How to weave elements from different cultures into the décor of your home
Travelling to other countries is a feast for the senses. Discovering different scenic landscapes, cultures, wildlife, architecture and cityscapes is an exciting adventure. Meanwhile, you treat your tastebuds and olfactory system to new and exotic flavours and aromas. At every pit-stop en route, such as dining or stopping for the night, the details of décor provide another cultural aesthetic to delight in.
Whether soaking up the tranquillity and signs of ritual in a Japanese tearoom or feeling energised by the bold, earthy colours and patterns of a Spanish hacienda, the experience of a new environment is captivating and rejuvenating. Away from the familiar décor of your home and country, the spice of variety can make you feel like you have come back to life after a long sleep.
Using a country you love as your starting template, you can introduce design elements throughout your home and redecorate your bedroom or lounge, or make over your entire house.
When you return home you resolve to hold on to your joi de vivre so, as a reminder, you bring little travel mementos, including carvings, wallhangings and knick-knacks. At that point life tends to gate-crash and it’s easy to slip back into familiar routines. But that doesn’t have to be the case. The sense of adventure and of being awake to all your senses can still be channelled in a very simple way by making changes to your home interiors.
Using a country you love as your starting template, you can introduce design elements throughout your home and redecorate your bedroom or lounge, or make over your entire house. Or, if you have eclectic tastes, you can add elements from different countries to different rooms. To get started, use the following design ideas from all over the world as a springboard for inspiration.
Minimal clutter and simple lines create a sense of calm and tranquillity in Japanese décor. Immediate visual interest can be added with bamboo or shoji-style rice-paper screens or sliding doors. If money is tight, pick one feature-style furniture item, such as a Japanese-style coffee table that’s low to the ground and has a natural wood finish. For your colour palette, choose white, brown, black and beige, but don’t be afraid to add accents in rich shades of red, gold or even purple. These may be sparing and appear in a beautiful pottery tea-set or silk kimono hung on a bamboo rod. You can also add a splash of colour by hanging several silk block screen prints depicting classic Japanese scenes such as cherry blossoms, koi fish in a pond or Japanese kimono-clad villagers.
Low-to-the-floor futon beds, chairs and couches can add to the sense of simple, fuss-free, streamlined living. Where rooms have windows facing out to garden spaces, introduce some exterior Japanese elements such as pebbles, a water feature, wooden decking, bamboo screens or Zen gardens. If possible at the front door, create a little genkan space where there are wooden racks for shoes alongside a simple bench to use when you swap your shoes for slippers. Make sure you also bring a little nature indoors with some bonsai pot-plants or bamboo displayed in big pots or vases.
Lush and colourful textiles are a pivotal feature of Indian interiors. Choose throw cushions in rich reds, golds and purples with patterns embroidered in thread. Select a variety of patterns and colours to evoke the richness of Indian culture, but don’t overdo it or the room will end up feeling too busy. Solid, light-coloured wooden furniture with carved features is a common element of Indian décor and this can be displayed via decorative sandalwood boxes and wooden headboards, screens, side tables and sideboards. Use a variety of textiles to add a mix of textures to each space, such as silk curtains or cushions, jute rugs and cotton or hemp upholstery.
With their golden threads, festive earthy colours and pleasing patterns, Indian saris make great throws and wall-hangings. Search out a few hippie stores or markets to find a bedspread made of saris, which can instantly give your bedroom an exotic Indian feel. In addition, pick up some traditional-style prints depicting cultural images of India, such as elephants and Hindu goddesses. Simple prints of beautiful paisley patterns can also be stylish and appealing. To complete the look, add mirrors, wooden/brass or silver trays, candles and incense.
This décor style offers plenty of eye-catching possibilities. Start with a palette of earthy tones such as ochres, russets, terracottas, browns and blacks mixed with shades of beige and sand to evoke the natural landscape of Africa. Parquetry or bamboo flooring are good choices, or give floorboards a mild rustic wash or matte stain. If animal prints seem too clichéd, mix and match different tribal prints and batiks. Team them with woven rugs featuring multi-coloured stripes or rugs in black-and-white geometric designs such as diamonds, triangles or zigzags.
Minimal clutter and simple lines create a sense of calm and tranquillity in Japanese décor.
Behind large furniture such as beds or couches, a suspended rattan blind can create an accent of nature, which can be offset by displaying tall grasses in large pottery vases. For your featured objects choose wooden carvings, large and small masks, woven baskets, gourd vases and different-sized pods. In furniture, go for dark woods, wicker or repurposed timbers with rustic appeal. For extra tribal ambiance, display musical instruments such as African drums and kalimbas (thumb pianos) as well as figurines with long legs or unusual half-animal half-human forms.
Form and function are the keys to the simple but super-chic Scandinavian style, which became popular in the 1950s alongside social democracy. Paint walls and ceiling crisp white or beige and choose similarly neutral tiles for bathroom and kitchen. Favour floorboards over carpet, whitewashing light-coloured timbers such as pine or birch. Then with upholstery, curtains and other furnishings, add accents of colours such as cobalt blues, greys, charcoal and olive or muted mint.
Couches, chairs and tables should have sleek, simple lines and plain wooden frames in light-coloured timbers, such as pine and oak. Keep surfaces of sideboards and tables uncluttered and pot-plants should feature simple, green plants. Choose unpatterned fabrics in neutral colours and made of natural fibres for furniture and blinds. Space furniture like couch chairs a little apart to create an ambiance of space and flow. If possible, add skylights or install several large windows to allow plenty of natural light.
