in play. The cool colors are still being chosen. That being said, we’re adding pops of vibrant color,” Oldham said. “When you have a statement blue wall, you’re going to add some warm colors to offset that. We all need a little happy right now.”

Oldham said she’s seeing more wallpaper with strong graphic motifs, not only in homes but also in commercial projects she’s been working on, such as the soon-to-open Hotel Stevenson. Wallpaper is also making a splash in unexpected places, she said, like the back panels of bookcases.

Patterns are layered with “big textures that you can not only feel but can see with your eyes,” said Oldham, like baskets, chunky knit blankets and nubbly textiles on floors and walls.

In Clark County homes, patterns might be more subtle, she said, like rectangular subway tiles arranged in a herringbone design. Touchable fabrics like velvets can be seen on couches, chairs and pillows — none of which need to conform to a single era or style.

The overall effect is a lively confluence of elements, unique to the people who inhabit the space. The most important thing, Simon said, is to love your home and feel comfortable in it, whether it’s a restful temple of restrained grays and browns or a cheerful mash-up of funky art, mismatched furniture, vintage accessories and eye-popping modern wallpaper.

It’s about “what brings you joy from the inside, what makes you happy,” Simon said.

“What I appreciate the most about maximalism is that it’s given people permission to bring in more of what matters to them. It’s opened up the door to, ‘Yes, it’s OK to have more,’ ” Simon said. “You really can be as eclectic as you want to be, as long as you unify it with color and scale. … Whatever matters to you, there’s a way to make it work.”

One thing is for certain, both designers agree: Maximalism isn’t concerned with pleasing the neighbors or deferring to the rules. True maximalists make their own rules, and now is their time to shine.

“In interior design, a common misconception is that you have to follow the trends, to be on point, but your home has to function for you,” Oldham said. “Trends come and go, but if you’re a maximalist at heart, lean in.”