What defines minimalist design? Interior designer Christopher Alexander, in his book The New Style of Home, defined it as “a refreshing approach to the traditional discipline of home decoration…with an emphasis on functionality and structure”. Aesthetics are not usually included in this description, but many experts have noted that the absence of clutter, while present in other design styles, is a key element for many who follow it.
This style of decorating has become especially popular with families who want to reduce their monthly house payments. When you factor in the increased time spent at home and the decreased need to invite guests, you can see how a functional design with fewer features can save money quickly. With a minimal footprint on your heating and cooling costs, you will also have more discretionary income for purchases. So, what is it really about this design that makes it so appealing?
The definition below was adapted from the philosophy of Thomas Jefferson, whose home was one of the first to be modern in its construction and whose layout was designed to maximize space. The key feature of his design, as it appears in the photo above, was to build walls diagonally, with nothing more than windows on each side. This was an extreme version of this concept, which was common during that time. But the key idea was to make as much space as possible useful, rather than a reflection of the homeowner’s needs.
As Alexander explained it, this concept came about due to the observation, “The universe is made of interlocking components”. These components, when viewed individually, appear to have little connection with one another. But when they are seen as a whole, you see the interconnectedness they bring. This led to the use of large panels to separate individual sections of a home, like shelves or cabinets, with doors on each side to create a sense of distance and to separate elements by physical barrier. As he pointed out in his book The Elements of Style, “this separation actually serves a purpose”. As the door between the two rooms was always open, there was never any feeling of privacy, even though these rooms were on the same level.
A similar theme can be found in other modern home design theories such as those put forth by Frank Lloyd Wright. In his book The New America, he explored how homeowners can take advantage of the fact that space is not just something to be used and wasted on stuff that doesn’t add value. Instead, a space that is well-used can become a focal point of a room, drawing the eyes towards a feature that adds both function and aesthetic appeal. This technique is well demonstrated in the photo above of Wright’s famous folding arm chair.
A common theme in contemporary design theory is the use of contrasting elements. These elements can be as subtle as two opposing colors or as dramatic as a full-blown geometric pattern. What defines minimalist design is that there is a clear line between elements that are needed for functionality, and those that are simply decorative and create an aesthetic space. As a result, the end result is a home that has clean lines, without the overcrowding typical of other design styles.
One other element of minimalist design that is important to note is that there are no unnecessary elements added to space. There is no need for a vase of flowers, a potted plant or an elaborate mirror. Instead, all these things are considered clutter, adding nothing to the room and often being an embarrassment to the decorator. Thus, in a minimalist design scheme, the presence of these elements is considered a defect, and they are left out entirely.
If you are looking for an answer to the question, “What defines minimalist design?” then you must look beyond the definition of the style itself. Rather, you should consider the fact that such a decor is functional and logical, without the frills or over-the-top designs of other styles. With such an approach, you will have a home that not only looks great but also offers you a sense of calm and serenity.