Ditch the magnolia… busy and bold decor takes it to the max

After a year in which our bedrooms and kitchens became the backdrops of work and school, you might think that white walls and untouched surfaces would be the look of choice. But for many, bold prints and bright colours are what feels right for now.

“Life in general has become a little more serious. Our way of rebelling against this is to let go and embrace colour, texture and pattern,” says Lindsey Rendall, president of the British Institute of Interior Design.

There is evidence everywhere you look, from the interiors collection of pop star Paloma Faith, launched last week, complete with tiger-print bed linen and chinoiserie-style cushions, to the “cluttercore” trend, which sees knick-knacks livening up previously spartan shelves and coffee tables.

The trappings of maximalist interiors are selling fast. At Etsy there has been a huge increase in searches for wavy mirrors, while searches for wavy candles are off the scale. At John Lewis, sales of printed furnishing and colourful homeware are strong, with coloured and patterned rugs up 60% and bold cushion designs particularly popular.

Siobhan Murphy, whose Club Tropicana-esque beach hut and plush golden, green, gingko leaf-decorated hotel room won her a place in the finals of this year’s Interior Design Masters on BBC, has seen a “definite increase in the demand for a more maximalist approach to interiors”.

People are, she says, “going all out with wallpaper, papering whole rooms rather than just a feature wall”, as well as inviting clashing colour combinations into their homes, such as “lavender and chartreuse, red and Barbie pink, acid green and peach.” Patterns, says Rendall, “seem to have grown in scale, colours are more vibrant and textures more pronounced.”

While maximalist interiors are nothing new, for Ben Spriggs, editor-in-chief of Elle Decoration, what sets this current wave apart is “a move away from floral patterns and prints towards graphic geometric designs”; think the “high-octane glamour of Halston and Studio 54-era New York”. Colour palettes are, he says, “equally bold – reds, orange and terracotta tones reference the same period, and all shades of yellow are having a moment.”

It isn’t just in our homes. Trend forecasters WGSN have flagged maximalism as a key trend in hotel interiors, stating: “With Covid-19 shuttering hotels all over the globe, attention has turned to innovative redesigns and new openings. A wave of optimism is permeating the industry through interiors that exude joyful maximalism.” One of the most high-profile maximalist redesigns is Luke Edward Hall’s of Hotel Les Deux Gares in Paris. In a defiant flipped bird to understated French chic, he has teamed pink tiles with red mirrors and busy blue wallpaper with leopard print and green paint.

While, for some, you will never beat porridge-hued walls and tasteful terracotta, Murphy thinks maximalist interiors make sense. “After spending so much time in our own homes over the last year… people are being a bit more fearless,” she says. “You have to ask yourself, is that magnolia or greige room really bringing you joy? If it is, great, but if it isn’t then now is then time to go wild, have a bit of fun.”

Clients are “desperate to inject some life and fun into their homes”, says Rendall, who is also co-founder of Suffolk-based interior design practice Rendall & Wright. “No longer is it the place to escape from the world for a few minutes of peace, our homes have been our world.” She speculates that the lack of holidaying abroad is catalysing a particular trend for palm wallpapers and prints.

There is also a school of thought that says surrounding ourselves with objects that mean something to us is the interiors equivalent of a comfort blanket after a difficult year. While once our homes might have been a sanctuary from the sensory overload of the world – “a neutral home was an oasis of calm to return to” – now, she says, “with the absence of other humans we’ve filled that void with things that remind us of fun occasions.”

This maximalist moment might be specific to now but it fits into the mechanics of interiors trends. According to Spriggs, “following times of extreme societal hardship, there is often a move towards brighter, more positive decorating schemes as people search for joy in any way they can”.

For those worried about all the dust-collecting knick-knacks, there is also an unexpectedly practical side to the maximalist aesthetic, according to Rendall: “Little fingers and plain neutral walls are a disaster, so by using patterned papers we can hide a multitude of sins.”