Maximalism is a mood

Photo by Fava Design GroupImage courtesy of

Maximalism versus minimalism


I understand that minimalism is on the wane, and maximalism is on the rise. A natural progression of thesis and its antithesis. Some people do well living one extreme or the other. I, however, think happiness lies in a synthesis of the two, or alternating the two, or having minimalist spaces AND maximalist spaces in one dwelling. Or re-accessorizing a room frequently when the minimalist or maximalist mood hits. Why must I choose one or another? All or nothing thinking is a slippery slope leading to despair. A calm spot here, an exciting spot there… changing it all out on a whim… that is the formula for me.

Ill-fated experiment


I confess to an ill-fated experiment with minimalism. I thought minimalism would give me freedom. However, it wasn’t fun and I didn’t feel free. I purged things that I now deeply regret losing. I now believe in rightsizing the total amount of one’s stuff relative to the size of one’s space. I therefore abandoned my attempts at a disciplined, austere, minimalist lifestyle some time ago. I agree with minimalists in that too much stuff steals your freedom. I just have my own idea as to what is the right amount of stuff. Austerity might look like freedom initially, but then it just looks sterile and alienating and makes my heart sink. The right amount is directly proportional to the size of one’s dwelling and the negative space one needs to feel good emotionally. Period.

Even maximalism requires some restraint


Not to sound like a minimalist, but too much stuff bogs down your life and spirit.  The right amount of beloved stuff, relative to our space and needs, makes the arrangement of objects an aesthetic undertaking, balancing them with the right colors and textiles, rather than an exercise in eeking out endless and ever-inadequate storage solutions. Way more fun. Sometimes maximalism is about a riotous cacophony of stuff that somehow harmonizes, but sometimes maximalism is about a robust palette and an exuberant mix of pattern, and less about the excessive objects. Expressing the maximalist aesthetic is a personal undertaking that needs to be done in a individual way. It simply behooves us to make our choices intentional, and not a result of stuff overflow.


Strategic maximalism


The lion-hearted among us can embrace maximalism in every corner of their home. Those with voluminous spaces and palatial homes can embrace maximalism with no fear of overwhelm. Others, who dwell in more modestly sized spaces like me, need to use maximalism strategically so that we can truly enjoy those maximalist visual moments without feeling consumed by them.


Unfettered maximalism (almost)


Those of us who live in a smaller space and have very sensitive nervous systems must approach maximalism strategically.  Lavish maximalism works best for me in places where I pass through, or where I spend relatively shorter periods of time. A dining room roaring in color, or a powder room ravished in pattern, are my perfect spaces to express a passionate love for visual excess. These spaces are designed to delight. Quiet reflective spaces can reside elsewhere.


Maximalism tempered by a calm, low-contrast palette


This is a solution for when we are torn between wanting calm but also not wanting to be bored. Grouping interesting or repetitive shapes in colors that are very low contrast to the walls does the job beautifully. Hence, I feel visually engaged but not overstimulated. I cultivate a collection of white and clear crystal objects to play with, both which create no-contrast interest against my apartment’s landlord-white walls. It may sound extreme, white or clear against white, but one must cater to one’s nervous system and I don’t do it everywhere. I assure you that I love color and do embrace it in some spots. A pure maximalist would surely mock me, but multiple objects in a low-contrast palette is a good way to cater to both maximalism AND my delicate sensibilities.

Giving the maximalist eye a break

Image by Kelly Shea Ellyn.


An occasional calm, visual landing place for the eye can be a good thing. Kind of a palette cleanser for the over-the-top visual moments.

Spaces that cater to whim


Sometimes I am in the mood for maximalism and sometimes I’m not. There are spots in my house that morph according to mood. This is accomplished by keeping a revolving collection of beloved objects so I can thin or maximize vignettes according to mood. Also, using temporary hanging solutions for pictures allow me to add or subtract pictures from a wall with no damage, and to introduce the right amount of negative space my happiness requires at any given point in time. Textiles are easy enough to swap out and store. Pure indulgence.

I recently decided that I emotionally needed more negative visual space, so I rearranged some art and replaced some larger pieces with smaller ones. I also created more breathing room between my beloved pieces of art pottery. Slightly more minimal, though definitely not minimalist. Easy enough.

Dual focal points


I believe a room has two focal points: the one you see when you enter the room, and the wall you are facing when you most often sit in the room. To prevent overwhelm, the walls I look at the most tend to be more restrained in color.   The walls that I see when entering a room often merit more drama. The challenge comes in making the room work as a whole. It can be done.

