I'm not sure I understood everything you have mentioned, but in relation to "no frills" desktops, it does depend on what "frills" means to each individual. Personally, when I began with fedora's predecessor, red hat, I installed the standard installation and learnt about linux by playing around and communicating with those who knew more. Then I went through a phase of minimalism where I wanted to have on my computer just what I used and no more, as if I didn't want to have "useless" stuff hanging around taking up space on my hard-disk. But as I grew with linux knowledge, I found that programs, or apps, that I had previously not installed, did become necessary for me to install to accomplish more computing tasks. Recently, and for quite a few years now, especially since hard-disk sizes have increased heaps, I simply install the whole distribution and so get everything that is on the installation disk, even though I know I'm not going to use most of it soon, if at all. But occasionally, I found that I did start to use some apps here and there which I would not have predicted at the time of initial installation, and I was glad that they were on my hard-disk and that I didn't have to go and install them separately. In fact I use a lot of apps that don't come with the install disk, so I install them immediately after the installation is done. I suppose what I'm saying here is that I have the best result for my computing needs when I install more rather than less.
Now, in relation to the desktop environment, mine is absoutely minimal even though I have Gnome and Kde and the others installed. So my installation is "maximal" but the desktop is minimal. I don't start up these desktop environments, though I use some of the applications that come with them from time to time. I start in runlevel 3, which is a pretty minimal startup (to a single console), and then I start X and run a window manager with no images at all, which is far short of a desktop environment with its menus and thumbnails and root window wallpaper. Sometimes I like to play a Kde game, so I can do so easily because the app is there already installed, but I don't need the Kde desktop environment to be running to do that. Other times I might run a gnome app, like gnome-calculator, and it's there because I have Gnome installed, but no Gnome desktop environment running. Apps can be run from a terminal, or an xterm if they depend on X, so the user doesn't need a menu system if they know the command to start an app. So, I guess that what I'm saying here is that minimal desktop doesn't need or depend on a minimal installation.
I hope these comments are relevant to your subject of interest, but as I have implied, there are a multitude of possibilities available on the matter of what to install and what is available. ben.