5 Principles of Minimalist Decorating

By Jade Boren | Advertiser Disclosure

American graphic designer Joe Sparano said, “Good design is obvious. Great design is transparent.”

Good design is synonymous to calling someone nice—there are often no teeth to that statement. With a design movement as popular as minimalism, it’s easy to copy trends from home magazines, white out a room, throw in some sharp geometrics, and call it minimalism—but this will make a room look forced, even skeletal.

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To achieve organic, minimalist design without ripping off a trend, you have to go back to the principles.

1. Functionality in minimalism

Minimalism is a movement that flowed from popular art to home design in the 1920s, yet it’s still regarded as one of the most innovative styles. Minimalism has been labeled the pioneer of forward-thinking design, but doesn’t get carried away on fancy whims. Minimalist decorating breaks a room into the necessities—this means every single item must be functional.

At first glance, there appears to be a lot going on in this dining space: a winding staircase that floats above the dining counter, a wide view of the backyard, and dangling light fixtures. But notice that the furniture is limited to the bar stools and dining counter. The delicate light fixtures and a single piece of pottery are the only real embellishments, and both serve practical purposes. In a minimalist room, even decorative pieces serve a purpose.

Pare down to the basics, then build on them only when necessary. As the designer Buckminster Fuller said, “Do more with less.” A collage of abstract art pieces is not a mark of minimalism. Give each piece a reason to be there.

2. Form in minimalist decorating

After pinpointing the furnishings a room needs, consider the form of each piece. Think of the basic shapes: squares and rectangles. Then think of the most common lines used in design: horizontal, vertical, diagonal, zigzag, and curved.

Followers of the De Stijl movement, which started in 1917 and is considered minimalism’s predecessor, limited itself to these forms for the sake of simplification and getting to the core essence of the art. While there’s no need to be this strict in your choice of forms, sticking to the basics will unify the room. Unity is needed to present the room as a whole and therefore minimized package. Lack abstract details will allow the eye to wander.

The master bedroom pictured may impress you as abstract—it’s anything but. Squares and rectangles dominate the room. The bed frame is composed of two square slabs that parallel each other. The bench, bed stand, and walls are all rectangular cut. The most adventurous forms are the bed stand’s zigzag legs and the curved shape of the planter.

The bedroom’s loyalty to minimalist decorating principles grants it more liberty to incorporate experimental décor, as depicted by the West African–inspired touches woven into the industrialist skeleton pictured above. The weaved texture accents rather than dominates because of the room’s strong foundations.

3. The flow of minimalism

You want a room to be harmonious, not cookie cutter. Take the bathroom pictured above as an example: Two walls are rectangular, while the other two form a polygon and an acute triangle. But the different wall shapes mean this bathroom could easily be whimsical—a departure from the collective spirit of minimalism, which strays from flamboyant individualism.

To balance out playful walls and wildcard wallpapers, opt for furnishings that blend into the background. The bathroom installments above stick to streamlined lines that disappear into the walls. They don’t stand on their own. The toilet is a wall-hung style, atypical of the rounded toilet bowl with its hunky tank, and the sink basin and cupboards float. The bathtub and surrounding walls blend together seamlessly.

Eighty percent of the room is eggshell white, which also ties the room together. Fluid, not boring: you can get innovative with minimalist design, but make sure one feature doesn’t stand out against the rest.

4. How to use color in minimalist decorating

Coloring a minimalist space with modest shades like white, beige, and grey is popular, but venturing beyond the monotone is no sin against minimalist decorating.

Primary colors like yellow and blue are fine as long as they’re cast in their purest shades. Deviants such as dijon and azure can make a house look more contemporary than minimalist, reflecting a design movement that came after minimalism.

The kitchen is an especially great place to incorporate brighter colors. In minimalist spaces, the dining table and kitchen often share the same space, so you don’t want the area where you gather to talk and eat looking too sterile. The kitchen above sneaks in yellow accents in a way that doesn’t look gratuitous against the minimalist scheme. The yellow isn’t exposed—it’s contained modestly inside select cupboards and shelves, and doesn’t spill outside the rims of the hanging lamps.

5. Minimalism in flooring

Although polished, a minimalist home shouldn’t be cold. Neither should it be cozy—strive to reflect a modern tone. Concrete and wood are two of the most popular flooring options for minimalist design. Minimalist architect Mies van der Rohe favored construction materials considered modern in the first half of the 20th century—particularly industrial steel and glass—because of their simple nature. You can take van der Rohe’s cue and apply the same principle to concrete and wood.

Throwing a neutral rug on the floor, like the jute rug above, is a popular method among minimalists wanting to add some warmth to a room.

A sense of minimalist decorating with an open floor plan

Clean lines and a neutral palette form this defined minimalist bathroom

This bedroom has a stripped-down simplicity that creates a serene and tranquil space

A clutter-free and pared down bedroom evoke a minimalist feel in the city

A simple statement piece may be all you need in your bedroom

Minimalist decorating in practice

Before you begin decorating, pare down your space.

It’s essential that you simplify your home before even thinking about adding minimalist decorations. Invest in all-in-one appliances, de-dupe cabinets and closets that have a handful of everything, and keep surfaces clean and clear. A home that avoids this beginning step can look more retro than minimalist when you add furnishings like Eiffel leg chairs and sleek credenzas.

Don’t feel overwhelmed. You don’t need to be an architect to achieve the essence of this design movement. Just do what you can—and the best thing you can do is this:

Add more space.

Arguably more important than streamlined, clean furnishings of minimalist decorating is the space between them. If you want to rid your household of clutter, which could be what attracted you to a minimalist home in the first place, get rid of the walls. Minimalist rooms want no delineation between one another.

The kitchen counters, dining table, and living room sofa pictured above all flow into one another. There are no distinct boundaries that mark where you cook and where you should watch television. Minimalist design always affords a generous serving of white space between its features. Do the same in your home.

Additional tips for minimalist decorating

Here are a few more tips to help you create a minimalist space in your home:

  • Declutter your house and get rid of duplicate belongings and items you haven’t used in over a year.
  • Invest in quality, timeless pieces.
  • Consider bringing in nature to give a room a more natural feel. Choose a couple of small succulents or a plant that doesn’t require much light, like a heart-leaf philodendron or pothos.
  • Embrace white space and don’t worry about not filling your entire home with color and texture.
  • Emphasize clean, defined lines and flat surfaces (the kitchen is a great place to address this, as it will typically have well-defined cabinets, drawers, and windows.

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