What Is Maximalism? Here's How to Do Maximalist Design

maximalist living room

Forbes and Masters

If you're a fan of maximalism, you're in luck, because the style is having a major moment as of late. Truthfully, maximalism has been a part of the design world for centuries—the ways in which it has manifested in our homes has changed over time, of course, but the idea of showing off all of one's favorite things is by no means a new concept. With proper thought and care, maximalism is easy to achieve in the home. We asked designers to weigh in on maximalism's history, recent revival, and key characteristics, and they also share some useful decor tips.

Meet the Expert

  • Alessandra Wood is the vice president of style at interior design service Modsy.
  • Dawn Cook is a designer and the co-owner of BLDC Design.
  • Ashley DeLapp is the founder and principal of Ashley DeLapp Design.

A Brief History

Maximalism is by no means a modern trend; maximalists have existed across the globe for centuries. "Wealthy people throughout history have practiced forms of maximalism as ways to showcase their riches," notes Alessandra Wood, vice president of style at interior design service Modsy. "One of my favorite examples of this practice can be traced to 16th-century cabinets of curiosities." The items placed on display would vary—first, animal specimens were popular, while in later years, individuals chose to highlight artwork and other goods, Wood explains. "Cabinets of curiosities were like small, private museums that were stuffed top to bottom with treasures," she adds. "Every surface covered with something."

maximalist sitting room


As time went on, maximalism emerged once again during the Victorian era. "The Victorians loved the material world, and they lived during a time when consumable goods became much more accessible and affordable," Wood notes. "Every inch of their homes was covered with some decorative element from wallpaper to rugs to drapery to decorative accessories. As a culture, they invested in the idea that each person had their own personality and [the] maximalist element of their homes reflected an attempt to showcase their private selves to visitors."

Maximalism's Recent Popularity

Wood believes that maximalism in today's society certainly takes a cue from past eras. "First, those who decorate in that style are like curators of their own space, hoping to showcase a collection of goods they love," she notes. "Second, they are more likely than people who love other styles to believe that their space reflects their personality."

And the style has seen a resurgence in more recent years due to economic regrowth, explains Dawn Cook, co-owner of BLDC Design. "After the recession of 2008, design trends turned to minimalist—making a statement with less," she shares. "As the economy recovered over the next decade, society began accumulating wealth with more disposable income, collecting objects of interest, traveling more, and populating their homes with meaningful and significant art and accessories."

maximalist bathroom


Maximalism is particularly popular among younger generations, particularly millennials, who were eager to incorporate plants, eclectic colors, and other accessories into their spaces, Cook adds. "Maximalism became a way to define an eclectic home with a chaotic array of colors, prints, objects, and textures in a single space." And by way of social media, "consumers fell in love with overly saturated and overly appointed images of rooms in a kaleidoscope of design."

Fun Fact

Minimalism is all about getting rid of excess items and using only the things you need. Maximalism is more about design and features colors, shapes, tones, and textures to create an over-the-top space.

Key Characteristics

Have fun with pattern play and vibrant colors when designing a maximalist home. "Wallpaper featuring bold patterns, glossy lacquered furniture, and plenty of accessories are key to pulling off this look," shares designer Ashley DeLapp, founder and principal of Ashley DeLapp Design.

And don't forget about the importance of joy, notes designer Isabel Ladd of Isabel Ladd Interiors. "Joy is a fundamental element of maximalist design because the vibrancy and energy that hits you when you walk into a well-decorated maximalist space should induce happiness," she says. "My motto: You can't control everything, but what you can, let it bring you joy."

maximalist bookshelf


Design Tips

For some maximalists, narrowing down the top items that they do wish to feature in a space can pose a bit of a challenge, Cook explains. "Maximalism isn’t for everyone, and it may actually be one of the hardest design trends to achieve," she says. "You often need an expert to make sense of an array of bespoke interests. Folks who like maximalist design often have a strong appreciation for many different design styles and collect different objects over time—from abstract art, to crystal chandeliers, to Barcelona chairs and needlepoint from their grandmother."

Cook operates under the principle that there should only be one or two "wow-worthy" pieces within a given room, and shares a few suggestions. "Your eye needs something to focus on to create the sense of grandeur," she says. "Whether a packed bookshelf of a myriad of books, walls hung with a multitude of mixed art, or a room dominated with plants—something needs to take control and lead the design.

maximalist home office


Don't forget to look to the ceiling—what Ladd refers to as a room's "fifth wall" when it comes to adding some oomph to a space, too. Paper it to coordinate with the other four walls in a room if you wish. "If the wallpaper runs in one direction only and won't look good on a ceiling, consider a coordinating paper," Ladd suggests.

Finally, don't forget about the importance of layering within a maximalist space. "Layer, layer, layer," Ladd states. "Take all the things you love, and layer them on multiple surfaces like bookshelves, side tables, walls, and furniture. It does take a certain skill of knowing when to keep going and when to stop. You don't want the result to be chaotic; you want it to be balanced."