In contrast to traditional interior design, which is all about filling or decorating space, minimalism is about taking away – reducing elements to the bare minimum, preserving empty space and making us more aware of that space.
Many of today's minimalist interiors trace their origins back to the Bauhaus Design School that originated in pre-WWII Germany, and dictated that ‘form follows function.' It disdained ornamentation or decoration. There is also a strong Japanese aesthetic in the simple lines and empty spaces of many minimalist homes.
This ‘less is more' philosophy places greater emphasis on underlying shape and structure. Walls, floors, simple surfaces and the play of light on surfaces become important design elements in themselves – eliminating the need to cover or decorate them.
More than just a design style, minimalism dictates a certain lifestyle. It is essentially ‘anti-clutter'. Minimalism demands that ‘stuff' is eliminated or at least hidden away. This is not a design aesthetic to be embraced by hoarders, collectors, or people who aren't good at putting things away. It's perfect for people who like ‘everything in its place'. Good storage is probably the first prerequisite to achieve a minimalist look and the illusion of greater space.
Colour is used sparingly. Wall colours tend to be neutral, with colour used to draw the eye to specific elements, to create a dramatic contrast, or to make subtle connections between architectural forms. White, in its many versions, creates a ‘blank canvas' backdrop and helps to achieve the illusion of greater space.
In the absence of colour, light is used to create visual interest,highlighting areas and creating dramatic shadows to emphasise form. Natural light is often filtered through screens, louvres or trees. Careful interior lighting is used to emphasise shapes and forms.
Furniture is kept to a minimum. This is not the place for the ornate or overstuffed. On the other hand, there’s no reason why comfort should be sacrificed to style. A well-designed sofa or chair will offer both.
Today, the minimalist aesthetic extends not only to furniture, but to many household appliances. The clean lines of today's digital kitchen appliances are well suited to minimalist homes. Fridges tend to be concealed behind kitchen cabinetry. TV sets and other electronic gadgetry can also be concealed – even the most beautifully designed TVs don't add much to the minimalist look of a room.
The basic rule is ‘restraint,' but that's not to say that minimalism need be cold and sterile. There's plenty of room for personality, colour, drama – and comfort. It's worth bearing in mind that in a home using raw, stark surfaces, good heating and warm lighting are crucial.
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