A Simple Guide to Minimalist Design and Architecture


Today, the word minimalism refers to a wide range of topics, from art, fashion, interior design, architecture, to a way of life. But what exactly is minimalism? What about minimalist design that people seem to love so much? What are the rules? Find the answers here.

Minimalism at Glance

Minimalism is an art movement that commenced around 1960 in New York. Often seen as a response against 1940’s abstract expressionism and post-war modernism, minimalism uphold simple design elements, focusing on materials and eschewing ornate symbolism. Nowadays, the term minimalism is often used colloquially to refer anything that is reserved or stripped down to its essentials. Minimalism manifests in a vast array of art genres, from visual art, software and UI design, literature, music, cinema, to design and architecture.

Donald Judd's concrete sculpture "Untitled" (1980-4) | Source: dazed.com 

Notable Influences

Minimalism in design and architecture went back a long way starting from the 1920s. For a certain part, minimalism has Cubist-inspired movements of De Stijl and Bauhaus to thank for. De Stijl’s mixture of abstraction and simplicity and Bauhaus’ dictum “less is more” in regards of material use and form reduction are the fundamentals of minimalist design and architecture.

De Stjil-inspired home in Kiev by Workshop Dmitriy Grynevich | Source: grynevich.com

That being said, minimalism draws its most significant reference from Japanese traditional culture of Zen Philosophy. Japanese channeled the Zen culture into aesthetic and design elements. Simplicity is valued as a way to achieve inner freedom. Wabi-sabi adage, which core is to find the innate beauty in objects, is highly influential to the minimalist movement, where simple forms of nature are taken in high regard.

Japanese Zen interior | Source: blenderartists.org

Another principal known as ma (emptiness) proposes large open spaces to outline spatial emptiness that encourages reflection of essential forms. This is especially paramount in contemporary minimalist design and architecture. Lastly, the tenet of seijaku (stillness) advises the use of aesthetic to perceive tranquillity, harmony, and balance, which are exactly what minimalist design aspire to realize.

Embracing Essential Quality and Simplicity

One of the key ideas of minimalist design is to pare everything down to its essential quality. This doesn’t necessarily mean no ornament of any kind allowed, but rather to revoke redundancy in all parts, details, and joinery. Elemental essences are taken into solemn consideration: from light, space, form, place, material, to human condition. Furniture is set to be open to dialogue with the surrounding environment and create relationship regarding line, colour, mass, and details.

Minimalist interior | Source: ulaburgiel.com

Another main concept of minimalist design is to embrace simplicity on every level. Lavish décor is out of the picture, but finite frills are not off-limits. Uniqueness is welcome in minimalism under the golden rule of less is more. Anything with clean lines, pure geometric forms and functional design fit the minimalist’s approach of simplicity. In a sense, minimalist design is a medley of form and function, just like what the popular Scandinavian design—an offshoot of minimalist style—is all about.

Minimalist kitchen | Source: caandesign.com

Balance and Neutrality

A style aiming to achieve tranquillity, minimalist design emphasizes on visual balance. Symmetry applies to furniture layouts, colour schemes, and light source. Started from a central focal point such as chandeliers, skylight, or centrally placed decorative tile, it goes outwards in a circular pattern vertically (up and down) and horizontally (right and left). Balancing everything out to create harmony also means to leave breathing room. By opting simplicity and functionality, it is easy to avoid clutters, and every piece has a chance to shine. Space would feel clean and organized, instead of cluttered with too many furnishing, embellishments, and colours that do not complement each other.

Minimalist bedroom | Source: home-designing.com

Neutral shades are the theme of minimalist design. The colour palette includes the likes of ecru, ivory, foggy dew, taupe, dusty blue, rose taupe, slate grey, and gardenia. Light hues are mostly used for backdrops to create a blank slate for what’s to come later. Floor covering should remain in neutrals with natural materials such as wood flooring, stone tile, and sisal rugs.

Minimalist bathroom | Source: dwell.com


As stated before, minimalist design does not shy away from ornaments. While neutral is dominant, pops of colours are no stranger to minimalist interior. Accessories and smaller furniture in monochromatic shades serve as accents for the otherwise basic canvas. Wall-mounted photograph and painting can also form an interesting focal point to the interior. The key is to make sure everything harmoniously blends.

Minimalist living room | Source: housebeautiful.com

Minimalist Architecture

In minimalist architecture, design is condensed to its core elements, focusing on form, space, light, and materials. This way, harmony is achieved through simplicity. One of the leading figures of minimalism is Pritzker Prize-winning contemporary architect Tadao Ando. His building projects represent his minimalist principles with the distinct use of light, smooth concrete and natural elements. Some of his notable projects are Azuma House (住吉の長屋) (1976), Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth (2002), Akita Museum of Art (2012), and Jaenung Culture Center (2015).

Akita Museum of Art | Source: akita-yulala.jp

British architect John Pawson is another practitioner of the architecture style. His design idea involves the soul, light, and order. He believes that there is a sense of richness and clarity of simplicity rather than emptiness. Calvin Klein boutique in Madison Ave., NY (1995-6) perfectly conveys his vision to create simple, orderly, and peaceful spatial arrangements. To achieve it, he used white walls and stone floors. Actively against visual distortion, he aimed to achieve a sense of purity in the interior.

John Pawson's Calvin Klein store | Source: jownpawson.com

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