Varied visual moments


A creative tension of maximalism, calm, and flexibility, let me have my cake and eat it too.  That’s how I do maximalism. My things have been naturally and lovingly curated over the course of my lifetime. I make no apologies. I love my things and like to feel that they reflect a rich life. I defend our right to beautiful things, and I aim for peaceful co-existence with said beautiful things. My things have all earned their real estate by being beautiful or useful or iconic or sentimental. Long live things. And exuberance.


Meaningful messes

Filth — no. And a big, consuming mess is depressing. However, a little mess here and there is a sign of a life well lived.  Clearly we must have been preoccupied with something fascinating, or at the very least, pressing, or there would be no mess. No apology needed.

“Things were a little untidy, but what did that matter? It was possible to become the slave of things; possible to miss life in preparation for living.” 
 ― Elizabeth von Arnim

Genteel meaningful messes

Genteel messes are meaningful messes.
If books are involved, messes take on a genteel quality, which qualifies them as meaningful messes.

Genteel meaningful messes are largely a cacophony of books, magazine, papers, the remnants of your beverage, probably wine, coffee or tea, and maybe some clementine peels. It may not be neat, but you do present as a person who clearly loves learning and exploring the written world. Just add fresh flowers and your genteel mess is elevated to the level of a still life painting.

Exuberant meaningful messes

The Curse of the Painter by Danny Hennesy, 2009. Exhuberant messes are meaningful messes.
The Curse of the Painter by Danny Hennesy, 2009. Makers and creatives of all kinds are entitled to exuberant messes.

Exuberant meaningful messes stem from explosions of creativity. No explanation needed when you are creating a masterpiece. Genius is often expulsive. Rock drumming comes to mind. And splashing paint onto huge canvases. And dancing maniacally. And cooking deviously.

Hot meaningful messes

Cooking a demon. Hot messes are meaningful messes.
Sometimes we over-reach our current skill set and hot messes ensue. Write it off as experience and keep creating.

Hot meaningful messes are tributes to having taken monumental risks, and failing monumentally. Forward motion requires trying and failing. You should be rewarded for your courage. Keep moving forward.

Work-in-progress meaningful messes

 A work-in-progress mess is a meaningful mess.
A work-in-progress sorta mess is ok for short periods of time. Like cleaning out your drawers.

Work-in-progress messes can be untidy, but worthwhile. Sometimes you have to make things dirtier before you can make them cleaner. Just don’t let the mess linger too long, or it becomes a drag on one’s peace of mind. In fact, it may be best if you only dump the drawer when you can organize the stuff and re-home it right away.

Adorable meaningful messes

Adorable messes can be meaningful messes.
Boyfriend messes and doggie messes can be cute as long as they are not left to linger.

A boyfriend’s failed baking attempt in a flour strewn kitchen is a cute meaningful mess. Just make him clean it up afterwards. Doggie messes can be cute too. Just snap a photo for Facebook and then get a broom.

Troublesome messes

Dirty dishes are indeed troublesome messes.
Dirty dishes are indeed troublesome.

Troublesome meaningful messes are the domain of dirty kitchens and dirty bathrooms. This is a form of self harm. Love yourself instead. You deserve a little spa to prepare for your day, and a clean, orderly kitchen to prepare your healthy, luxurious, little meals, or your big, life-loving, fam-feeding meals. Clean bathrooms and kitchens are worthy of our time.Our kitchens and bathrooms should be worthy of us.

Also, if clutter in ANY room is so prevalent that we can’t find anything, that is just masochistic. Avoid.

Meaningful messes in parting

Still Life, Henri Fantin-Latour, 1866. If your mess looks like a still life, it is a meaningful mess.
Still Life, Henri Fantin-Latour, 1866. When your messes look like still lifes, that is an unintentional housekeeping victory.

Maybe embracing the quirkiness and humanity of our messes can help us to vanquish them kindly, without self-recrimination. We deserve that. Usually.

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Open floor plan — celebrate the benefits

Floor plans are intrinsically linked to how we live. A bad floor plan makes living a dreadful chore, while a good floor plan celebrates and facilitates a life well lived. Open floor plans are both beloved and loathed, depending on how you want to live your life, and how you like to relate to your house mates and guests. Here, I contemplate the navigation of these choices.

Open floor plans — refreshingly flowing or a fresh kind of hell?

“Think twice before opening up your floor plan,” Eddie Ross advises in the December 2017 issue of House Beautiful. Admittedly, an open floor plan benefits no one if perpetually dirty dishes or sound containment factor into the equation. And you must commit to a color scheme that unifies all of the task areas. But…

Cinderella rants

I’ve mostly lived in smaller, older, more traditional spaces. Closed off kitchens made me sad. I felt like freaking Cinderella as my mate lounged in front of the TV in the living room while I, the scullery maid, slaved over a hot stove and scrubbed nasty dirty dishes. It offended me as a feminist, a mate, and a human being. I tried to put a positive spin on it with frankly sincere folk music or witty talk on public radio. I mean, there is something ancient and GROUNDED about a kitchen, right? It’s where meals have been crafted by loving hands in earthenware vessels with hand-carved wooden spoons and fire-forged knives since the dawn of civilization in the Fertile Crescent, right? Shouldn’t I feel honored to be part of the meaningful tradition? Probably. Yet, I resented the hell out of my Cinderella status.

