“True eclectic decorating is highly intentional,” Amanda Lauren, “A Misunderstood Style: Interior Designers on What Really Makes an Eclectic Space,” Forbes
Eclecticism in interior design appears to have reemerged in recent months -- challenging minimalism’s first-place position in the design world. Interior designers, artists, architects and some homeowners have expressed interest in minimalism in the United States since the 1920s. It was during this time that American-German architect Mies Van der Rohe first offered a new, streamlined style of architecture. In the 1950s, minimalism emerged on the fine arts scene, ushered into public consciousness by painters like Frank Stella. It later transformed under artists like Agnes Martin and Morris Louis during the 1960s and ‘70s. Today, Light and Space Movement artists like Mary Corse and academic artists like Lee Ufan carry the mantle of minimalism. They create fresh, dazzling pieces composed of a single brushstroke or several tones of gray, black or white. Over the past four decades -- first demonstrating staying power in the 1960s -- minimalist architecture and interior design have reigned supreme in the United States and in some locales abroad -- particularly in Germany.
“[In art and architecture] aesthetically, minimalist art offers a highly purified form of beauty. It can also be seen as representing such qualities as truth (because it does not pretend to be anything other than what it is), order, simplicity and harmony.” The Tate, “Minimalism”
Characterized by clean lines, soaring floor to ceiling windows and simple yet impactful silhouettes, minimalist architecture remains popular. Chief among its best attributes might be the focus on natural, local materials and a positive, symbiotic relationship with nature. The latter was loudly expressed during the Arts & Crafts Movement and later throughout the Mid-Century Modern period of design. Though minimalist architecture maintains its hypnotic influence over homebuyers and architects across the US, minimalist interior design appears to be slipping by the wayside. Below we discuss the return of personality in the home. Continue on to learn more about how making eclecticism work in your home might be the cure for a cookie-cutter interior.
Why We Loved Minimalism and Why It’s Falling Out of Favor
In the past -- as recently as this year and during the debut of Marie Kondo and her ilk -- minimalism easily captured American attention. Minimalism was beloved because it promised a more meaningful way of living. A 2018 article from CivicScience found “1 in 4 U.S. adults either want[ed] to become a minimalist...or [were] actively working towards it." Minimalism has long been tied to fewer possessions, and thereby expressions of economic and environmental responsibility. The concept of a “fresh start” and “leaving the past behind” has also been attractive.
However, the recent shift towards stark minimalism -- what some consider to be harsh, cold and depersonalized-- might have turned away many Americans. Minimalism can often feel like a rejection of memory and of creature comforts. It often eschews the soft and sentimental in favor of a more lightweight existence. However, with the advent of a global pandemic, many have chosen -- or been forced to -- cocoon in their homes. Thus, a space with more personality, warmth and uniqueness has become extremely desirable. As Zoe Weiner expressed in a recent article for Well + Good, “spending so much time inside has...made our physical spaces matter more.” Furthermore, philosophies like Wabi Sabi have taught us that mental clarity can exist in the same space as memories and pieces of the past. A recently renewed interest in vintage and antique furnishings may also have contributed to the mass movement towards eclecticism in interior design.
What is Eclecticism in Interior Design?
Eclecticism Began in Architecture -- Just Like Minimalism
“Eclecticism first emerged in Europe...when architects were encouraged to explore their expressive and creative freedom rather than simply following the requests of their clients.” DesigningBuildings.co, “Eclecticism in Architecture,” Pictured Above Right: One of many Antoni Gaudi chimneys in Barcelona, Spain
Eclecticism in design was once epitomized by its representation in residential architecture -- much as early minimalism was. In her book A Field Guide to American Houses, Virginia Save McAlester outlines the beginnings of Eclecticism in the United States. According to McAlester, in architecture, “the Eclectic movement [drew] on the full spectrum of Western architectural tradition.” It pulled elements from “Ancient Classical, Medieval and Renaissance Classical...for stylistic inspiration.” Eclecticism emerged in America much at the same time as the American Arts & Crafts Movement. However, American Eclectic architecture of the 1880s to 1940s pulled elements from prior periods without altering them. The period's architects basically replicated these elements in a hodgepodge on a single building’s facade or throughout that building’s interior. Conversely, the American Arts & Crafts Movement sought to reestablish individualism and respect for the craftsman -- rejecting industrialism. Modern eclecticism in interior design appears to mesh the two movements in a way. It encourages respect for craftsmanship, history of design and personal aesthetics, meshing all three in one space.
