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Just the Essentials: Minimalist Design for Small Homes

With minimalist design, there’s a little more to it than meets the eye.

An unabashedly minimalist vision is realised in this Singapore apartment by designer William Chan. Image by Vee Chin.

The Many Faces of Minimalism

For something typically used to describe spareness and simplicity, minimalism is not as straightforward of a concept as some might imagine. For starters, minimalism in art (think Donald Judd) is not the same thing as minimalism in music or architecture. And even within these categories, there exist different traditions, applications, and interpretations. 

In architectural design, for example, Japanese minimalism meaningfully diverges from the clean-lined uniformity of Scandinavian minimalism through its embrace of imperfection, informed by the Zen philosophy of wabi-sabi. Perhaps it should have been expected, then, that a thoughtful fusion of the two styles would emerge as is seen in the aptly titled “Japandi”.

This Japandi-style Bangkok apartment by architect Pilin Hongwittayakorn blends the sleek quality of Scandi minimalism with the eclectic, rustic charms of Japanese design. Image by Napat Pattrayanond.

While these differences exist, all forms of minimalism do tend to share one basic principle: less is more. A primary focus of minimalist interior design is distilling a living space to its most essential elements. The general idea is that this eradication of all — or most — things deemed unnecessary to daily living helps to create a tranquil environment, free from excess or clutter of any kind.

Image by Liz Eve

The pared-back appearance of minimalism could lead people to believe that it’s easy to achieve; however, there’s a lot of work, and often ingenuity, behind creating effective minimalist design. This is particularly true for small-footprint homes, where achieving a sense of spareness means coming up with clever ways to disguise or integrate the essentials of living.

Achieving Minimalism in Small Homes

In this round-up of minimalist interiors, we’d be remiss not to mention this unabashedly minimalist vision from designer William Chan. Set on the bustling island of Singapore, this pared-back apartment is defined by its clean lines, limited material diversity, and forsaking of common creature comforts.

This Sydney apartment is a great example of how to achieve minimalism even when there’s not much space to work with (27sqm/291sqft, to be exact). Designer Nick Gurney had to get creative, opting to conceal all of its functional requirements for sleeping, cooking, working, and storage into a single joinery unit along the external wall.

This minimalist, open-plan micro apartment in Berlin maxes out its spaciousness — and its sense of tranquillity — by maxing out on integrated storage and furniture. The L-shaped, matte black kitchen unit includes a dining counter and plenty of cupboards, while the bed platform features built-in steps, a radiator cover, as well as storage compartments.

Image by Liz Eve

Negative Space, Not a Waste

Minimalism is about way more than clever camouflage solutions though. A big facet of minimalism is the creation of an emphasis on negative space. In minimalism, empty areas are not viewed as wasted but instead as opportunities for the eye to rest, allowing the mind to really appreciate the essential elements.

A method for creating negative space that we’ve seen across countless NTS episodes is to limit clutter on the floor – whether that be physical items or visual obstructions. This minimalist loft in Amsterdam not only sticks to the bare minimum when it comes to furniture, but it also features a “floating” staircase and diamond-finished edges at the base of its cabinetry to expand the visual impression of the room.

Image by Never Too Small

Minimalism for All

All in all, it seems that the jury may still be out on the limits of how this conceptual and aesthetic concept can be applied. For all its “rigidities” minimalism is in fact quite flexible to the curation and personalised tastes of its creator, because ultimately, everyone’s idea of what’s essential to their home is bound to differ ever so slightly.

Check out our episodes page to find more minimalist — and not-so-minimalist – interiors.