The New Maximalism

A vibrant emerald lounge(above) by interior designer Ken Fulk at San Francisco luxury condominiums the Harrison

The ebullient, rule-breaking trend has swept through the interior design industry, giving rise to home furnishings crafted with lavish materials and a proliferation of more-is-more interiors brimming with personality. After decades ruled by the visual language of minimalism—understated hues, clean-lined simplicity, serene emptiness—highly accessorized environments have taken hold, defined by abundant energy, bold colors, layered pattern, and, most important, a sense of idiosyncrasy instead of perfectionism.

“The white box is behind us for now, and that’s a positive in my book,” says Eche Martinez, founder of San Francisco–based interior design firm ECHE. “I see a deepening of an individual mindset among clients and more interest in layered looks that feel unique and collected.” Renowned statement maker Jay Jeffers observes a similar shift. “It’s all about personalizing space, wanting your home to feel different from everyone else’s,” says Jeffers, whose new book Be Bold: Bespoke Modern Interiors (Gibbs Smith, 2018) showcases his masterful, daring projects. As Jeffers notes in the text, “There can be great chemistry when mixing design elements that don’t immediately make sense together.”
This aesthetic pendulum swing between the minimal and maximal is nothing new. Design moves in cycles, in response to social and economic forces, and the history of the decorative arts reveals oscillations between restraint and exuberance. In the late nineteenth century, for instance, arts and crafts icon William Morris championed a return to high craftsmanship in response to the machine age, electrifying the industry with his sensual, large-scale wallpaper motifs drawn from nature. A different more-is-more sensibility surged in the 1920s and ’30s with the bold geometric patterns, jewel tones, and exotic materials of art deco. More recently, in the 1980s, Italian interior and furnishings designer Ettore Sottsass took us on a ride filled with primary colors and whimsical forms with Memphis—a departure from the prevailing tenets of midcentury modernism that have endured into the 21st century.

Martin Chapman, curator of European decorative arts and sculpture for the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, points out that each peak of decorative impulse over the centuries has been accompanied by a robust economy, similar to the tech- and VC-fueled affluence we’re experiencing now in San Francisco. “A lot of money can result in opulence, and how that opulence is handled depends on the ability of the designer to manage form, color, pattern, and texture to come up with good results.”

Jeffers agrees that the key to successful execution is in the editing. “It still boils down to deliberate curation, so you have the right amount of wonderfulness,” he says. Martinez is of the same mind, arguing that the additional creative freedom brings with it a new responsibility. “For me, at least one thing needs to be restrained,” he notes, particularly when it comes to patterns.

Interior designer Kelly Hohla, known for her virtuosity with pattern and color, advises moderation as well. “I aim for moments of planned whimsy—but not too many, or there’s no place to focus,” she says. “When I want a pattern or bright color to step forward, I look for something else to pull back.” Hohla sees the influence of maximalism most strongly in product design, citing the fervor for artisans and adventurous materials. Among her favorites are Natasha Baradaran’s jewel-like furnishings and Berkeley-based maker Cliff Hersh’s lighting.

“As this trend evolves, I hope it’s taken seriously, without cliché and the tendency to overdo it for the sake of overdoing it,” says Martinez. “Sure, there’s a lot of noise in these times, but our role is to channel that chaos into something interesting and relevant.”

Kelly Wearstler created the whimsical and multi-layered lobby for the Proper Hotel on Market
Bloomsbury Garden wallpaper by Timorous Beasties, whose work has been lovingly dubbed “William Morris on acid
Interior designer Kelly Hohla confidently layers pattern, color, and accessories in her own San Francisco home

– Jay Jeffers

A daring dining room by maximalist master Jay Jeffers

Two Henry Adams Street, Suite 2M-33
San Francisco, CA 94103