Trend Watch: Modest Minimalism

by Maxwell Tielman

When one thinks of minimalism, the capital “M” design movement that came to prominence in the late 1960s typically springs to mind. From visually austere work by artists like Donald Judd to the spartan interiors and home decor championed by brands like Muji, the term Minimalism has heretofore been associated with distinctly Modernist forms and materials. If recent shifts in design currents are any indication, though, people are becoming interested in reinvestigating and reinterpreting the meaning of this term. With ventures like The New Minimalism or shops like The Primary Essentials coming to the fore, we are now seeing a new way in which artists, designers, and homeowners are engaging with the less-is-more impulses of minimalism; one that places emphasis not on industrial materials or luxurious appointments, but the storied imperfections of the handmade and handed-down. What seems to be a rejection against the “pile it high and sell it cheap” mentality of modern life, this development showcases a desire to live with less by assigning more meaning and consideration to a small collection of important, treasured objects. Check out the slideshow for some beautiful takes on this new trend! —Max

The bedroom of artists Kieran Kinsella and Giselle Potter features heirloom artwork and handmade furnishings.
The Redhook, Brooklyn home of Alexandra Grablewski and Todd Bonné gives its simple, prewar furnishings room to breathe.
Antiques and vintage pieces are given ample room to shine in this light-filled Hamilton, Ontario home.
Furniture designer Kelly DeWitt uses unassuming materials and a few personal mementos to give her Texas home a relaxed, unfussy vibe.
Mixed and matched furnishings don't overpower the room in this otherwise minimally-appointed space.
Jeweler Rebecca Peacock's Kingston, NY home pairs traditional styles with Modernist touches for an unfussy, clean look. (Via And North.)
A table styled by Austin, TX's Spartan Home uses honest materials and simple forms to showcase a delicious meal.
Classic pieces like bentwood Thonet chairs provide a sense of warm simplicity in this Santa Barbara carriage house.
Woodworker Rochelle Chavez kept her mantel clean and instead opted for a warm, yet subdued look with a geometric wall installation.
A muted color palette and plain linens provide a serenely pared-down look in this Norwegian summer home.
My fiancé, Daniel, has outfitted the dining room at our upstate home with a mix of modern pieces and rustic, vernacular design for a look that is both minimal and warm. (Via Manhattan Nest.)
The Catskill's Spruceton Inn employs humble materials - like canvas drop cloths as bedding - for a beautifully pared-down look.

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  • I used to be an avid reader of Country Living and Country Home magazines. I was seeing this type of home decor ten or fifteen years ago where people attempted to recreate a period style home with rope beds and simple handmade items though they were generally pricey antiques. I find it photographs beautifully but I could not live with it. To me it is cold and impersonal, too styled and not lived in. I need plants and books and drawings by children taped to the fridge.

  • Wish i could be more minimalist but that is near impossible. Love that coat rack full of hats though, and the tables are to die for… especially the long one. I do like displaying and walls covered w/ artwork though… this seems a bit lacking in character

  • Aw, thanks for the shout out! What a fun surprise. Kind of funny that I was clicking through this slide show thinking “Oooh yes, I like this, and this and this and… oh!” Gotta get you back out here Max!

  • I saw a Quaker meeting house in Sydney with this low-clutter spirit. I really like it. Probably the less objects you have, the higher quality they need to be..

    • hi meridith

      the shoreditch house got a TON of press all it once when it opened, so we decided not to overlap with everyone else. but i agree, it’s a great space :)


  • What a lovely post. It puts me in mind of the gorgeous, warm minimalism of Thos. Moser, furniture makers. I just received a brochure today from the shop in Georgetown. It is interesting that Mr. Moser, who is now 80, has been doing for 50-some years, this thing that many of us are just discovering. xo, N.

  • Hey, my ‘haven’t got around to buying furniture’ is now a design thing! My apartment pretty much looks like (a slightly less-nice version of) these photos! I find it pretty peaceful to live with.

  • It does seem as though lately Minimalism is transitioning from “refine and reduce to the fewest possible elements” which meant the furnishings themselves were reduced (a row of pendant lights is reduced to one fixture, one large painting is all that is needed on a wall, etc.) to more of an “only what you need and nothing you don’t” mindset. I don’t think they are quite the same though. Can we invent a new term, or use Spartan, or has that horse left the barn already?

  • Interesting article. In my mind, minimalism was never a specific design style but a LIFE style. Simple, functional, uncluttered. With the ubiquitous, yet eloquently truthful, Wm. Morris quote as its Mantra.

  • I, for one, love it. Although with three kids in the house, my house tends to trend towards maximalist. I actually see a lot of this as rooted in the Swedish tradition of design for all/for the common good, begun in the early twentieth century… Well made, warm toned.

  • I grew up in Sweden and when I moved to the US in 1991, I was so tired of all those sparse rooms decorated in white and light wood, and my home here is filled with books and art and “stuff” and we don’t have a single white wall in the house. But after all these years, I have started to miss that clean, Swedish esthetic. There is something so peaceful about it, not to mention that it’s easy to clean! :-) I wish I could afford a place in Stockholm too and have the best of both worlds.

  • While reading this all I could think was wabi sabi! I really like the handmade, hand-me-down trend lately. It’s refreshing.