Now, here is a great collection of modernism from different periods, all of it casually combined. That vintage mirror—Ultrafragola by Ettore Sottsass—is about the hippest thing on the planet right now, isn’t it? And there’s a Poul Kjaerholm leather-and-steel stool, a Jean Prouvé bookcase, and a Le Corbusier sofa. There’s even a sprig of California modernism, with Greta Grossman’s Grasshopper floor lamp. I want to be friends with these people; maybe their cool will rub off.
You can replicate these walls with a good natural milk paint and a little (or a lot) of experimentation.
Apples or oranges? New York or L.A.? Spotify or Apple Music? Warriors or Thunder? These days you can pick your corner, your subculture, your team, and just wallow yourself to death in it. Even with interior design, there are so many options that are all fashionable at once. You want your Steampunk Man Cave? How about your Zen Room, Safe Room, or Retro Midcentury Tiki Scream Room? Feel free to let your interior-design freak flag fly. But do it right. At opposite poles of this vast spectrum of sanctimonious spaces are minimum and maximum. Both styles are aesthetically ambitious and completely relevant right now. Would you care for a spare, elegant, sophisticated style for your home’s interior? Or a highly personalized hemorrhagic tableau expressing your multifaceted collections and richly curated life? After your sartorial style, your interior decoration may be the most personal billboard of them all.
A nicely constructed linen slipcover hides a multitude of sins and can class up a cheap sofa. (Not that you would have one.)
We’re living in a rare and opportune design moment, when two opposite aesthetics are not only acceptable but downright fashionable: Stark minimalism and bursting-at-the-seams maximalism. Only question is, which one suits you?
Many minimalist designers prefer wood floors from Dinesen. I like GrandOak, Classic, best. Gorgeous. Flawless. Expensive.
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Enjoy the Minimalist Southwest Vibes of Scott Campbell’s LA Home
The template for this 2,400-square-foot weekend home in upstate New York were drawings and renderings of a desert home Mann had designed for himself. Mann wanted to orient the house to face the western sunset, toward the Catskills, but his client, Sara Rotman of MODCo Creative Inc, argued that it would involve cutting down too many trees and it would be just as nice to wake up to the sunrise towards the Berkshire view. “The lesson here,” says Mann, “is to trust your instincts. Don’t just listen to someone else.”
The outside of this house is clad in Cembonit, a kind of dyed stain-proof synthetic wood, and that flat textured expanse mirrors the clean walls inside. For good reason: “The exterior here becomes a room, embraced on three sides” says Mann. “The family spends a great deal of time outside together.” You won’t find much littering the lawn—no fire pits or tchotchkes, no botanic garden landscaping—save a freestanding screen hides an outdoor shower and barbecue. (The screen has a little window so the grill master can see what’s happening and tell anyone who wants a burger well-done to kick rocks.) The lesson here is that you can—and should—bring the interior design you love out into all that green space. Maximize your patio, buy pool furniture you love, invest in a better grill.
One of the greatest maximalist rooms of all time is a collaboration between two of the most stylish men of all time—Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé. That’s their legendary Paris apartment below. Of course, each object in the room, from the Fernand Léger painting The Black Profile (1928) to the Jean-Michel Frank sofa to the African artifacts and Renaissance-age bronzes, is worth more than my whole house. But the combination of all these perfect items mixed perfectly together is pretty much, well, perfect in every way. It requires some serious retinal energy to explore it, but man, it’s worth it.
Poul Kjaerholm furniture is particularly in vogue; consequently, it’s being knocked off often. If you can’t afford the real deal, these are Restoration Hardware.
Wood with a deep ebony finish provides a great rich contrast in a predominantly white contemporary room.
Benjamin Moore White Dove is a perfect, flexible white paint color. Warm but not too yellow. Works for contemporary and traditional scenes.
The idea of “minimalism” began to gain traction in the late ’60s and ’70s, when it described the work of fine artists like Donald Judd, Robert Ryman, Agnes Martin, and others whose work was very spare. The British designer John Pawson—we’ll look at one of his spaces shortly—is perhaps the godfather of this architectural and interior genre. The release of his 1996 book, Minimum, was a watershed moment for the movement. He called his rooms “the excitement of empty space.” How’s that for a Zen declaration?
Finding the perfect houseplant means balancing what looks good with your debilitating laziness.
For a bright, contemporary stark-white paint: Farrow & Ball’s Strong White.