The first thing a Moroccan interior needs is vibrant colour, so don’t be afraid to mix up rich shades of purple, turquoise, yellow and rose-pink. These can appear in throw cushions and also classic Moroccan lanterns, which can be suspended or placed atop wooden sideboards or stands. Every Moroccan space also needs ottoman seating; choose from ottoman couches, ottoman-style chairs or round, octagonal or low square Ottoman pouffes. Decorate couches or ottoman daybeds with throw cushions and throw rugs in exotic fabrics and patterns. Large and small cushions can also be scattered on the floor for an appealing corner feature in a room. Add to the mix a few small circular coffee and side tables with carved design features or patterns made from inlaid shells.
The eye-catching geometrical designs of Moroccan tiles can make another strong design statement in areas like bathrooms and kitchens — use them in one block or in one or two rows as featured tiles. If you can’t retile, buy some large Moroccan tiles to use as coasters under vases, cups and other decorative items. Or simply display Moroccan tiles as a feature all on their own on top of a wooden sideboard with curved decorative legs.
Simple but stylish are the key features of French design chic. Neutral colours such as white, beige and eggshell form a calming and pleasing background palette for the walls. If you want to add more old-world appeal, apply them in a whitewash. Against this neutral backdrop, add in small splashes of vintage green, rose, lavender, lilac and peach on chair upholstery and throw pillows. Wrought-iron looks right for bed frames and curtain rods in the bedroom and also works for rustic pot racks and herb planters in the kitchen. Keep textiles on chairs and couches earthy and unpatterned so you can then choose more eye-catching patterned cushions and lamps. These can feature vintage floral patterns or fleur-de-lis designs or images of pears or birds or grapes in rich reds, greens, golds and deep blues.
Form and function are the keys to the simple but super-chic Scandinavian style.
Keen on a more Provincial look? Then pick up some white or whitewashed tallboys, sideboards and bookcases with ornate legs, rounded edges and decorative handles. A white cabinet featuring stencilling, or a feature armchair or couch with rolled arms and embossed upholstery can also look very appealing.
Going for a more rustic French feel? Then choose tables, sideboards, wardrobes and tallboys made of distressed, recycled or repurposed woods. Continue this feel with a scattering of urns, wooden baskets, copper bowls, ceramic water pitchers and thick pottery jugs. Then install some herbs or lavender in terracotta floor planters of some large pots holding circular topiary plants. And don’t forget to display some candles in sconces and candelabras.
Whether you’re using Thailand, Vietnam or Indonesia as your style inspiration, there are certain similar threads that run through Asian-influenced décor. First, earthy colours such as browns, oranges, reds and beiges form a pleasing nature-inspired backdrop. Against this palette, splashes of green, blue, purple or gold can also mix in nicely. Wooden furniture and accessories are key to this look, so it’s worth saving up for a few signature pieces such as wooden screens, daybeds or love seats, antique feature doors or cabinets. Other materials such as wicker, stone, bamboo, clay and limestone also layer together well to provide visual textural interest.
Underfoot, mats made from rattan, seagrass, jute, hemp, bamboo, reeds, grasses or leaves provide the right texture. Overhead, floating above daybeds, beds, couches and outside dining areas, canopies made of light fabrics or tab curtains in materials such as cheesecloth, silk or other natural fabrics can be strung as a feature visual focus. Add some batik scatter cushions and throw fabric or cover a material bedhead or chair cushions in batik fabric.
Then add a range of other decorative elements such as masks, Javanese shadow puppets, ornamental boats, wooden bowls, statues and woven baskets/platters. Large Asian jewellery pieces can be eye-catching displayed on a wall, and patterned/paper/silk umbrellas look very appealing when suspended from the ceiling. And don’t forget to hang up some paper lanterns of different sizes and colours.
Aztec-style designs and stripes provide an immediate vibrant energy in South American homes and they can feature in everything from woven blankets and rugs to folk art, folk dolls and woven wall-hangings. If you don’t have mud-brick walls or bagged brick to pay lip service to the adobe houses of Mexico and Peru, you can still paint walls the bright arresting colours of South America, such as hot and cold reds, terracotta, yellow, green, blue and even pink. If you are artistic or have artistic friends, a South American pattern or mural on a wall can also add a nice touch.
Dark wooden carved doors can become an eye-catching feature behind a couch or bed, while colourful talavera-style tiles or small mosaic features can brighten up areas like the bathroom and kitchen. Adorn beds with stunning embroidered quilt covers featuring folk-style embroidery of flowers or animals or South American patterns. You can also display some talavera-style ceramic pottery vases, jars, plates and bowls on top of wooden tables and sideboards. To complete the scene, feature a framed print of a classic artist like Frida Kahlo.
You don’t need to be an interior designer to weave elements from different cultures into the décor of your home. To quickly evoke some of your favourite cultures, add:
- Folk art, including masks, dolls and clothes
- Throw pillows and rugs that feature weaves, symbols, patterns or animals from that region
- The right paint palette, whether earthy or colourful
- A mix of different materials used in the region, such as dark or light wood, pottery, glass and metals
- Objects that might be used in everyday life, such as bowls, jewellery, umbrellas and musical instruments