Cinderella liberated

An open floor plan changed my life for the better. Moving to a townhouse with an open family room, kitchen, and dining room served to nullify my scullery maid resentments. The kitchen sink overlooks the family room, and I am never excluded from the fun. I no longer feel like the ostracized ugly step-sister. The fact that my stellar domestic companion does his share of cooking and dirty dishes indeed helps (and nothing is sexier than a man who cooks) but it is the floor plan that has rescued both of us from the loneliness of kitchen DRUDGERY. An open floor plan benefits us, DEFINITELY.

Cinderella vindicated

Open floor plan with iconic furniture
An open floor plan with iconic furniture pieces marries the old and new beautifully. Photo by Mina BrinkeyImage courtesy of

Frank Lloyd Wright was one of several early twentieth-century architects who opened kitchens to the other public spaces. This integrated women into goings-on beyond the kitchen as they prepared meals. Certainly this changed the lifestyles of women and the way they could entertain. Apparently I did not invent the isolated-in-the-kitchen problem. History did. Thanks for rethinking it for us, Frank et al. An open floor plan benefits the multitudes, without question.

Big or small, open floor plans and great rooms make for a pleasant, flowy kind of life unless you really REALLY prefer privacy.

Small, clever open floor plans

Small, colorful, open floor plan
This small, open floor plan is a cozy space with a refreshing palette, ensuring that the coziness doesn’t feel confining. Photo by Mandeville Canyon DesignsImage courtesy of
Small open floor plan with feminine details
Soft, feminine, boudoir details translate beautifully into this open living space. Begs for a book and wine gathering, in my opinion. Photo by Kat Nelson DesignsImage courtesy of
Shrewd open floor plan for living and storage
A shrewd floor plan for an amazing amount of living and storage in a small space. Photo by KSID Studio, LLCImage courtesy of


Unusual open floor plan with sitting space
Unusual open floor plans creates a sitting space between the kitchen area and the dining area. Photo by Ania Omski-Talwar (formerly Orange Interiors) – Image courtesy of
Open floor plan and inspired decor liberate a condo
The right open floor plan and inspired decor can liberate a condo from its sadness. Photo by LUX DesignImage courtesy of

Expansive great room floor plans

Loft with open floor plan and gorgeous finishes
Lofts with gorgeous finishes and textiles are perhaps the ultimate open floor plan fantasy. Photo by KuDa PhotographyImage courtesy of


Open floor plan elevated by great furniture and accessories
Great furniture and accessories elevate this great room beyond its rustic bones. Photo by Soucie Horner, Ltd.Image courtesy of


Open floor plan punctuated with architectural detail
Architectural details punctuate this smaller great room with defining style. A quiet aquatic palette allows the architecture to shine. Photo by Kitchen ChoreographyImage courtesy of

Cinderella takeaway

I agree with Eddie Ross: Think twice about an open floor plan. It might not work for you. But then again, it could be just the ticket — an open floor plan benefits many.

Inventive options

Sleeping nook rather than guest room
Sleeping nooks rather than guest rooms — an intriguing option.

We have other choices besides open spaces vs. closed spaces. In The Not So Big House, Sarah Susanka and Kira Obolensky propose a different paradigm for space planning. Rather than than creating dedicated rooms for every possible activity, they suggest bump-outs. I envision an open floor plan with nooks of all kinds: office nooks, library nooks, piano nooks, sleeping nooks for guests… you get the idea.

Susanka and Obolensky also radiate ideas for defining spaces within an open space. Open, yet intimate. Nice option. An open floor plan benefits multitudes of people, but these options can make it ever more livable.

How do you relate to space?

Glass igloo
Glass igloo for viewing the night sky from the comfort of your bed.

Philosopher John O’Donahue tells us of the innate Celtic understanding that the human heart longs for open spaces, but it also longs for the psychological safety (and dare I say “coziness”) of enclosure.

I read about a couple who loved camping, so they built a tiny house in which their bedroom was the roof of the home, under the stars and completely exposed to the elements. That is indeed an open space. I long to spend a night in a glass igloo in Finland, gazing up at the Northern Lights. Maybe not every night though.

In contrast, my friend Jackie in college loved minuscule rooms, with mirrors and paintings from floor to ceiling, like a monk’s cell gone astray, veering into the wayward and decadent. We all must decide for ourselves whether we want to embrace the extremes, or strike a balance between the two.

