New to Van Clarke? Subscribe to our newsletter for 15% off your first order. Start your haircare journey today.

Which are you? Minimalist or maximalist.

December 09, 2023

Which are you? Minimalist or maximalist.

Do you lean towards the uncomplicated, or prefer to go large with all bells and whistles? Bauhaus or Baroque, Armani or Versace, Sushi or French Haute Cuisine?

Maybe you swing both ways like me, but I lean more to the understated with measured ornamentation. Gaby would disagree fearing I’m becoming like my Greek mother at home who had nearly a thousand icons and pictures decorating the walls of her flat, and none of her 32 chairs escaped the company of a soft toy, cushion, or doily. Some enjoyed all three. “That is so not me”, I exclaim defensively when challenged!

The word ‘Modern’ in architecture and interiors is associated with simplicity and clean lines, with the form often pared down to fulfil function. After the ornate periods of Baroque, Victoriana, and Art Nouveau, the West shifted into modernism and design minimalism with Bauhaus, Art Deco and through to Brutalism.

Why am I thinking about design? I’m in Hermanus South Africa and couldn’t be further from anything Bauhaus inspired. More like I’ve slipped through a time portal to somewhere off 1980s Sloane Street. Birkenhead House Hotel is a treasure trove of froufrou on steroids with a smattering of kitsch. And surprisingly, I love it.

Our room No.1 of just 11, is perched on the cliff edge giving double aspect views to the crashing surf and vast coral-sand beach below. I wonder, did they struggle to decide on interior designers between David Hicks, Nina Campbell and John Stefanidis so chose them all? The room is a riot of 1980s eccentricity, from the huge white faux snakeskin Louis VIX bed, the vermilion TV and drinks cabinet, and green painted 18th century desk, to sunburst yellow suede adorning mock or real French antique furniture.

Of course the slippers would be faux leopard skin with gold embroidery, and along with richly mounted pictures and ornaments, the fierce fracas of rainbow colour and chintz is surprisingly warm and inviting. It has everything one could possibly want or need in a hotel suite, to the point where care is needed when walking around the furniture.

Gloss painted ceilings in the main lounge support numerous chandeliers that make up in numbers what they lack in grandeur. Restrained it is not. The staff are so warm and welcoming, it’s no surprise to see it winning major travel awards. It feels like the other guests are all coming home to somewhere very dear to them.

Food is exceptional, and we even ventured out amidst the playful seals and surf, to pick our own mussels. Clive, the talented head chef, took us through his recipe which we cooked together that afternoon.

What defines minimalist design?

It's defined by a simplicity without the need for adornment, partly achieved by using materials that give a basic, not decorative, finish. Successful Minimalism captures a sense of bareness without feeling bereft.

Materials help to achieve the style of minimalist architecture; glass allows for natural light and expands visual openness, concrete is cool and gives a strong structural base that needs no finish, steel can reflect light, enlarging the sense of space. Natural materials such as wood, stone, and brick can achieve minimalist simplicity whilst giving a more soulful engagement. Traditional and modern Japanese design masters this well.  

The De Stijl (Dutch: style) movement rose near the end of WWI focusing on the need for essentials. The shapes were abstract or geometric in simple primary colours or black and white.

This contrasted the earlier Baroque style (French: irregularly shaped) of dramatic, exaggerated extravagance, fine detail and rich colours, which had characterized Europe from the early 17th to mid-eighteenth century.

By 1919 Bauhaus (German: house of building) were unifying artistic vision with form, function and mass production. The Dutch De Stijl movement had a huge influence on Bauhaus, and Walter Gropius, its founder, drew a lot of inspiration from the social housing projects he saw in Rotterdam. Dutch designers and architects were also fascinated by Bauhaus. In order to have an impact on the modern world, Gropius felt that art had to serve a purpose, so he focused on reducing materials and keeping design functional, later developing the slogan “Art into Industry”.

Bauhaus and Art Deco were both movements that brought modernism, but whilst Bauhaus concentrated on the effortlessly minimalist and utilitarian, Art Deco used bolder geometric shapes and materials for more opulent expression. Now companies like Apple products and Aman resorts use minimalist design to express luxury through a voluptuous simplicity. A less is more approach.

Maximalist design has been breaking through over recent years to challenge a blandness of mass produced insipid interiors. It uses a mix of stronger colours, abundant patterns and ornate embellishment to give bolder expression. Richard Caring's Annabel's interiors display maximalism luxuriously.

Minimalism or maximalism? Who couldn’t love the beauty of either when designed well. 

Michael Van Clarke 





Also in Blogs

Gaby's Bakery - Ciambelle al Vino – Italian wine cookies
Gaby's Bakery - Ciambelle al Vino – Italian wine cookies

June 15, 2024

We picked up a packet of these delicious crunchy biscuits from one of the foodie shops in the lanes around the Trevi Fountain. Ciambelle al Vino are lightly infused with wine and coated with sugar crystals. This recipe from Rome is one of the easiest and uses very few ingredients.

Continue Reading

Do You Know Your Hair Type?
Do You Know Your Hair Type?

June 14, 2024

It’s almost certainly a combination. You won’t have one hair type, in the same way that you’re unlikely to have one skin type on your face. Treating your eye area like your T-zone will cause...

Continue Reading

In the Chair - Real People Real Hair - Tara
In the Chair - Real People Real Hair - Tara

June 14, 2024

I love long hair. But sometimes you can have too much of a good thing, and if it’s not cut properly it can drown the wearer and make shampoo-days a dreaded event. Tara had gorgeous hair but the haircut had no shape. Just the usual...

Continue Reading