Floral wallpaper. Brass candlesticks. Steamer trunks.
It’s not your grandma’s parlour, but it might very well be her stuff.
Maximalism, a decor trend that embraces the aesthetic of excess, has been on the rise for a few years. But lately, this “more is more” decor — in combination with a resurgence of vintage wares and thrifting — has exploded in popularity.
Bold colours, patterns, textures and vintage items are popping up everywhere from popular television shows (such as the luxe villas in The White Lotus Season 2 and the cosy apartments in Hulu’s Only Murders in the Building), to boutique hotels and trendy carpet companies boasting tropical prints. They’re also showing up in the vibrant colours of the year (Pantone’s is an electric Viva Magenta; Benjamin Moore’s paint colour of 2023 is an orange-red Raspberry Blush).
“Back in the day, we used to be called hoarders. Now we’re called maximalists, so it’s OK now,” laughs Tara Kolla, 46, who lives in Whitehorse, and describes her design style as “throw stuff at the wall until nothing else sticks.”
So, why is the aesthetic so popular?
It could be a backlash to minimalism’s austerity and clean, white walls. (Even Marie Kondo, the Japanese organization expert who inspired leagues of followers to declutter their homes with her trademark question, “does it spark joy?” has recently admitted she’s kind of given up).
The thrifting and vintage element could also be part of our current embrace of nostalgia, which has also seen film cameras, DVDs and vinyl records stage a comeback. There’s also the environmental sustainability aspect of buying thrifted items, and their affordability in a time of inflation.
WATCH | In Tara Kolla’s living room, more is more:
“Taken together, these factors are creating a type of ‘perfect storm’ that is driving interest in second-hand goods,” said Katherine White, a professor in marketing and behavioural science at the University of British Columbia.
But to some of the people embracing the trend, the reason is more simple: Joy.
“Many, many moons ago, I was married to a man who thought beige was an exciting or risky alternative to white,” said Marsha McLean, 55, of Toronto. McLean is in the midst of a project to paint her living room a darker version of Viva Magenta, styled around a pink, velvet couch, and is building a massive, sliding bookshelf to hold her thousands of books.
“I decided I would rather live in a more colourful world.”
‘I’m so happy’
There’s a Facebook group called Maximalist Design and Decor with more than 400,000 members. In it, people discuss floral wallpaper (the bolder the better), whether they should paint their kitchens pink (the answer is always yes), and gleefully post photos of their thrift store finds (whether it’s a mannequin they plan to turn into a lamp, or an elusive copy of “the mirror,” an ornate brass-rimmed triple mirror that’s the holy grail of maximalists in the group).
In this group, and others like it on Facebook, there’s no such thing as “too much.”
And one of the most popular photos in the global group, with more than 68,000 “likes” and growing, is a wall of suitcases posted by Theresa Rose, 65, of Keswick, Ont.
Rose says she’s been collecting vintage suitcases for most of her life. Some are her own — steamer trunks used by her family when they sailed from Europe to Canada, for instance — and others are from thrift stores and garage sales.
“Suitcases have so much intrigue. I always wonder where they have been and who owned them and what did they lock inside and where is the darn key?” Rose said.
Recently, she transformed her collection into a custom-built wall of trunks, many of them holding the other treasures and knick-knacks she collects, such as buttons, yarn and old photographs.
“Oh my gosh, I use it almost every day and I’m so happy,” Rose said.
The wall isn’t just for storage; she hides surprises in some of the cases for her grandchildren, and a local musician used it as a background for a music video. Rose says she was the inspiration for the lyrics of a song called Girl with 1,000 Suitcases by Daniel Davies.
The rise of thrift
A recent report by ThredUp predicts that second-hand commerce is expected to grow by 127 per cent by 2026, with North America leading it. Technology and online marketplaces, such as Facebook Marketplace and Etsy, are a huge part of the surge, with the report noting that 70 per cent of consumers surveyed said it’s now easier to shop second-hand than it was five years ago.
White, of the University of British Columbia, says there’s definitely an uptick in consumer interest in vintage items. She says she believes the pandemic left some people seeking out comforts.
“People who were experiencing a great deal of stress and uncertainty are now seeking comfort and a sense of nostalgia. For some age cohorts, items purchased (think records, action figures, comic books, classic cars, vintage décor pieces) can remind them of times past,” she said.
“While buying second-hand items might have historically been associated with some degree of stigma, right now this is not the case.”
The pandemic also contributed in a more practical way to the rise of vintage, says Kristina Urquhart, editor and publisher of The Vintage Seeker, a Canadian magazine for vintage and antique sellers and thrifters.
“We had a lot of people sitting at home, wanting to redecorate, and shopping online as a result of all the closures. Simultaneously we also had a lot of people wanting to clear out items from their home, so they started to sell,” Urquhart said.
“The buying pool grew, and so did the selling pool.”
Ashlee Mueller, who owns Lemon’s Loot, an e-commerce vintage shop based in Kingston, Ont., says sales are so good that she was able to make this former side gig her full-time job. Mueller, 31, frequents auction sites, vintage markets and thrift shops from Ottawa to Toronto to find the treasures she resells online.
Her most popular items are brass trinkets and brass candlestick holders, which she notes are currently very trendy as wedding decor. Mueller says she also has clients who decorate hotels with her items, and has sold some items to clothing retailer Aritzia to use in their window displays.
She believes the popularity comes down to evoking happy memories.
“They’ll buy an item from me because it reminds them of a previous time and it has that feel-good [factor], as opposed to going to Walmart and getting an item that has no story,” Mueller said.
‘Feels so full of love’
Kolla says that, in Whitehorse, where winter is the longest season of the year, it’s especially nice to have a home that exudes warmth. Her living room is splashed with colour, boasting strings of paper flowers and lanterns that she creates for parties and events, shelves of knick-knacks, and even a giant, blue Smurf doll in one corner.
“My 13-year-old kid tells me, ‘It just feels so full of love, Mom,'” Kolla said.
Her vintage shop, The Wishfactory, has the same style, with paper flowers and lanterns draped above racks of dresses and shelves of treasures. Business is good, she says, even in Whitehorse, which Kolla admits doesn’t typically have much of a vintage scene.
“I’ve been vintage shopping since the ’90s, when I was in high school. And just to see it have a resurgence again has been really awesome,” Kolla said.
When it comes to decorating, it’s just about making a room a space you want to spend more time in. And for some, like Kolla, that comes from colour, and stuff.
“I’m not really a white-and-greys kind of gal.”