KEEPING IT SIMPLE
There’s minimalism, and then there’s minimalism. The LifeChanging Magic of Tidying Up, by Tokyo-based home-organization guru Marie Kondo, is a best-selling book about the latter. And when Kondo says minimalist, she means it. Her book advises people to keep only what brings them joy. That’s it, nothing more.
Her design style and philosophy are bare-bones, but they ’re meant to be joyful and bring peace to people’s increasingly busy lifestyles, something Montreal designer Kelli Richards understands.
“The reason I like minimalism is because I really believe that our lives, and the people in them, are what should fill a space — not the decor,” said the lead designer and owner of Kelli Richards Designs. “Life is messy and I have enough things; I don’t need more. It’s about simplifying your life, and feeling a sense of calm and clarity.
“Most of us go to work — have hectic, stressful lives — and when we come home, we need to feel a sense of calm.”
Richards, who lived in different cities in Japan during her time as a model, not only fell in love with the country’s design style, but also its philosophy, which is rooted in Buddhism. Her designs are modern and minimalistic, but also have an undertone of classic luxury.
“There are different levels of minimalist design; there are people who live in tiny houses and own next to nothing, but I don’t go to that level,” she said. Instead, Richards focuses on a clean esthetic that manages to be both warm and simple at the same time.
“You need to find the right balance, because you don’t want it to feel stark — like you’re in a hospital, or something,” she said. “It’s really nice to add some warm tones — with wood, for example — to balance out the space.”
In addition to using wood, Richards also recommends using a shade of white on the walls, instead of stark white — or, obviously, a bright colour.
“Light wood flooring, like oak, is really popular right now and it makes a space feel airier, especially when they’re wide planks,” she said. “And I’m still a very big fan of variations of white on the walls.”
Because of the size of most new condos in Montreal — around 800 square feet, or so — Richards believes minimalism is actually the way to go, design-wise, for most new property owners.
“The more intricate the design is, the less spacious the home feels,” she said. “Stick with light, airy colours and clean lines; it makes a big difference.”
Another element that makes an impact in a new home is the materials that are used, especially in a minimalist space, said Catlin Stothers, an interior designer, artist and proponent of comfortable minimalism.
“Minimalism for me is just using really simplified, stripped-back materials; mostly organic forms like glass, concrete, metal and wood — things that don’t need to have a lot of detail to have a profound effect,” she said. “Even if you have very little furniture or accessories, if you have the right kinds of materials, like wood and concrete, you can create a really dramatic effect.”
Catlin Stothers Design is known for its modern, minimalistic sensibility.
“It’s a question of esthetics; some people are just drawn to a really modern look,” Stothers said in describing her style. “The downside is that some people feel that it’s going to be cold or uninviting, and that it’s going to feel like a lab, or very sterile.”
Like Richards, Stothers believes in a warm minimalism, not a cold one. She wants the spaces she creates to be places where people tuck in and watch a movie or listen to music, or entertain friends and family. Not perform an operation.
“Textiles are a great way to make a room more inviting and comfortable — a throw, a rug, cushions, accessories,” she said. “What’s great about that is they aren’t permanent details, so they’re things that you can change over time, with the seasons, or as your tastes change over the years.”
In addition to textiles, Stothers is also a fan of feature walls, if they’re in the right place.
“If there’s a home that’s really white and really minimalistic, a nice way to add a focal point or make it more cosy is to paint one wall with a nice, warm tone, like greige,” she said. “All-white can be a little austere, especially in a bedroom. Curtains can also add a softness, and frame the room a bit.”
Finally, Stothers believes lighting is the key to striking the right balance between minimalism, and minimalism.
“It’s the one thing that people forget about, or try to save on, and it’s the most important. I always say the floors and the lighting are the architectural details that — no matter who lives in your house, and no matter what furniture you have — are going to be key.
“You can have great lighting and one piece of furniture, and if it’s well executed, it’s all you need,” Stothers said. “Without the right lighting, you’re left with a box with no soul.”
And nobody wants that. Not even Marie Kondo.
Wood beams and wood flooring adds some warm tones to balance out the white walls and minimalist decor. Textiles, like the bedding and the area rug, also make the room look less austere and more inviting.
Wood shelving and trim add a bit of warmth to the Zen-like decor of this bathroom, with its freestanding tub and above-counter stone vessel sinks, and metal fixtures. Minimalist decor need not mean a cold look.