The design world can get rather fixated on the notion of style. While helpful as an indication of what look a designer might achieve for a client; thinking in terms of style alone is not always relevant. Instead, I believe that profiling a design practice in terms of ethos or approach is in fact often of more use to a client. It is in this context that I present my design ethos: MAXIMAL minimalism. A notion that initially sounds like an oxymoron, but is hopefully adequately explained in this post!

Design with a message

At its core, my design ethos amounts to a very simple notion: everything that is in a space is there for a reason (the reason can be functional or aesthetic). William Morris, the father of the Arts and Crafts movement (or Mr Liberty patterns, as many know him), is credited with saying: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”.

Incidentally, I am appreciative of the work that he and his associates produced, even if what I create is visually very different to it. Perhaps it is therefore his ethos rather than style that I can truly relate to? His designs are world renowned, but his ethos, writing and social activism are far less well known. Oftentimes, good designers also have a lot to say about what they’re doing and why…

Minimalism — simple, small, untrendy, imperfect, more sustainable

The starting point for my design work is Scandi-inspired clean and simple lines and planes. Less stuff, clutter and ornament. I suppose this element could also be attributed to Japanese influences — after all, Scandi and Japanese designs are markedly alike in a number of ways. I do not have a problem with large plain surfaces, simplicity and continuity. Rather than adding ever more to enhance a design, sometimes it is best to leave the materials, shapes or colours speak for themselves. 

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Interior by Alvar Aalto, the father of Scandinavian Modernism. Source: http://plastolux.com/alvar-aalto-captured-bruno-suet.html#.Ww_rlC_MxcA

My other minimalist feature is an interest in working with small spaces. I am probably less good at making a grand statement within a giant space, than making the most of a small space. Space is at a premium in most of the world’s large cities. I once put it to an audience of fellow Interior Designers that in 20 years time, we will all be designing micro-homes. Perhaps a bit of an exaggeration, but we will certainly all be designing many more micro-homes than we are today. In small spaces, less is definitely more (literally).

I am also minimalist when it comes to trend. Seriously, I try to steer clear. Of course I keep an eye on what is trendy at a given point in time — it is hard not to, as it is everywhere around you. However I do not consciously make design decisions based on trends. Blindly following trends is akin to headless chickens running around: you can never quite keep up. If trends drive design decisions, then it is likely that not enough thought is put into the process by the designer in the first place. 

I equally try to be minimalist on perfection (“OMG did she just say that?”) Designers tend to be notoriously perfectionist. The problem is, people and their lives are not. Done is better than perfect, good is better than perfect, there are so many things that are better than perfect… I like to design something good, that is suitable for the users of the space and their needs. This notion was strengthened in my mind when Ronan Bouroullec, one of my design idols, answered a question I posed to him at a recent event by saying that he and his brother (a leading product and furniture design duo) aim to create products that are good not perfect. 

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Good not perfect (apparently!) Slow chair, Vitra. Design by Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec. Source: https://www.nest.co.uk/product/vitra-slow-chair-ottoman 

It follows from all of the above, that my designs also have less environmental impact; and yes, less budget impact! (I.e. less spent on the project and more left for you. Yet to hear someone complain about that.) On the environmental side, I admit that I have a bit of a dilemma. I try to think and act sustainably, but I also design for a living. Surely the most sustainable option is doing nothing; no Interior Design whatsoever. This isn’t always possible, as spaces change uses and users, who all have different needs and wants. However, having a Sustainability focused mindset can result in better and more interesting solutions to design problems, while being less taxing on future generations. Whenever possible, I try to reduce, reuse and/or recycle; as well as sourcing more responsibly if the option is there. Always on the lookout for ideas on how to do things more sustainably! 

MAXIMAL — functional, practical, thought-through, colour and pattern, personality, happiness

First and foremost, it is functionality that I try to base my designs around. MAXIMAL function and practicality, irrespective of the size of the space or the budget. In fact, constraints such as these (size and budget) can often lead to lateral thinking and better solutions to design problems. (What’s a design problem, you’re wondering. Design projects are full of them. It is the designer’s ability to address these that makes all the difference.)

MAXIMAL thought also goes into my projects. Sometimes designers can get carried away with doing, at the expense of thinking. It’s for this reason that my blog is called a Think Tank, and I post pieces that do more than present latest colour trends. The more thought that goes into a project — researching the location, understanding the clients and their needs, studying space planning alternatives in great detail, genuinely comparing materials and products, and so on — the better the outcome. 100% of the time. 

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Analysing space planning options for an apartment.

The other thing that is MAXIMAL in my designs is colour. Not so much colour as a statement, or just for the sake of it, but colour with intention and meaning. This is where I really start to move away from the Scandi theme; adding a layer of vibrant colours in order to bring life and energy to a space. Over the last decade, greige has taken over our lives and certainly the High-end Interior Design sector. The problem is, it just doesn’t do it for me; and it appears that many clients feel the same. 

Alongside colour, I also try to add 3D effect to 2D surfaces through the use of pattern. It is easy to throw in one pattern into a scheme, but harder to make two or more work in unison, alongside everything else that is going on in a space. Again this is a departure from Scandi simplicity, the MAXIMAL to my minimal. Patterns help add interest, movement and depth to a space: I’m all for them!

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A recent design that showcased colour and pattern in a space that was actually minimalist at its core.

MAXIMAL personality — yours not mine. There is nothing more annoying for a client than employing a designer to create a space for you, only to see them bring their vision to life, instead of yours. As a designer, it is easy to take your own style, and design something in that style. It is much harder to understand and interpret someone else’s vision, turning it into reality. Clients will often gravitate towards one designer or another based on their portfolio; however ultimately they will want to live in a space that is true to them. 

Last but not least, I set out to create spaces that generate MAXIMAL happiness. Poorly designed and/or executed spaces can make their users miserable. Be it through the visual or practical elements, my intention is to create spaces that are a pleasure to be in, and put a smile on people’s faces. Warm, uplifting, welcoming, comfortable etc is what I try to aim for. I recently wrote that we spend c.90% of our time indoors. With this in mind, it is imperative that spaces make us feel good, and are good for us.

To sum up, MAXIMAL minimalism is a blend of visual characteristics and underlying thought processes that drive my design work. There is no right or wrong when it comes to a design vision and ethos. What I do know is that this is the one that works best for me: minimalist spaces with MAXIMAL impact.