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Minimalism in design and decoration

Sheila Byers Sheila Byers
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This is very minimalist is an expression we often hear or even say without stopping to think about what it means or where it comes from. The vast majority have a vague and general idea of what the adjective minimalist means or implies, but unless our profession is in architecture, design, decoration or art, you may simply not have a clue! At best, we end up saying something like it is not very bulky, or it looks really sparse

Minimalism is a movement that emerged in the postwar 1960s, and has gained presence and preference as time has passed. These days, although contradictory to its principles, minimalism has influenced and been influenced in such a way that it is now an eclectic mix of styles that contradicts one of its basic principles: the conservation of pure forms. But we're getting ahead of ourselves. We want to start at the beginning and shed some light on this somewhat vague term.  


The word minimalism comes from minimal or minimum. It refers to a reduction to the essentials, to the least possible amount.

The word was first used by the British philosopher Richard Wollheim in 1965 to refer to works of art with high intellectual content and little material or formal content, a good example being Marchel Duchamp's readymades. 

Later, the German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, former director of the Bauhaus School of Art and Design, took the term and applied it to the qualities we now recognize in architecture, design, decoration and other areas. It has come to refer to a mix of the precepts of the Bauhaus and Asian influences. 

During its early years in London and New York, minimalism came to be known as a style that makes use of large spaces with few objects, rooms dominated by the colour white, cold light and almost no furniture. These were the characteristics of the designer boutiques that first adopted the aesthetic.


Minimalism is reduction to the essence. In his manifesto, Mies Van Der Rohe stated Less is More, which became the quintessential definition of minimalism; in any discipline structure  is reduced to basic elements necessary.  Yet within the simplicity and austerity was modernity. The slogan: convey more with less.

To achieve this, minimalism follows these principles: use pure colours, privilege the whole over the parts, use simple geometric shapes made with mechanical precision, work with industrial materials in the most neutral manner as possible, and design on pristine surfaces. Cleanliness is the guiding axis for each decision.

Minimalism tends toward absolute monochrome in floors, ceilings and walls, highlighting white and all its nuances. It also incorporates opaque colours and black, as subtle hints of variation to accentuate details and accessories.


In pursuit of the essential, the basics and simplicity, opt for materials like polished concrete, glass, steel wires and stone. Printed fabrics on sofas and cushions are avoided; all elements must be combined to form a unity: all is part of the whole.

In flooring and furniture, opt for wood; walls and ceilings, rustic materials like smooth cement, glass, steel and stones, which are all natural. Regarding textiles, opt for rustic fabrics in ivory and textures such as linen or canvas for curtains, cushions and upholstery fabrics. All materials must be chosen for unity and balance. In terms of curtains: it is preferable to do without them to ensure there is the maximum possibility of natural light, but if they are necessary, they should be white, with straight and simple lines.


Good lighting is essential in the minimalist style, and we can see how it has influenced Scandinavian style in its hunt for natural light.

Light helps the space look clean and tidy, two of the staples of this style, and natural light follows the rule to show things as they are, without frills or additions. However, as we know and we have established in other articles, natural light is not always easy to obtain, especially if we live in ill-designed apartment units. In such cases, we can make some adjustments with artificial light. Lamps are used sparingly; preferable is cold light, a white on white that will bring out subtle shades. Artificial light should be tried by all means to emulate the natural light, so vibrant colours are definitely not the way to go.


​Furniture is another issue. As we know, the idea of this kind of décor is to create one whole look, and furniture, by extension and addition, should follow the same principles of design, embracing both simplicity and functionality.

Remember, less is more, and austerity, in both the design and the amount of furniture, is a basic principle in decorating. To achieve this, you should opt for furniture that that hides storage space within itself. 

When it comes to walls, it is recommended that you leave them natural, smooth and clear or covered with a natural material like stone. If you do want to add colour, limit it to small details.


​To maintain the cleanliness of this style, it is important to have good organisational and storage systems. Order is imperative so covered shelves or furniture with hidden storage are good options. 

For storage, making use of small spaces that go unnoticed is the best way to cater to the décor. So we can choose niches in the wall that are too small to hold other elements, or we can wisely use those invisible spots like the space under the bed. In an emergency, it is always well worth considering whether or not you wan to keep the things you are trying to store. Use the year law: if in one year you have not used an object or a thing, it is likely that you will never use it. It is true that sometimes the exception makes the rule, and five years later we regret having thrown out that thing or object we believed we would never use, but at homify we suggest that you try not accumulate only for delight, instead only buying something when it is both pleasing and functional.


While some may think that minimalism is boring for its rigidly geometrical composition and the total absence of ornamental elements, we must recognise that there is a lasting poetry in its austerity that lies in the subtle mastery of proportions and the exquisite elegance of materials well-rounded with precise details.

Don't be afraid to break the rules and add a splash of red or green with a carpet, cushion or other single object, but be careful to maintain the balance and harmony that are the target of minimalism. 

And remember that minimalism, although it is preferred in spaces that are broad, free and high, can actually be applied in any room. If you think about it carefully or have the help of a professional designer or architect, you can make those tight spaces feel spacious.

The clear benefits of this style are summed up in the other words we often hear used with minimalism: relaxing, clean, elegant and sophisticated

How do you feel about minimalist design? Do you use it in your home? Share your comments and tips!
Whitton Drive:  Terrace house by GK Architects Ltd

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