I recently had a suit made at Marlo Bespoke on Club Street. Wanting to do something uniquely Singaporean, I decided to juxtapose a cloth that reflected this city’s position as a financial hub—banker-style navy pinstripes—with a vibrant tropical-motif lining, a nod to Singapore’s ‘garden city’ status.
The idea was to sartorially balance business and pleasure, sobriety and whimsy. I’m far from the first to have had this thought. Vishal Advani, managing director of Officine Paladino, the Singaporean cloth merchants responsible for the bold bird-emblazoned internal fabric I selected, says his range of splashy graphic linings have proven to be a tremendous success.
“We wanted to give sartorial enthusiasts a way to express their individuality and their passions, whether that be golf, fishing or tennis, travel, automobiles or cryptocurrency, whatever the case may be,” Advani says. “It’s an opportunity they’ve really embraced—sales of our more outré designs have been brisk.”
In addition to its Italian-made viscose linings, Officine Paladino also traffics in an array of audacious suiting cloths, for those who fancy a more overt expression of maximalism. “Being from Singapore and dealing with a lot of tailors around Southeast Asia, we take inspiration from the situations and people around us,” Advani says. “In this environment, colour and pattern just come naturally.”
That’s a statement prominent hotel interior designer Bill Bensley would most certainly agree with. Since establishing his studio in Bangkok in 1989, Bensley says, “I have evolved into a serious maximalist. My personal taste craves layer upon layer of quirkiness and colour.”
Arguably the leading name in sustainable hospitality design today, Bensley (who was initially trained in landscape architecture) may seek maximum impact visually, but he always aims for minimal impact environmentally. His own Shinta Mani Wild luxury eco-resort in the jungles of Cambodia was built without cutting down a single tree, and at sibling property Shinta Mani Angkor in Siem Reap, greenery is just as important a part of the décor as the plush furnishings and glitzy fittings.
“Many of our projects are in lush, tropical places, and over the years tropical maximalism has become a way of life, especially in terms of gardens. This climate lends itself so easily to gorgeous, overflowing gardens,” Bensley says. “And being a landscape architect, one must always put nature first—the architecture and interiors follow.”
In building an urban Bangkok outpost of her family’s Chiang Mai luxury resort, 137 Pillars, Nida ‘Natty’ Wongphanlert referenced elements of the original property’s heritage aesthetic, traditional handcrafted touches and verdant setting within the new high-rise hotel. “We didn’t consider a minimalistic approach for our property,” she says. Instead, the goal was to provide guests with “a visually stunning and memorable experience,” Wongphanlert says, “combining boldness and elegance.”
She explains, “We utilised luxurious materials such as marble, silk, and brass finishes. We integrated authentic Thai elements, like Jim Thompson curtains and pillow cases, to pay homage to local craftsmanship. To add warmth and depth, we incorporated dark, rich wooden tones along with a navy colour palette, as well as small areas of strong contrasting colours, such as red, and decorative ornaments like our elephant lamps.”
The overall effect could best be described as ‘tastefully maximalist’. “Material selection was incredibly important, aiming for a luxurious feel while incorporating local design in a modern and sophisticated manner,” Wongphanlert says. “Additionally, we wanted to showcase the works of local artists throughout the property, immersing guests in the vibrant local art scene.”
Eye-catching art is a core element of the lavish tableaux created at Singapore’s new Mondrian Duxton hotel by US-based interior designer, Robbyn Carter. She reckons the secret to crafting a maximalist space that bursts with visual interest, without warping the viewer’s mind, lies in “meticulous curation and intentional composition.”
Carter says, “While it may appear chaotic, each element should have a purpose and place within the design. I ensure that there’s a unifying theme or colour palette that threads through the space, anchoring it and preventing it from feeling disjointed.” Success lies in thoughtfully layering textures, patterns and colours to maintain a harmonious balance, she suggests.
“Ultimately, it’s about orchestrating controlled chaos, where every element contributes to the overall narrative, resulting in a vibrant and captivating space that never overwhelms, but continually surprises and delights,” Carter advises. Just as the layout of these magazine pages tempers rather hectic images with plenty of serene white emptiness, Carter says expertly executed maximalist design provides “areas of negative space that allow the eye to rest, preventing sensory overload.”
Chef Ivan Brehm of Michelin-starred Nouri restaurant is responsible for some of Singapore’s most visually stimulating cuisine. (It tends to taste pretty good, too.) Asked how he manages to create dishes that are aesthetically impactful, without being overly fussy or bombastic, he replies, “Obviously that’s the golden ratio, isn’t it? If it was easy, everybody’d be doing it. For me, content—the substance of what you’re doing—leads the way.”
In crafting a meal that is a visual feast and yet, aesthetically balanced, he says, “When done correctly, all of the elements are there to promote a particular idea; they are very much in agreement with one another.” Doing maximalism well requires you to ask yourself, “Are all the elements purposeful? Are they there for a reason? Are they driving a singular message in what you’re trying to express?” Picture perfect as his creations may be, Brehm decries our Insta-driven obsession with the look of food, reminding us that while the eyes eat first, it’s our tastebuds and gullets that savour a dish’s deeper beauty.
An international, multicultural melange he describes as ‘crossroads cuisine,’ Brehm’s cooking is difficult to pin down or categorise. This Brazilian with a German surname is inspired by the cacophony of colours and flavours, sights and sounds, spiritualities and philosophies, of the Mediterranean and North Africa, the Middle East and India, Europe and Scandinavia, South America and Southeast Asia, and beyond.
“When cultures interact, the tendency is for some form of aggregate to take place, which manifests visually, religiously, musically—all of those things start to become more complex,” Brehm says. “And the result is greater than the sum of its parts.” In Brehm’s view, it is the clash of opposing forces and the friction between different approaches that creates something of singular beauty.
“Every movement starts in opposition to another, and it’s because of that opposition that each moves forward,” he says. In much the same way that there can be no light without darkness, maximalism only exists in contrast to minimalism. Yet despite their stark differences, the two ends of the spectrum actually have much in common.
“It’s like a snake eating its own tail,” Brehm says. He gives the example of the type of severe, ascetic, unadorned churches designed by architects like Tadao Ando and John Pawson. “Those spaces are totally overwhelming,” he says. “What could be more maximalist than that?”