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“Most people try to accomplish too much in their homes,” advises David Mann. “They try to be this and this and this, and when they’re done, it doesn’t function in any of the ways they envisioned. What are the most important goals? Choose a few and accomplish them.” Mann had worked with Indiana-native and art collector Rodney Miller on two prior projects when they were given the opportunity to build from the ground up on a 25-foot-wide vacant lot in Carnegie Hill. “Miller is very tall, and one frustration he had with many apartments is they felt claustrophobic.” He wanted a place that wouldn’t make him, his art collection, or his friends—who he liked to have over for drinks and dinner—feel cramped
Personally, I’m a binger and a purger—I tend to start out in a new house empty and stark, vowing to stay pure; then, after a few years of traveling, collecting, and picking up stuff from the dock of the eBay, I end up with the producers of Hoarders slipping fan letters under the door. Exhausted with excess and inspired by those beautiful empty rooms, I move or purge and start all over again. I aspire to minimalism and backslide easily and willingly into decadent maximalism. Where’s my support group?
One might think that only a psychopath could live a true minimalist’s life—and the American Psycho condo upholds that theory. The interior is emblematic of Wall Street’s crazy ’80s, right down to the Robert Longo Men in the Cities print and Mies van der Rohe’s timeless Barcelona furniture. All these pieces sit in eerie deference to the violence about to be executed within the stark black-and-white interior. It’s minimalism as evil lair.
Take a tour of architect Mason St. Peter’s airy Topanga Canyon retreat.
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Then Mann worked to ensure that coziness and the outdoors could co-exist. Cedar is everywhere, inside and out. The poured concrete flooring—with geothermal- and solar-powered radiant heat, eliminating the need for radiators—starts inside and continues outside, too. Mother Nature may be a maximalist, but she’s a great roomie.
I actually think it’s a bit harder to be a great maximalist. You’d think you’d be freer when allowed to mix styles and periods. But, done wrong, it’s just a chaotic mess. To quote the Divinyls, there’s a fine line between pleasure and pain. And dare ye not forget the pithy expression “Sometimes an embarrassment of riches is just an embarrassment.”
We tested a mountain of linens to find the right set for every type of tired guy.
The biggest obstacle to creating a minimalist home is the realization that simple is, ironically, more complicated than it looks. Every angle has to be thought through, every plate and piece of art and glassed-in shower becomes a statement, and the empty spaces speak as loudly as the decor. Luckily, if you’re thinking about going the pared-down route in your own pad, you can find some inspiration in the newly-published book MR Architecture + Decor.
For the gut renovation of the 4,000-square-foot bachelor pad of Yoon Kim, Mann preserved the industrial loft’s existing architecture, including its massive rolling steel doors, vaulted ceilings, arched top windows, and exposed brick walls. “You have to know what not to take away,” said Mann. “Know what’s good in the space and what to leave.”
Los Angeles’s legendary Echo Park Cactus Store is opening on the Lower East Side, but don’t go there looking for a coffee table decoration.
There’s no better aspirational image of maximalism than Karl Lagerfeld’s legendary library—a visually baroque book lover’s wet dream. Notice that most of the books are stacked horizontally. What’s that about? I wonder if it’s a design choice or a practical one—so Karl doesn’t have to turn his head to read the titles. That stiff-starched high collar in your way, Herr Lagerfeld?
Please note: Minimal interior design doesn’t necessarily have to be executed in an all-white wrapping. Witness the stark but nicely patinated confections of the great Belgian designer Axel Vervoordt. He creates exquisite interiors, often working with rustic, centuries-old European buildings. Maximum beauty with minimum ingredients—no matter the period of reference. He’s big on organic materials and can easily be diagnosed as having a finish fetish—walls of Venetian plaster and floors of ancient reclaimed timbers, woodwork pickled to within an inch of its life. Or, better yet, old walls and materials left looking old but waxed to preserve, enrich, and exploit the age. But a minimalist interior should not feel empty—note, in our photograph here, the regally perched and perfectly art-directed kat.
Minimalism is the design equivalent of a 1,500-calorie-a-day diet—and about as difficult to adhere to. To paraphrase Baloo from The Jungle Book, it’s the bare necessities, the simple bare necessities, forget about your clutter and your strife. Minimalism is a philosophy, a reaction to all of modern life’s visual vomit. As the world becomes more cacophonous, perhaps a design alternative is to have your home decor simplified, calm, and serene, with a heightened sense of clarity. The idea is to put all your thought and dough into just a few really great treasures. Then fine-tune every detail. The style of a picture frame, the kind of cord on the lamp, the finish on the floor. Stuff you wouldn’t notice if the room was cluttered becomes a beacon when a space is pared down. It has been said that minimalism is not a style that precludes possession, but a style that precludes careless possession. Only the essentials, thank you very much.
