What is Cluttercore?
At first glance, cluttercore seems like a mishmash of materials, a rebellion against the minimalist and modern approach, and to an extent, it is. Strictly speaking, cluttercore is maximalist design focused on the display of a large collection of individual items with some sort of emotional connection to the owner. When done correctly, however, cluttercore represents one of the purest and rawest expressions of self in design.
“In cluttercore, everything gets time and space in the home. Every space is maximized for the use of display and this can be very valuable for clients who really like to express themselves,” says Amber Dunford, Style Director at Overstock.com.
“There’s an idea that designing in this way can make people more sociable, as we typically assess a person’s space to understand them better and look for clues regarding topics we may want to discuss or avoid with them. Cluttercore can have a very similar effect.”
With a professional’s touch, this type of design can tell a rich story in the home, displaying character, color and style through an assortment of objects. Much like the smaller strokes of a painting come together to form the grand image, these smaller elements should come together to form a narrative about the client and their interests. It’s the difference between a chaotic mess and organized chaos.
Tips for Perfecting the Cluttercore Aesthetic
Conduct a ‘Special Objects Inventory’
“It really comes down to the client,” says Dunford. “If they have a lot of smaller items they appreciate, these can be placed in a curated collection along the wall, on shelving or in a display cabinet. The important thing is to determine not what but how items are important to the client.”
This can be done with what Dunford calls a ‘Special Objects Inventory,’ and it can really help when clients (and the designers) are having a hard time understanding which objects should be getting special attention.
To do so, ask the client: if you had to leave the house immediately, what are the things you would grab? How do you honor these items currently? As Dunford says, it’s a good tool for knowing exactly how these smaller items should be incorporated into the design.
Another exercise might be to have the client write a letter to their house and then have them picture what the house would write back in its own letter.
Use Negative Space to Your Advantage
When there are as many elements vying for attention as there can be in cluttercore, incorporating a little bit of breathing room should be at the top of mind during the design process.
“There’s a very fine line between achieving an actual aesthetic and allowing these loved objects or collections to take over your home, which can actually cause visual overstimulation and contribute to stress in a space,” says Dunford. “Our eyes are very keenly tuned for detail based on our evolutionary past and the survival skills we needed before we had the luxury of modern-day housing.
“When we’re presented with a lot of detail with no space to for the eye rest, it becomes exhaustive and stressful to be in a space like that. Breaks help alleviate that stress and define territories of the space.”
The other goal, apart from providing wall separation for these displays, should be to keep the functional areas clear of this. For example, the kitchen and home office are two main locations that should be kept simple in their design. Instead, these areas should rely on strong visual design that might come from specific colors or materials coming through in the presentation instead.
Dunford also notes these methods would work well in studios and larger, multifunctional spaces, as well.
Find the Little Themes in Between
If cluttercore can be likened to a story told in displayed items, then it stands to reason that it needs its own themes and ‘characters’ to help pull everything together.
“It’s best to find themes that unite a handful of items and then work from there. This can mean curating items by place of origin, style or even colors to ultimately create a collection that feels cohesive and easy to visually take in. We are hardwired to find commonality in details and colors, in fact, color is the first thing we assess when viewing an object making it an easy tool for curating our belongings.”
Here, Dunford also notes that there can be other visual tricks that further help eyes identify themes or areas of importance (‘characters’) in the design. For instance, lighting is a simple and readily understood way for many designers to draw attention to a location. Depending upon the objects, contrasting elements of design can be accentuated to bring more attention to them as well, like mixing larger scale print with smaller scale if the collection happens to consist of articles or other objects with text on them.
Understand Your Client
As with everything wellness related, it’s all about taking a holistic approach. Designers are already deep into conversations with their clients on intent, personality and ideas, and so it should be easy from these conversations alone to ascertain whether a client may benefit from cluttercore as an aesthetic.
“While this doesn’t apply to everyone broadly, people who view themselves as extroverts are often far more comfortable with putting personal objects on display than an introvert might be. At the end of a day, cluttercore is an aesthetic that is very much governed by the personality of the client, so above all, you need to make sure your client’s personality shines through, but using your eye to represent it in an organized and stylish manner.”