Maximalism and Salvage


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Years ago I was trying to put a label on myself – design-wise. Labels are stupid, of course, and frustrating. And insidiously addictive. While I protest loudly against them, in the middle of the night I’m susceptible too – what’s my design philosophy? I knew I wasn’t a minimalist – never that! – but whatever the direct opposite of minimalism is, that would probably describe me. Maximalism? Was that even a thing? Turns out it is, and I would say I’m a type of maximalist – a salvage maximalist.

There has been much written lately about de-cluttering, and that ubiquitous Marie Kondo de-cluttering book in particular. I bought the book, read the book, got hooked on the book. And I practice her most basic tenet daily. I ask myself constantly: Does this (pair of shoes, book, pan) give me joy? If the answer is no, out it goes. I love to de-clutter. I love to downsize. I love to sell on eBay and make some cash. I have lots of love in my heart! But please, please don’t imagine for a second that my house is looking in any way like something out of Dwell. It’s not bare, it’s not minimalistic. But I do have more room in my drawers and cupboards thanks to my downsizing. I did clear out an extra room, which is now a reading room / eBay staging area decorated with a bit of a chaotic flair. Because I’ll never be a minimalist.

With all the stress on de-cluttering, it was time for the backlash to start. The pro-clutter contingent has responded! What’s wrong with clutter? Is there joy to be found in a home that is visually busy? Is it stimulating or distracting? Well, it all depends. I have a high tolerance for stuff, and for collections, and I like to see my things out and in use on the countertops. Other people don’t. One friend famously told me she couldn’t breathe in my house. Too much going on. That’s ok! Difference makes the world interesting. And perhaps, like me, you have a little bit of both in you. Maybe you like your stuff – shoes or Legos or cars, and you also like to be able to open your closets without having the contents crash onto your head. If you’ve been de-cluttering and cleaning and downsizing, is it now time to move some of what remains – those things that give you joy – out into the open? Do you think you can handle a little bit of busy in your décor?

Let’s get to it. First, to embrace maximalism you need to forget the following words: simple, theme, consistent, strict, rules, cool, calm, and pudding. Words to embrace: chaos, crazy, excess, outlandish, personal. (Bohemian and eclectic are so over-used that they no longer apply to anyone so just forget ’em.) Let’s use this article on the Tenets of Maximalist Style from Houzz as a guide. We’ll co-opt their tenets and add a salvage twist. Let’s get to maximizing!

1. Fill every space / embrace kitsch / display your wares: Yes yes yes! This is where your fabulous collections come to the forefront. Display them with pride. Do not hide your shoes in your closet or your pans in the cupboard. Make a shelving
system where they’re on display. Put those pans overhead – maybe hanging from industrial hooks? Whether you collect Pez dispensers or gas cans, get that stuff out where you can see it. Are your walls empty? Why? I have an unusual house with very little space for furniture, but lots of space for art. When I bought the house I started buying art at local festivals and consignment stores, from private sellers and galleries. My walls are now jammed. I love it. A maximalist knows that empty walls and shelves are sad walls and shelves.

2. Play with color: Remember, the only person who needs to love the colors you pick out is YOU. If you find a vintage pink shag rug and worry about matching it with your grandma’s green-check Chesterfield couch, don’t. If you’re drawn to both, they will likely work together. If they don’t, keep moving that rug around the house. It will find a spot. Most of us have an internal palette, and it works.

3. Mix style and eras: Start with the floor. You don’t need to stick to one type of flooring, you know. And there are so many kinds of recycled and salvaged flooring, why limit yourself? Try reclaimed wood, a classic; recycled leather, for something quite modern; bio-degradable Marmoleum, to be very practical. Why not change your floor from room to room? It’s a statement, and that statement does not have to be consistent. Likewise, when you look at furniture, don’t limit yourself to one style. Hit the consignment stores, 1st Dibs, Craigslist. What appeals? Don’t worry about sticking with a century or a decade. That’s boring. Mix your mid-century with your Victorian chair. It’ll work – it always does. Recover the chair with vintage fabric. Embrace the crazy.

4. Clash patterns: Vintage furniture and fabric is hard to find in complete sets or large volumes, so mixing your pieces is often necessary. Think of it like this: you find the perfect vintage dining table. Maybe it’s an old farm table. It comes with no chairs, however. You now need to find chairs. What a fun challenge! Why buy a set? That’s not very interesting; instead, buy a single of every chair that speaks to you. If some chairs need to be recovered, don’t worry about finding enough matching fabric to do the job. Enjoy mixing and matching vintage designs. Many people recommend keeping patterns within the same color palette to ensure a consistent look. That works, but you can also try sticking with a single type of fabric (chenille bedspreads or fabric scraps from a particular designer), and the style of the vintage fabric may over-ride the need for similar color palette.

5. Combine textures everywhere in the house. If you find a good piece of salvaged granite for the kitchen, don’t worry about having enough of that granite for the entire kitchen. Look for some salvaged butcher block or marble to finish the kitchen. The texture change will be fun. And eye-catching. Fur is a texture, and it makes a wonderful accent. I’ve been considering converting old fur coats to pillows lately. What do you think? Should I mix it with old burlap sacks or with vintage silk upholstery materials? How nice to have choices!

6. Max up the lighting and look up: Oh, the lighting! Given how hard it is to find lighting, forget trying to match your fixtures throughout the house. Instead go nuts with vintage fixtures, antique lamps, sconces made from salvage – whatever works. It’ll be a pleasure to look up and see where the light is coming from, and it will really increase your style quotient. While you’re looking up, consider whether your ceilings are interesting or just…ceilings. This is available space, folks. Fill it up. Once again, let’s not stick to one material – think vintage tin ceiling tiles, reclaimed wood, unusual paint and patterns. Don’t waste that space.

7. Be patient because a maximalist style is always evolving. One year you’ll be happy to display your Pez dispensers front and center, but the next year you’ll want to start collecting / displaying something else. Maybe you’ll find a fantastic chair and decide to sell one of your existing chairs. And you won’t find everything right away. The lighting situation alone will take years, and it will never be done. The lighting never is.

And, here’s one more:

8. Ignore no detail! Every bit of your house is available for décor and personalization – your doors, hardware, vent covers, pillows, shelves. Everything can be beautiful. Even the most minute detail can reflect your style. And why shouldn’t it? Whether it’s a paint job or a custom detail, personalizing everything is the ultimate in maximalist style (IMHO). There’s no reason vent covers shouldn’t be cool (I have a few boring ones left to update). I like finding the right size salvaged vent covers for a good price. I like it when everything is visually interesting and distracting. I’m not into cool and calm. I’m into a bit of chaos – in my décor only, please! The rest of my world is orderly.

Most of you also might enjoy a mix of organization and chaos. The trick is finding out where you like your chaos, and how much of it you can handle. If you like it in your décor, welcome, my maximalist friend! Let’s have a drink sometime. Maybe do some shopping…

(Want to read more about the clutter / lack of clutter debate? Try this and let us know what you think.)