Eclectic Interior Design is a "Collage of Furnishings" and a Mosaic of Memories
“Eclectic style is a bit of a catch-all category to describe interiors that don't fit neatly into one style,” Stefanie Waldek, “What is Eclectic Style?” for House Beautiful
In an August 2020 article for House Beautiful, writer Stefanie Waldek describes the hallmarks of eclectic interior design. Waldek defines eclecticism as “a bit of a catch-all category to describe interiors that don't fit neatly into one style.” Eclectic interiors often combine pieces of varying textures, ages, periods, styles and patterns. They are joined together through the memories of the homeowner, a repeating but variable motif or another unifying element. As one might expect, there are few rules for employing eclectic design within a residential interior. There are likely a few more when designing an office or commercial space. However -- writes Waldek -- there are a few through-lines in eclectic interior design. These include taking risks through mixing patterns and combining the old with the new. They might include drawing on traditions and cultures around the globe and filling the home with art from all periods. Concisely and poetically, Waldek describes the eclectic style as “a collage of furnishings.”
The Difference Between Maximalism and Eclecticism
Eclecticism and maximalism are often uttered interchangeably as they can both be quite loud -- bursting with personality and character. However, the two are not the same -- and to some -- are not comparable. Eclecticism offers a responsible bridge between minimalism and maximalism. It allows homeowners to express their unique personalities, represent their histories and share their interests without spending excessively or wasting space. If the difference still feels elusive and undefined, consider Brittany Nims’ explanation of maximalism in her article “What Is Maximalism? 5 Expert Design Tips To Add Color And Pattern To Your Home” for The Huffington Post. Maximalism is similar to eclecticism -- writes Nims -- in that it “has such an emotional quality to it.” This emotional quality emerges “because you’re drawing upon things you love” while designing the space. Many appreciate maximalism because homeowners can combine all their identities into one space -- choosing pieces that represent each hat one wears simultaneously. Though maximalism and eclecticism certainly share similarities, maximalism is definitely the camp of “more is more.” On the other hand, eclecticism can be fairly minimalist at the same time it expresses character and personality. When comparing the two, eclecticism might be a bit more thoughtful and intentional than maximalism.
Three Tips for Creating a Balanced Eclectic Interior -- from the Experts
“The nature of eclectic style is varied but each room in your home should still complement the others,” Monique Valeris and Kelsey Kloss, “Here’s How to Pull Off an Eclectic Decorating Style” for Elle Decor
As mentioned above, eclecticism can thrive in any type of interior. It can coexist with a minimalist aesthetic just as it can with a coastal modern aesthetic. Eclecticism simply refers to a mixing of different objects of various time periods and styles which one loves. Surprisingly, this can certainly be achieved tastefully and timelessly. Our three tips for creating a balanced eclectic interior ensure one decorate a simultaneously usable and personal space alive with memories and inspiration.
#1 Scatter Various Textures Evenly
This recommendation comes from Monique Valeris and Kelsey Kloss in their article “Here’s How to Pull Off an Eclectic Decorating Style” for Elle Decor. The pair encourages homeowners, designers and decor-enthusiasts to fill their home with textures of all types. Combining velvets with suedes and brocades with furs is perfectly acceptable in any eclectic interior. However, setting out a single shag pillow surrounded by a multitude of cottons and linens simply feels out of place -- not just quirky. Quoting interior designer Jennifer Adams, Valeris and Kloss suggest using “one texture at least three times in different spots throughout a home.” This strategy helps "maintain a cohesive look.”
#2 Play Favorites
Each element in one’s eclectic interior should be meaningful -- or at the very least aesthetically pleasing. However, some will likely “spark joy” a bit more than others. Consider giving these pieces a place of prominence. Use them to lay out the room or demarcate a shift from one zone to another. One might also consider choosing a primary “theme” or design element to function as a backdrop or sounding board for other objects. This can be expressed through a funky wallpaper or a series of furniture pieces.
#3 Remember Eclectic Design Does Not Necessarily Mean More Stuff
An eclectic interior can feel fun, inviting and inspiring without a useless array of trinkets on every shelf or end table. Modsy’s “Beginners Guide to Eclecticism” recommends keeping things simple and succinct through layering rather than an endless accumulation of stuff. The blog argues the best way to “create a layered, eclectic look without it feeling cluttered is to focus on a few items." These items should "each have the right mix of color, texture, and pattern.” This strategy lends itself in part to the “play favorites” recommendation of our second tip. Modsy suggests choosing a bright rug or unusual element to “set the tone," keeping furniture neutral. The post also recommends "opting for a mix of earth tones in the rest of the colors [to] keep the space clean.”
If still attached to minimalism but wishing to personalize your space, keep in mind the tenets of Wabi Sabi as you dip into eclecticism. Embrace simplicity while celebrating rarity, uniqueness and history to establish an eclectic space without the mental or physical clutter of maximalism. Remember that each style has its season and every old design style becomes new once more. Above all, choose what resonates with you personally and makes your space feel usable and special at the same time. All are worthwhile if meaningful -- whether your choice is an eclectic take on minimalism or a constantly evolving more-is-more approach.