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With advice from a minimalist mastermind, New York-based architect David Mann.
Nothing beats a neutral sofa that disappears into the wall. A great, affordable ivory fabric, wonderful for upholstery, is Fabricut’s Primary Eggshell.
Look at that pool. That glowing green grass. Those clean lines and startling edges. That’s how minimalism goes out into the yard.
The current trend in minimalism is home-as-art-gallery. This noted minimalist architect’s place is a perfect example. A bent-plywood chair by Grete Jalk complements a wall sculpture and daybed by Donald Judd and a pair of brown leather chairs by Fabricius & Kastholm. They’re all displayed elegantly in a minimal white envelope—the epitome of suavity. Consider mixing furniture that is both organic and biomorphic with more severe right-angled pieces. The juxtaposition creates a fluid “dance” and keeps the eye moving nicely—and endlessly.
This Architect Turned a Hunting Lodge into a Minimalist Chill Zone
We’ve got you covered, from best-in-class investment stemware to solid, budget-friendly starter glasses.
So Mann imported space, by way of light. The glass curtain wall at the back of the house lets the sun flow in and the interior lighting flow out, where it brightens up the backyard at night. Mann dropped blue stone throughout the entire place—from the front courtyard, through the first floor, and through the outside—so that it feels like one continuous space. The dark-toned flooring and wood accents, paired with damn-that’s-white walls, put the focus on the hanging art. All Miller’s missing is a quiet suited man in the corner reminding guests not to use flash photography.
It’s unusual to be living in a time when both minimalism and maximalism look and feel fresh, vital, and relevant, so I say take advantage. Pick the style that moves you, and do it well.
So you’re not building your dream Zen zone from scratch, but working with the house you’ve been given. Attaining minimalist nirvana means you’ll want to do some surgery—but don’t go so minimal that you lose what made the space special in the first place.
Vervoordt favors East Asian pottery and Roman glass. For an all-American take, try Heath Ceramics from California.
Useful in any style of space: rustic wooden bowls, like these from Restoration Hardware.
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The tattoo artist (and Mr. Lake Bell) embraces West Coast living.
Brad Dunning is known for his writings and his work on architecturally significant properties, restorations, and his own original designs.
It makes the average beach house look like a shed with a sandbox.
Here, we’ll look at some enviable examples of each style—and teach you how to decode them.
You can thank us every time a perfect golden brown slab of gluten pops up.
For more than twenty years, the 30-person studio of MR Architecture + Decor, run by David Mann, has created—whole hog, from construction to interior design—utterly peaceful, clean spaces that don’t veer into the cold, soulless, Fortress-of-Solitude-type minimalism no one wants to inhabit. The book showcases eighteen of the firm’s artfully uncluttered spaces, from the onetime Takashimaya department store on Fifth Avenue to art-filled urban lofts of global jet-setters to uptown penthouses in NYC, and even log cabins Montana. Here are four that’ll give you some open, airy inspiration.
The most effective maximalist rooms are expressions of a life well lived. They’re celebrations of objects and design—things that have been collected with a freestyle combination of judiciousness and wild abandon. Maximalist rooms are bereft of the current style trends; they’re more about a well-confected hoard of delicious design goodness. Seldom will a first impression of a minimal room induce that jaw-dropping Wow! like a good maximalist room can. If minimalism is about the empty breathing space, maximalism is about taking the breath away.
Stuff you wouldn’t notice if a room was cluttered becomes a beacon when a space is pared down.
And where can you find one that is neither ugly nor overpriced?
The most minimalist house possible would be a shipping container painted white with one lone mid-century modern chair in the corner, but nobody wants that. No, even if you want minimal, you still want some of the messiness that is the outdoors meshing with your design. The key, then, is to be intentional about how that happens.
Not that you have to save it all: Mann removed walls to unblock views of the Hudson River and let in more light, then changed the layout to double. the number of bedrooms and bathrooms (from two to four for each). You might think would lead to the place feeling more constrained. But that new floor plan means tons of open interior space for the owners—and their friends, family, pets, guests, and guests of guests—to hang out freely without being hemmed in by walls.