The History and Concept of Minimalism

LARSEN & ERIKSEN offers minimalist watches designed with a distinctly Scandinavian aesthetic. Scandinavian design and Swiss part movements are the core building blocks of our wristwatches. We strive to create minimalist watches for men and women that will not only provide excellent punctuality but will also serve as an aesthetic design element. 

From time to time we get asked if minimalism is the opposite of the excessive maximalism? If so, what does it stand for? How does minimalist philosophy influence the world of design? Moreover, is Scandinavian design equivalent to minimalist design? What do they have in common and what not? We have done some research and we invite you to dig into the world of minimalist and also Scandinavian design - the definition, history and concept characteristics. If we break it down to a definition in linguistic terms, according to the Cambridge Online Dictionary:

DEFINITION OF 'MINIMALISM' BY CAMBRIDGE ONLINE DICTIONARY

Very often we hear the words “simplicity, setting the limits, avoiding all the extras, bare minimum” and so on when it comes to defining a minimalist approach. We want to make it clear once and for all, so let us introduce you to the history of minimalism, its concepts and common misconceptions. Moreover, why is Danish and generally Scandinavian design characterized as minimalist?

A BRIEF HISTORY OF MINIMALISM

In the mid-20th century, due to all the post-war consequences and conditions people lived in, it makes perfect (and human) sense that people wanted to purchase more and more as soon as it was finally possible. Previously, people had experienced a lack of supplies and there was almost none or definitely not a wide range of options regarding getting even daily necessities. There were no offers in the market and even if there were, people were not able to afford much. Therefore, as soon as the consumerism flourished, maximalism experienced its prime.  

It’s not only the global financial situation that influenced all the buying behavior back then. The development of infrastructure (accessibility to new materials like steel, glass and concrete etc.) played a crucial role as well. However, most of the sources state that the Minimalism movement started in the 1960s and 1970s due to artists preferring simple geometric shapes and lines, literal and objective meaning, leaving Abstract Expressionism (and all the unnecessary layers) behind. Don’t get us wrong – it was not only art in terms of paintings and sculpture. It was architecture, product design and later on even interior design and lifestyle.

Emphasizing only the essential parts might lead back to 1915 when the Russian painter Kasimir Malevich created a composition of a black square on a white background – that’s it, nothing less and nothing more. As time passed by, more and more influential professionals preferred art that referred only to itself and nothing else, being straightforward and reducing whatever might seem excessive. 

The Black Square by Kazimir Malevich

BLACK SQUARE BY KAZIMIR MALEVICH (1915)

Most of the experts say that minimalism officially emerged in New York (around the 1960s). What is amusing is that it was also called ABC art, Literalist art, Object art or Cool art. However, these days we mostly use the term “minimalism” or “minimalist” in order to refer to the concept. So what is it really all about?

THE CONCEPT OF MINIMALISM

Minimalism is about avoiding the unnecessary , it’s about simplicity, utility and elegance. It’s all about “LESS IS MORE” in terms of embracing the most of fewer things. The most common misconception is that minimalists “suffer” and “sacrifice” while having less things and less interesting experiences. Truth be told, it’s quite the opposite. True minimalists need only particularly selected items and they make the most of them, thus enriching (and not limiting) their experience. Simply put, quality triumphs over quantity. You have  probably heard of Marie Kondo, the Japanese organizing consultant, the diva of decluttering your house and closet, inspired by minimalism. Unfortunately, the consumerist culture  and attachment to things rather than experiences has led to giving too much meaning to our material things. Minimalists would find happiness and joy in life itself and the experiences it provides. The things they possess are carefully chosen and have a purpose of not only serving you, but also adding a meaningful experience to your life. Minimalists own things that matter, things that have much higher value than just taking up space on the shelf. Moreover, minimalism is characterized by intentionality and getting rid of all the possible distractions and coincidental purchases. Consequently, as a minimalist, you would intend to purchase an item that you really need (not only want) and as a result all aspects of your life would improve. They would simply make more sense. Genuine minimalists have a freedom from the passion to possess (just to have something), it is a freedom of the contemporary mania. 

You should not go for minimalism just to get approval, amusement or admiration from your loved ones, since minimalists live their lives internally and not externally. It is firstly about being in harmony with yourself and then the rest of the World, not vice versa.  Being a minimalist is a state of mind rather than a set of rules or harsh restrictions. 

Yes, it might seem quite difficult to narrow down on our purchases and expenses as there are literally billions of things available in the modern World today. It definitely takes some time, effort and energy to be able to enjoy what you have and not to desire more and more. Nevertheless, isn’t it a great life goal? To value yourself more than material things, to have only what you need. Wouldn’t it be amazing to be able to breathe, to focus, to have less but more at the same time? Minimalists truly believe that it can reduce your level of stress and make your life more fulfilling. Simultaneously, another ridiculous misconception is that minimalism means buying less and buying cheap stuff. That couldn’t be more wrong – it is not about the price at all.  If you buy one expensive item (instead of buying 5 cheap ones), you might still save money. You do yourself a favor. You have something you need, regardless of how much it costs, and it has a value and purpose in your life. Clever, huh? 

