Less has been more in many eras Design: Maximum care goes into creating a minimalist look.


A friend recently questioned my use of the term "minimalist." He argued that it should be reserved for the specific type of interior design that became fashionable in the 1960s, and not generally applied -- as I often do in this column -- to interiors that are based on the principle of "less is more."

I pointed out that what was once considered a respectable theory is now often seen as just another "ism." Interior styles develop independently of whatever ideas first inspired them, I argued. And who's to say that the 1960s version of minimalism is the only one deserving of that name?

This unembellished, form-follows-function style does have plenty of historical antecedents.

Versions of the look, if not the actual name, would certainly be embraced by many people who consider themselves traditionalists.

What's more minimalist -- and more traditional in American terms -- than the furniture designs of the Shakers? This religious sect shunned ornamentation, preferring the simple life, and produced beautifully distinctive interiors in which form surely does follow function.

Shaker style of the 19th century is only one example of minimalist design in a historical period.

Before it, there was Directoire. This short-lived, though influential, style of post-revolutionary France pared away all the frills and adornments associated with Louis XVI and Louis XV.

Today, unfortunately, minimalism often is dismissed as a passe fad or a pretentious fashion indulged in by high-style designers and their elitist clients. Sometimes, I admit, it's exactly that and nothing more. But minimalism can be a pleasing expression of elegance without opulence.

This is not an easy look to create. Tasteful minimalism also depends on superb craftsmanship and excellence in design. A contemporary example may be seen in the photograph.

This setting, incidentally, is intended to highlight a collection of bed sheeting by the minimalist fashion designer Calvin Klein. But let's concentrate on the overall look of an airy, sunlit space with smooth and polished white walls.

The centerpiece is the black tubular metal bed, accompanied by a night table of similar design. The bed is illuminated by the daylight entering the space as well as by the polished chromium reading lamp. The sateen sheeting in deep colors adds a rich and subtle luster to the entire setting.

My friend and I may disagree on what exactly constitutes a

minimalist interior, but neither of us would ever suggest that it results from minimal attention to process and execution.

Pub Date: 12/21/97

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