Whither Minimalism?

atelier ozenfant, Le Corbusier 1922/Public Domain

Will Wiles writes in the New York Times about minimalism and modernism, and claims both had a short life. The reasons Le Corbusier and others promoted it had a lot to do with attitudes toward health and cleanliness, coming straight from Pasteur and germ theory. "The early modernists wanted to wash away [Victorian] this squalor with an ocean of shining chrome, tile and white plaster."

He does note that consciously living a less is more lifestyle can be difficult.

But the minimalist home is not as labor-saving as it claims. It rejects even the set-aside newspaper or the smallest smudge — these things cannot be allowed to linger, they must be driven out. The homeowner must stay on guard duty lest the forces of derangement establish a fingerhold. Too much of this, and it’s the mind that becomes deranged.

He watches as the tchochkes creep in.


Minimalism had a short life. Its asceticism was at odds with the rising consumer spending of the latter half of the 20th century. Designers started to preach comfort. Throw pillows, bold patterns and misshapen crockery crept in; Eames-style dressers were offset by quirky antiques and kitsch curios. Psychological studies showed the beneficial effects of color in the environment, so the white was painted over. The icy prose of the modernists was replaced by the warmth of Terence Conran’s “House Book” and Martha Stewart Living.

I wonder if he isn't a little out of date. The House Book and Martha Stewart certainly are.

More in the New York Times

Tags: Less Is More | LifeEdited | Living With Less

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