Minimalism and the death of detail

Is less always more?

May 1, 2024

There has been some talk on social media over the last few years around the dangers of lazy design. Born from a universal adoption of the minimalist design from the 1950’s and 60’s, the danger is in the details – or lack of them. Of course, the very best design – whether furniture, architecture or corporate identity, achieves much with as little as possible and this has been true throughout history – never mind minimalism. The power of the Nike swoosh, the simplicity and uniformity of Georgian architecture and the elegance of Eames chairs. 

So what really is going on? As with most debate, the conversations are something of a jumble but in amongst the threads are some important elements.

In the drive to create simplicity of design, the mistake is to avoid detail. So why does detail matter?  It is always in the details of design that one catches glimpses of brilliance. So in fact, the simpler the design, the more important these details become. Of course there are obvious examples of utilitarian modernist design that lack the intricacy of period pieces – take something as every day as a set of railings or even park benches.

Two contrasting images of railings: on the left, an ornate, black wrought iron railing overlooking a serene lake; on the right, a modern, sleek stainless steel railing on a bridge with a view of water.

Plate 1: Railings in a minimal and classical style

Two contrasting benches: one vintage with ornate lion sculptures as supports and wooden slats, positioned outdoors near greenery; the other, a modern metal bench with a sleek design, located in an urban setting near a glass building.

Plate 2: Bench with detail and one without

But detail can equally become an over-embellishment. Where it succeeds is in the subtlety of detail that perform a function. Take for example the secret door. The very essence of design here is in the invisibility of the piece and yet the detailed craftsmanship behind it is gives it the level of appeal and aesthetic that a standard door – no matter how ornate – cannot match. 

Image of white jib door

Plate 3: Artichoke secret door in a recent Grade II listed house

Celebrating the elegance of design is perhaps a better way to understand how minimalism or perhaps simplicity can deliver both an aesthetic and pragmatic appeal. 

In kitchens, islands have become a statement piece in the room and can be over-embellished. But a cooks table beautifully hides the detail in the overall minimalist aesthetic. The multi-functional piece is exquisitely made with the minimum complications – a split top for service alternatives and cables running through its legs for electrics. 

Effortless design

Furniture and their style and use are therefore about both form and function. The hardest things of all is to design and make pieces that appear effortless. Whether logo, chair, table or building, this is simply the mark of great design.

At Artichoke, we blend the greatest lessons taught us by classical design – proportion, symmetry and the skill and techniques of furniture making with the best advances in modern appliances, manufacturing and design. We do not live in museums, we live in homes where the delight of a perfectly functioning space is made all the more powerful by the form of beautifully designed and made furniture. It is not minimalist, modern or classical design that matters nearly as much as good design.