In 1910, in a lecture titled “Ornament and Crime,” the Austrian architect Adolf Loos delivered an invective against any kind of decoration, from filigree on building façades to tooling on leather shoes and embroidery on clothing. “The evolution of culture is synonymous with the removal of ornament from utilitarian objects,” Loos said. He connected the impulse toward ornament with uncontrolled eroticism, criminal activity, and peasantry—an allover retroversion, the ignorance of progressive social norms. The truly civilized, he said, “have outgrown ornament; we have fought our way through to freedom from ornament.” The kind of modernism that Loos advocated was spare and austere, highlighting the function of each object or structure rather than concealing it behind layers of frippery. In the interiors he designed, he preferred furniture that was monochromatic and built-in, highlighting the natural beauty of wood or stone.
Lucky that Loos isn’t here, in 2020, to witness the revenge of everything he hoped could be vanquished more than a century ago. Take, for instance, the recent design choices of Gigi Hadid, the twenty-five-year-old supermodel, who, in a post last month on Instagram, unveiled her dream New York City apartment, which she designed, in the course of the past year, with the architect Gordon Kahn. The first shock is a row of transparent kitchen cabinets filled with a melange of dried “pasta art” seemingly tie-dyed in a rainbow of artificial colors—more aesthetic than appetizing. But the rest of the home is as hectic with color: an overstuffed, Steampunkish mustard-colored makeup chair on a mustard rug; a primitive wooden vessel on the kitchen counter filled, inexplicably, with billiard balls, which are neither food nor functional; bright, hallucinatorily patterned fabric, perhaps an influence of her Palestinian roots; the lime-green tailgate of a Chevrolet pickup truck mounted vertically on a wall; and a bathroom bedecked in a busy grid of pinned-up New Yorker covers. Many surfaces in the apartment are upholstered; everything is decorated. Ornament’s not so dead after all; its crimes are still being rampantly and enthusiastically perpetrated.
There’s a sensibility at play at the highest end of home decorating right now. Call it a new North American maximalism. It was on display, in April, when Drake went public with his fifty-thousand-square-foot Toronto mansion in Architectural Digest. “Ornate” is too casual a word for this project, which was led by the Canadian architect and interior designer Ferris Rafauli. “Baroque” seems ideal, because of the airy, cathedral-like spaces as well as the density of ornament, from barbed chandeliers (even in the dressing room) to a mood-lit hall displaying Drake’s collection of historic basketball jerseys, like saintly relics. The home is dripping with expensive decoration, like it’s dressed to attend an opera. The four-thousand-pound bathtub is made from a single slab of black marble. The master bed features a tapestry designed by Alexander McQueen and an Art Deco-ish framework of shelving and seating nooks—the rapper as a twenty-first-century soft-boy Gatsby. His studio lounge has a backlit, window-sized installation of brown agate, and the pool appears to be an aquarium from the eighties, like swimming inside a neon tube. Mix the self-satisfaction of a man cave with the self-seriousness of Versailles. “I wanted the structure to stand firm for 100 years,” Drake told Architectural Digest. “It will be one of the things I leave behind.”
Maximalism is a perennial mode of interior decorating: it never really goes away, though gaudiness has faced stiff competition with the lo-fi industrial wave that followed the 2008 recession and, more recently, with the rise of Marie Kondo. Pop stars, in particular, tend to favor it—see Gwen Stefani’s former day-glo mansion, in Beverly Hills, courtesy of the designer Kelly Wearstler. Yet Hadid and Drake’s homes promise something even more extra, the fulfillment not of a decorator’s vision but of a personal identity. Like all millennials, they want credit for curating their total environments. The two have starkly different personal styles—hers is colorful, plush, and relatively approachable, and his is masculine monochrome, meant to impress if not intimidate—but what they have in common is the sheer ardor of their design choices. There is nothing restrained or simple in their homes; everything is not only complicated but expensively so. In fact, this kind of excess is what bothered Loos most about the styles of the wealthy whom he encountered in his own time. “Ornamented things first create a truly unaesthetic effect when they have been executed in the best material and with the greatest care and have taken long hours of labour,” he said in the lecture. What was offensive was the lavish investment in one’s own bad taste; better to either choose something cheaper or follow someone else’s designing advice (like Loos’s).
Our current moment has been called a twenty-first-century Gilded Age. Inequality, already growing by leaps and bounds, has been exacerbated by the pandemic, when 17.8 million Americans are unemployed, as of June, and Jeff Bezos is making more money than ever. Despite looming disaster, wealth still makes itself known. The man in the White House has gone the traditional route to flaunt his riches, or sustain their illusion, daubing his Trump Tower penthouse in twenty-four-carat gold in mimic Louis XIV fashion. But many of today’s megarich prefer a quieter kind of extravagance. One route is to accumulate as much space as possible, even in the most expensive spots. Mark Zuckerberg is being accused of “colonizing” the Hawaiian island of Kauai by pressuring native Hawaiians to sell the land near his property. In the Kalorama neighborhood of Washington, D.C., Bezos likely recently bought the mansion across the street from the two mansions he already owned, which he had turned into a single dwelling.
Kim Kardashian and Kanye West’s Los Angeles mansion is a monument to minimalism. Created with the Belgian designer Axel Vervoordt, it’s a blank, diaphanous haze of unused space: monochrome walls, floor, furniture, including a soft, interactive floor sculpture by the artist Isabel Rower. “The proportions are the decoration,” West told Architectural Digest. The home demonstrates that it’s completely possible to be a minimalist-maximalist, emphasizing the wealth it takes to maintain so much pristine emptiness. The decor of the twenty-four-year-old Kendall Jenner’s L.A. home is just as refined, though less aggressive, with a faux nineteenth-century art-studio space and a light installation by James Turrell, whose austere pieces, playing tricks with perception, are much more difficult to come by than the KAWS sculptures standing sentinel at Drake’s house.