Embracing a less is more strategy adds sleekness and simplicity to create a modern luxe look.
By Roberta Klein
From the time modern design jumped across the ocean from Germany and Scandinavia to the United States around the 1930s, it became a stanchion of the period. Until that time, what preceded could be downright depressing.
Even in areas as sun-swept as Florida and California — where a room with open windows catching the breeze would have been uplifting — the former design de rigueur of heavy velvet drapes covering windows continued to be revered. Adding further insult, the home’s major social spaces were visually burdened by what appeared as a battalion of repetitive furniture. The visual confusion was amplified by the family’s collections of knick knacks filling every inch of open space. Indeed, by today’s standard, such a confusing approach to design is simply called “clutter.”
The International Style of architecture was developed in Europe and the United States in the 1920s and ‘30s, just as modern design inched its way into the realm of taste. It appealed to people young and old, who appreciated furniture with simple lines, produced in metal and wood that introduced an overall economy of space.
Influenced by iconic architect Le Corbusier, for instance, sleek modern architecture helped the cause by having the interiors of a home complement clean-lined exteriors.
Today, top interior designers continue to embrace uncluttered living environments through modern design. They apply thoughtful utilization of living spaces with respect to ideal proportions, including the definitive placement of furniture — not too much and in all the right places. Not only are their designs fine examples of the modern mode, but many lean toward the minimalistic. However, by no means does “minimalistic” indicate anything slight or small since it is, actually, a respected economy of space. This is design where extreme sparseness and simplicity take the lead. To that end, what is trending nowadays are well-conceived interiors with a more relaxed approach to modern design — which was often accused of looking “too cold” in the past.
Pepe Calderin of New York, Naples, and Miami is known for his dramatic designs from as far away as Saudi Arabia. He confides an understanding of why people held on to the heavy, cluttered old look— even though the modern approach made better sense. “People always like what they’re used to,” he declares. “We’ve been taught for years to be symmetrical,” he adds as an example. “Everything was symmetrical — a pair of chairs, a pair of doors.” Indeed, but asymmetric arrangements ultimately became popular when designers like Phillipe Starck broke the mold.
In an effort to demonstrate that the modern minimalism doesn’t have to appear too cold, Calderin believes infusing color is the way to balance the aesthetic and add necessary character. With that modus operandi, one might expect the unexpected from Calderin, and rightly so. He readily admits that he loves red and orange, and there are no restrictions on how he applies them. Red might surface on a single dining room wall in a room with large applications of black.
One of his memorable sitting rooms contains an elongated seating wall of white sofas set on an electric-blue, room-sized carpet. Then there’s the unexpected — two red swivel chairs. In a spacious master bedroom with white walls, he has hung a painting of a huge goldfish over the headboard and repeated the bright orange color of the fish merely once. It’s on an orange throw, casually strewn on a round, upholstered love seat to give the room just the right touch of punch — not too much, but enough to liven up his minimalist space.
Another way interior designers achieve the slick style is by hiding utilitarian items that can interrupt the minimalist flow — a television set is now embedded into a bathroom mirror, cabinets are recessed, etc.
For designer Kevin Gray, paying attention to shapes — rectangular rather than round — is a way to make a minimalist statement. He predicts that we’ll never see a round sink or anything round for that matter, again. They will all be replaced by rectangular-shaped items instead. He contends that “a round sink in a modern minimalist bathroom would be like driving a 1956 Beetle.”
“Everything is toward modern today, especially bathrooms,” says Gray, who has designed penthouses for celebrities and icons — including Wolfgang Joop — along with Joop!’s first United States flagship store on Ocean Drive, a structure dedicated to the minimalist approach.
When he bought his own apartment in the exclusive Palm Bay Club condominium in Miami fifteen years ago, he incorporated his penchant for modern and minimalist style in his master bedroom.
Confronted by a hallway harboring eight doors, behind which were air conditioning units and his-and-her bathrooms, Gray recalls thinking the arrangement was “ridiculous.” “Where was the actual bathroom in respect to the eight doors?” he questioned. So rather than fitting all the doors into his design, he eliminated most of them and boldly introduced a spa tub with a sound system to the middle of the room. Secreted behind it were the private bathroom-usage areas; i.e., commode, shower, bidet. Of course he made certain that the spa tub didn’t block his glorious view of Biscayne Bay.
The beauty of modern and minimalism — from bathroom to other areas throughout the home — is the efficiency that contributes to quality living.
In addition to open spaces, designers introduce features such as ambient lighting, which radiates a comfortable level of brightness throughout a home without glare. Then there are small and subtle creative effects that make a difference. According to Gray, one example is vanities. Now floor, one can walk by the vanity without bumping a foot. Another effect in living areas is low-profile furniture, such as consoles that hug the floor.
There’s another draw to the modern minimalist style for Calderin and Gray, which is that minimalism can also lean more towards being eco-friendly. For Gray this translates to utilizing porcelain, rather than stone and marble, for his installations. His explanation: “It’s all cutting edge without digging up the world.”
Minimalist design’s moody edge, with its adherence to simplicity, reflects an unencumbered environment that epitomizes the classic saying that follows — something comfortable, yet that will stand the test of time.