To sum up, minimalism is about prioritizing, being aware and conscious of your belongings, time, energy and relationships. Minimalists are authentic individuals; they worship simplicity and avoid the superficial mass consumerism. Minimalism is about highlighting the beauty, the essence and the true purpose of things in our life. 

Vernon Howard, an American spiritual teacher and philosopher, stated that simple living is about increasing self-sufficiency where individuals are satisfied with what they have rather than want - “you have succeeded in life when all you really want is only what you really need”. This approach seems familiar to the Scandinavian way of living. Might that be one of the reasons why Danes have been nominated as one of the happiest nationalities several times? 

MINIMALISM VS SCANDINAVIAN DESIGN

Even if people don’t define themselves as minimalists, they might also prefer minimalist design. You don't have to be a minimalist in order to enjoy minimalist design watches, for example. So no, minimalism and Scandinavian design are not synonymous. Minimalism is just a part of Scandinavian design. It’s also breathtaking simplicity and functionality which we see in so many homes all around the world now. In Scandinavia, the movement began to develop around the 1950s. You might think of Swedish IKEA – simple, pretty and accessible – as the pillar of Scandinavian design. However, Denmark has been pushing the minimalist approach to a much higher extent. 

 POSTER BY LARSEN & ERIKSEN

Denmark is a tiny nation (~5,7 million inhabitants), and as many countries it faced financial challenges in the post-war era. There was a need to survive with the bare functional minimum. That may have been the push for the minimalist approach – wise choices of less, but better objects and belongings for everyday life. Then, in the mid-20th century, designers such as Arne Jakobsen, Kaare Klint and Poul Henningsen set the standards for Danish living in terms of design. Fortunately, also the Danish government strongly believed  that innovative design might lead to a happier nation and general well-being. Hence, the architectural minimalism, clean and well-planned, sophisticated outdoor and indoor environment was born. Another important aspect is the climate – as it is comparatively cold(ish) throughout the year, interior design and living spaces had to be as enjoyable and well-thought as possible as their homes are a sanctuary for Danes. You are probably tired of hearing about the Danish “hygge” phenomenon which has no direct translation in English (roughly could be translated as coziness, harmony, being surrounded by warm people in a warm room, having good food and a good time). However, that is exactly what makes Denmark and Danish design so special. It’s simple, but outstanding, it’s one-of-a-kind. It’s stylish, but practical. 

Oprah Winfrey, the world-famous talk show host, was so amused by the environmentally conscious and well-governed Denmark when she visited it in 2009. Her observation goes as follows “Less space, less things, more life”. Yes, most Danes do not cherish consumerism as highly as Americans, they cherish and focus on living. 

Even though minimalist design might seem identical to Scandinavian or Danish design, there are a few differences in these concepts. They both emphasize simplicity and function, but the main differences are the materials used (stainless steel, lacquered plastics, chrome for minimalist design and organic materials and design elements like rugs, hemp, curved wood, baskets, plants for Scandinavian design). Danes also worship the importance of light, celebration of form, playful whimsy elements and monochromism. If we compare “traditional” 60’s minimalism originated in the USA, Scandinavian design has a softer touch. For example, subtle, neat pastel tones, creamy grey and soft edges that express an invitation to comfort (not only amusement). In Danish design nature plays a significant role, there are clean lines, simple profiles, eco-materials, playful choices of patterns, a lot of plants and, of course, the lighting. 

Another reason behind the development of Scandinavian and Danish design was the housing situation – it was expensive and quite limited in space, therefore the furniture and interior elements had to be multifunctional. Danish items are built to last, to be enjoyed and appreciated. Most importantly, to be efficient and beautiful in their simplicity. Just like minimalists, a lot of Danes buy less, but better. Like in minimalism – it’s all about authenticity (and NOT showing off). It’s about acknowledging oneself and the near surroundings, it’s about embracing life.

Bear in mind that not all minimalists go for only Scandinavian design, and not all who admire and prefer Scandinavian design are necessarily minimalists. 

LARSEN & ERIKSEN appreciates and proudly preserves the rich heritage of Danish design. We strive to create minimalist watches and interiors. As mentioned previously, beauty lies in simplicity. While simplicity is not less interesting or plain, it’s just very well-thought-out, precise and exactly what we need, not less, not more. 

LARSEN & ERIKSEN minimalist watch

When browsing our website, you can see a wide range of classic and elegant minimalist watches: for men, for women, for everyone. As a matter of fact, at LARSEN & ERIKSEN we don’t feel the need to divide humans into gender. Consequently, we only design unisex watches. So, it doesn’t matter if you are looking for a men’s watches or a watch for women – we’ve got you covered. Visit our web shop to experience our full range of beautiful Scandinavian design.