I’ve noticed a disturbing design trend in recent years. This trend may seem harmless at first glance, but it’s indicative of a much deeper cultural problem. I’m of course talking about the “elegant” all white minimalist aesthetic that has become so popular.
While this room may look nice at first glance, I can assure you it is pure evil. First of all there’s the practicality issue. It may look nice and clean now, but even the smallest disruption can look horribly intrusive in a space like this. The necessary tasks of daily life do not blend with the interior, they sully it. Something as small as a book would stick out like a sore thumb in a space so plain and sterile. White minimalism is not designed for the inevitable messiness that comes with daily life, it’s designed for Patrick Bateman.
Often rooms like this don’t even have any art hanging on the walls, revealing the anti-human ideology that hides behind the layers of white paint and Ikea furniture. These interior spaces are not meant to be lived in and enjoyed, they’re meant to be photographed. So many people see this look as clean and calming, believing their anxieties would melt away in a space this free of clutter and noise. The reality, however, is a space where even the smallest scuff mark or stain is a minor crisis. Consider in contrast the clotheslines in old Italian villages and how beautifully they integrate into the landscape.
Aesthetics matter, and they affect your mood more than you may think. There are no straight lines in nature, and there definitely isn’t anything that resembles white minimalism. Our brains are designed for the natural world, a fact so many people who live a modern lifestyle forget. We find the natural world beautiful because of its texture and depth. Every landscape on Earth is beautiful, from the understated plains in Nebraska to the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. Each has its own cohesive aesthetic, so perfectly imperfect.
Classical architecture understood this reality, using form and ornamentation to mimic the dopamine producing effects one gets when looking at a rocky cliffside or an old tree. This topic is explored in depth in Ann Sussman’s book, Cognitive Architecture, Designing for How We Respond to the Built Environment.
What happens in your mind when you’re inside an all white modern interior? Spaces like these are entirely foreign to our animal brains, and often feel mind numbing to be in. The sense of unease might not be immediately apparent to everyone, but it comes from existing in a space that is fundamentally antithetical to the joy and wonder of the human experience.
Perhaps the main reason people are so quick to paint every inch of their house white is the potential resale value. People are given the impression that any colors or detailing in their home that is even remotely interesting will make it more difficult to sell down the line. People deprive themselves of self expression and creativity in their own homes just to appease some hypothetical buyer in the future. This practice also seems to ignore the obvious fact that wall color is not a lifelong commitment, in fact walls are pretty easy to paint. This focus on what others may think of your design choices infects business and home renovations all over the place. People mistakenly believe their monochrome, featureless design choices give their home/business a look of clean elegance, when in reality they’re just boring. This self conscious mentality has some disastrous outcomes when it comes to renovation projects.
The mural above was painted on the side of a great arts supplies store on Magazine st in New Orleans called National Art & Hobby. The business sadly closed a few years ago and the building was bought by a design firm. Even though the mural was beautiful and added to the vibrant personality of the street, the new owner decided it would be better to paint the whole building white. The idea was likely to create a sort of regal elegance, but in reality all it did was permanently ruin a beautiful piece of art and replace it with absolutely nothing.
Such shameless disrespect and disregard for the creative personality of New Orleans is an act of terrorism in my opinion and should be punishable by life in prison. After all, most prisons have that nice minimalist look everyone is so crazy about.
I wish I could say that this was the only instance of a New Orleans mural being painted over with white paint, but it’s not even the only instance on Magazine street. This is especially annoying because Magazine street’s charm is its eclectic collection of businesses that make each block different than the next. The color variety among buildings gives it a fun, vibrant atmosphere that enhances the pedestrian experience. Even driving down Magazine is visually stimulating, specifically because these businesses do not take themselves too seriously. While a purple house in the suburbs may be an unappealing choice to many, a purple building fits right into the rainbow of personality that is Magazine street.
I guess some people are too cool to be colorful. The truth is, though that regardless of what some taste makers may tell you, people are hard wired to be surrounded by a variety of texture. There is a happy medium between overwhelming clutter and sterile, colorless minimalism. Let’s keep our cities interesting.