The minimalist style for interiors is not new. It has been around since man started living in caves, but in modern times it has become an increasingly popular trend for interior design. As an escape from the kaleidoscopic chaos in which we work and play, a minimalist environment can be the perfect refuge in which to relax and decompress. Space that is not occupied is as integral to the design theory as the space that is. Although not completely without ornamentation, minimalism in architecture and design is based on the concept of stripping everything down to bare essentials. It derives its inspiration from traditional Japanese architecture and the concept of Zen philosophy. Mies van der Rohe defined minimalism exactly in three simple words: “Less is more”.
To better understand the minimalist style, a brief history of the creators of the furniture and architecture that inspire this look might be helpful. As a trend, minimalist design began to take shape in the 19th century, gaining momentum in the early 20th century when the Modern movement took root. The desire to create structures that were forward-looking with no ties to the past inspired revolutionary design for working and living environments. The advent of industrialization and mass production created a radically new platform for the furniture industry, eliminating the need to craft furniture by hand. Following the cataclysm of the First World War, Europe became the breeding ground from which essentially pure designs sprang forth, with three major design influences: the de Stijl group, the Bauhaus school, and the French style led by Le Corbusier.
In Holland, Gerrit Rietvel founded the de Stijl group whose designs parted company with existing tradition. Only cubic forms and primary colors were used to transform interiors into radically new abstract spaces. The contingents from the German Bauhaus school, most notably, Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer, created architecture and furnishings with refined simplicity made of steel and glass. Van der Rohe’s Barcelona chair is as relevant today as when it was first introduced at the Spanish exhibition in 1929, and continues as a staple of minimalist interiors. The Barcelona chair is one of the most recognized, “knocked-off” chairs in the world. The French contribution made by Le Corbusier closely resembled the style of the Bauhaus school, with the added wizardry of the cantilevered “floating” look. Le Corbusier re-categorized furniture as “equipment,” reducing “equipment” into three simple categories, chairs, tables and shelves.
The aforementioned pioneers blazed the trail for the organic mid-century designers. The Scandinavian influence is revealed in the clean designs of Eero Saarinen, Karl Bruno Mattsson, and Alvar Alto—they introduced molded plastic, cast aluminum and laminate into the mix of wood and steel. In 1958, Danish architect, Arne Jacobsen, created two chairs of extraordinary grace, “The Egg” and “The Swan”, perfect furnishings for minimal décor. This time period also witnessed the emergence of ergonomic furniture made from molded plywood designed by American architects, Charles and Ray Eames. It is interesting to note that even today, the furnishings designed in this era are being used in the creation of minimal interiors.
What is the perfect formula for designing a minimalist interior? First the architecture of the space should be considered. Contemporary architecture with an open floor plan containing abundant natural light is most ideal, but is by no means essential. Closed, built-in cabinetry keeps the space uncomplicated and free of clutter. The floor plan should be simple and flowing–every square foot of space need not be occupied. Implement only the items that are necessary for the function of the space. The scale of the furnishings and accessories should be proportionate to the interior. The photos below of a Beverly Hills residence is a prime example of minimalist design. The neutral color scheme and the repeated rectangular design element are appealingly serene.
Elegant furnishings with a refined use of line, shaped with geometric simplicity, are excellent for a minimalist interior. Items that repeat the design elements of the architecture constitute a match made in heaven. Contemporary or Mid-century “equipment” is perfectly suited for this aesthetic. Accessories should be as spare as the furniture, again scaled properly for the surroundings. Avoid groupings of small pictures, when one larger one will suffice. No need for an army of tiny accessories, when one important piece is sublime.
Restful, neutral color palettes are closely associated with the minimalistic interior—all white, ivory, beige or other pale neutrals. Monochromatic color schemes are dominant, but the combination of black and white also works well in this setting. Any wood tone is proper, but if natural light is at a minimum, then lighter wood tones are desirable. Primary colors associated with the de Stijl group are an option for a more colorful palette. The best textile choices are solid and/or textured for depth. Patterns should probably be avoided, unless subtlety is applied. Keep it light and airy for that Zen-like appeal.
“Keep it simple” pertains to wall, floor and window treatments. Paint generally serves best for wall treatment, as wallpaper is clearly too busy. Bare floors, as well as bare windows, are an appropriate option with this type interior. Apply the textile rule of solid simplicity to rugs and window treatments if required. Solar shades, cellular shades and blinds are a good fit. Open casement or sheer fabrics are a becoming choice for draperies.
A minimalist interior is a great choice for those who entertain frequently. The open spaces make it easy for guests to mix and mingle. In fact the guests can actually add the color and pattern to the interior landscape. Another plus, these interiors are easier to clean, freeing up your time for more enjoyable pastimes.
Now you have the basics for designing a minimalist interior. If a surfeit of superfluous stuff is weighing down your lifestyle, then the clean simplicity of the minimalist style may be the right choice for your interior.
Photos courtesy of: Architectural Digest, Elle Decor, Interior Design Magazine, Contract Magazine, Contemporist, Dezeen, Atlanta Homes and Lifestyle, Archizine, LuxeSource, The Glass House