How to Bring Maximalist Style to a Small Space

Even in a tiny apartment, more can sometimes be more. Having a small home and a penchant for maximalism might seem like the ultimate design problem. With only so much space, conventional wisdom might dictate that you switch up your style and opt for a muted, minimalist look to make the most of every corner.

Contrary to popular belief you can indulge in bold patterns, contrasting colors and varied textures—and still have room to move. With some nifty tricks, this kind of “more is more” aesthetic is possible is easily accessible even in the tightest of spaces. Here’s how to go all out and include everything at the same time.

Consciously combine patterns and finishes

Mixing and matching is an art, and it starts with scaling. More specifically, it’s about varying the scale of the prints you use to create a more flavorful effect. “For example,” says the designer Lance Thomas by Thomas Guy Interiors of Louisiana, “thin pinstripes, a medium toile and an oversized abstract [print] can do magic together,” he says.

Toile de Jouy winter throw pillow cover
Spoonflower Home Toile de Jouy Winter Pillowcase
French Ticking Stripe pinstripe throw pillow cover
Spoonflower Home French Ticking Stripe Pinstripe Throw Pillow Cover
Marble Abstract Swirls Throw Pillow Cover
Spoonflower Home Marble Abstract Swirls Throw Pillow Cover

Gloss or shine is another important quality that is often overlooked. “The incorporation of different highlights made possible [certain] Elements to get their performance known first,” says Thomas. Higher gloss, as with lacquered furniture, is immediately noticeable, while matt surfaces show up a little later.

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It’s this delayed interaction with elements that are beginning to make themselves felt, rather than bombarding the eye, that makes maximalism effective. Thomas explains: “The longer you look at a room, the more you see. Deep, glossy lacquer walls with a decadent mohair textile, for example, are like maximalist butter to me.”

Choose your bolder moments

A maximalist aesthetic is, by definition, a lot of stuff in a room. So many details can quickly make a room feel cluttered—especially when it’s small.

“While there’s a very subjective limit to when a space feels cluttered, to me it’s when every single element feels overworked,” says Thomas. “The curtains don’t have to be patterned, fringed, taped, beaded, ribbons, French pleats and cornices, while the sofa is also patterned, bullion-tipped, tasseled…you get the idea.”

cozy living room

piranka//Getty Images

Instead, he pays attention to proportion to keep the look balanced. While Thomas says there’s no mathematical equation to fill a room, he likes to think of it as the “perfect dinner party” ratio.

“I prefer that the loudest guest (or the boldest element in the room) speaks the least, but nails the punchlines to keep the party interesting,” he says. “I let the more nuanced guests (or the more subtle elements in the room) drive the conversation and maintain a designer narrative.”

This could mean repeating a bold pattern or color story throughout the space, but allowing a nuanced collection of French antiques to dictate the look.

Find a focus

With so much detail, keeping a space cohesive depends on creating a central focus. “Every element in the room has to relate to the original inspiration,” says Thomas. “It could be a rug or an heirloom. In a maximalist space, the goal is to see the intent behind why all of these elements coexist.”

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He also advises holding things back. If you have a collection of pottery or antiques, display them in an organized place. “Too often,” he says, “I’ve seen someone try to tie the room together by putting one vintage item on the mantel, another of its kind on the coffee table, and another on the bookshelf.”

Make the most of unused space

Finding creative potential in unexpected places can help you make the most of a small space. For example, using the verticality of a wall can create an inspirational moment; Think floor-to-ceiling shelving, a gallery wall, or various types of built-ins.

Mandala floor pillow cover

Mandala floor pillow cover

Mandala floor pillow cover

On the other hand, Thomas says, “People often forget to decorate down. There is a lot of talk about bringing design elements to the ceiling with shelves etc. but I like to think about adding elements on the floor.”

He suggests placing a nice stack of art books on the floor next to a sofa, or tucking a set of plush pillows lightly under the cocktail table. That way, he says, “I’m really trying to create a whole span of vertical planes of interest” to get the most out of a space from the bottom up.

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