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It’s time to throw off the tyranny of minimalism, says Meryl Koh

Recently at a furniture showroom, I was admiring a chandelier whose glass “petals” unfurled in harmony with classical music. To me, it was an art installation in the guise of lighting, a beautiful addition to any room. Not everyone thought so, however. “So extravagant!” a woman murmured behind me. She thought the design too gaudy. Less is more is the key to good design, she later shared.

Her stance is easy enough to understand. According to The Architecture of Minimalism by Francisco Cerver, minimalist interior design first became popular in the late ’80s in big cities like New York and London. Designers used white elements and minimal furniture and objects to decorate large spaces. The result is calm, pristine environments that counter the blaring, flashy street culture of the time.

The style was picked up by the media in Singapore and soon it became the de rigueur aesthetic. In an essay titled The Rise of Style: Singapore Architecture and Media in the Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, architect Tan Kok Meng notes: “In response to media reports, the audience has learnt that desirable contemporary design ought to have ‘a zen-like quality’, simplicity and clarity. Slightly more exuberant design is considered the result of moments of weakness, euphemistically excused as ‘playful’.”

But times have changed. Teased hair and big shoulder pads are gone, and stripped-down designs like that of Apple products are everywhere. Singapore could be ready to take a step (no matter how small) away from stark white walls and fuss-free furnishings.

Take the workplace. “We are no longer a generation of quiet workers who do their work and go home,” says Tai Lee Siang, president of Design Business Chamber Singapore. “Workers today need an interactive and engaging environment, and the office interior needs to match that with warm colours and interesting fixtures.” Case in point: Recruitment company Spencer Ogden’s office is outfitted with colourful world maps on the wall and an Astroturfed floor that complement the company’s global outlook. Fun features like basketball hoops and scooters are littered around for employees to work off stress. The result? Spencer Ogden doubled its staff strength in a year, with employees lauding the high positivity and energy levels of their working environment.

Interior design firms, too, are noticing a shift in this direction. “When you go to a shop in London or Singapore, they all sell the same tulip table or Eames chair,” says Nikki Hunt, founder of local design firm Design Intervention. “It might have been the safe bet then, but clients today are well-travelled and well-read, and they are more self-assured. This has led to them looking towards homes that reflect their personality.”

Even the F&B scene in Singapore is looking to recapture old-school charm, with vintage making a big comeback. My Awesome Cafe, for one, has garnered over a thousand hashtagged posts on social media platform Instagram. At least half of these are pictures of its decor, from the distinctive signboard with Mandarin characters to colourful lanterns that hang from the ceiling. Black and white walls have no space here.

My point is, although minimalist interior design has its aesthetic merits, it has ruled for too long. Let your personality influence the decor, and, even if it leads to a music-playing kinetic glass chandelier, at least your living space won’t be the same as that of the “less is more” subscribers.