Me me me

Sheltered attic bedroom
A sheltered attic bedroom is my ideal peaceful place.

As for me, although I like an open living area, I have always felt safe and blissfully secure sleeping in a smallish attic bedroom beneath a sloping roof line. If moonlight streams in the window, casting shadows of tree limbs and leaves on a hardwood floor, all the better. I now live in a home where there are enclosed rooms when I crave quiet and solitude, and open spaces for communal time. This is just right for me.

You you you

Sense of space
Your sense of space, and how you relate to it, will unveil your ideal dwelling scenario.

What feels right to you?

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Motivational office decor — slay the day

Home offices merit our best home styling trickery. Work is a cornerstone of our human existence, and the place that houses that work is important. Dig deep into your smarts and creativity to make your work space worthy of you and the time you spend there. Unleash your decorating mojo here and now!

Slay your day

Motivational office decor welcomes us to enjoy our return to a hopefully calm, focused routine after an unapologetically fun, indulgently relaxing, or satisfyingly productive weekend. Yes, those are your only three weekend choices.

Anne of Green Gables said,

“Isn't it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?” 

 ― L.M. Montgomery

That thought alone makes a Monday motivational. Monday begins a week of infinite possibility. What could be more exciting? It’s a chance to be even more fierce. And smart. And creative. And mindful. And kind.

Slay your work space

So, Mondays are inherently motivational. But what makes for motivational office decor?  What helps us to be our best? The right work space inspires us, grounds us, nurtures us, energizes us, and gives us perspective.

Inspirational elements

Be epic banner
Be epic banner purchased from Michaels.

I am not a fan of word art in general. It’s trendy and contemporary, neither which I aspire to be. But offices are the right place for it as long as it is not smarmy. You know what you need to see in order to stay on track and reach for the goals that make you happiest.

Grounding elements

Roseville, Haeger, and books
Roseville vases were a gift from my Grandma June. Haeger vases collected from local resale shops. Books acquired throughout a lifetime of passionate interests.

A grounding elemental is so absolutely necessary in an office. For me, that element is books and antiques. For you, it may be earthy colors or textural textiles.

Nurturing elements

McCoy lilies, vases, and shakers
These 1940s McCoy lily vases were a cherished gift from my mother. I’ve combined other twentieth century vases and Fiesta s+p shakers in a similar palette. The organic shapes counter the linear lines of the Skandia book case and Ikea magazine files.

Every work space needs something cherished. Often people choose pictures of their near and dear peeps. It just has to be something special to you so that you feel loved when you glance up from your project.

Energizing elements

Desk area in black, white, and green
Contrasting black and white is energizing, while the organic green keeps the contrast from shocking my nervous system. Top two pictures purchased resale, a family pic, a vase purchased from a cute street shop in Galena Illinois, lamp base from Target, and black shade from Goodwill.

Light and color are the most obvious energizers. The wrong light and colors can frazzle you if they are not attune to the vibes of your nervous system. Know thyself then choose lighting and color wisely.

Expansive elements

Venus at the window
A view outdoors is divine. A landscape photo or painting is also divine. Looking out into the horizon is very necessary.

If you don’t have a view of the outdoors in your office space, a picturesque landscape painting may do the job. A horizon opens up your perspective both literally and figuratively. Perspective nurtures perspective. Very important when working a project.

In parting

Enjoy your motivational office decor, and enjoy the day, fabulous ones. Be epic.

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Lettuce in a vase — simply brilliant

Lettuce in a vase emotes a glowing, ethereal quality. The simplicity is compelling. I cannot look away! Isn’t it deliciously convenient that some of the most beautiful floral arrangements are the easiest to make? I spied this at an agricultural fair, looking unloved and abandoned. I, however, find it utterly worthy of attention and admiration.

The surprise

Lettuce in a vase? You got me. I’m hooked.

The simplicity

With nothing but leaf lettuce in this vase, the experience becomes all lavish ruffles and bright, fresh, life-loving, flirtatious green. No distractions to dilute the experience. Except…

The audacity

Showing the naked lettuce roots through a clear glass vase adds a quirky dimension to the arrangement. It reminds me of nineteenth century botanical illustrations. Clever.

The humility

The vase frankly looks like a cross between a light bulb and a beaker from a chemistry lab. Unpretentious and noncompetitive, it whispers, “All hail the beautiful leaf lettuce!”

The source

I saw this non-floral arrangement at the 2017 McHenry County Fair in Woodstock, Illinois. It sat haphazardly on a table near the floral arrangements, with no information as to who created it. I’d love to credit the arranger if anyone can tell me.

The takeaway

Let the lettuce shine.
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