Souvenir Style

Little treasures -- from antique spoons to unique flea-market finds -- can be a decorating windfall. The Funky Shui sisters show you how to decorate with souvenirs.


Well-Traveled Textiles

By: Jennifer O'Neil and Kitty O'Neil

Global chic is everywhere. Walk through your local home decorating store and you’re bound to see motifs with international roots. Accessories like hand-carved bowls from Thailand, hand-woven kilims from Morocco, and hand-hammered tin mirrors from the Mayan Riviera infuse your decor with texture and color. But why buy the same picture frames and candleholders as your neighbors when you can add spice from your own personal travels? As you hit the road this summer, keep an eye out for decorator touches posing as souvenirs. Look for items your destination is famous for, such as linen from Ireland, pottery from Portugal, and baskets from the Bahamas. Then give those mementos a place of honor in your home and every time you see them, you’ll think of your trip to another country, not your trip to Pier One.

Fabrics from exotic locales pack well in your suitcase and pack a big punch in your decor. Look for locally crafted textiles like French country tablecloths in Provence, batik bedspreads in Bali, and raw-silk runners in India. Reverse appliqué Molas from Panama make bright and beautiful wall hangings. A cushion cover from Peru adds a touch of South America to any room. If your trip doesn’t take you abroad, you can still bring home fabulous fabric furnishings. Think quilts from the Amish country and wool from Pendleton, or visit a sidewalk art show for one-of-a kind pieces by local fiber artists. With such striking fabric accents, even your home will feel refreshed after your holiday.



Exotic Objects

To get a taste of jet-set style, seek out exciting objets d’art while you explore your destination. Don’t be daunted by large items or breakable pieces––many places will ship the item to your home. Taking a voyage to Venice? A hand-blown glass vase will look stunning on your credenza. Exploring Kenya? Hand-carved wooden animals will remind you of your wildlife safari (and seeing the Big Five!). How about a matte black rice bowl from Hong Kong? It will look like a modern work of art on your coffee table, and the prices in the markets are so good, why not get three? Get a Chinese Chop with a hand-carved puppy and you’ll never forget you went to China in the Year of the Dog.



Adventures in Art

For more global flair, mix color and character into your decor with folk art. You can buy original works right from the source while you’re on vacation. Visit the Huichol Indians in Mexico, learn about their culture, then bring home a colorful yarn painting made by the very same artists. Headed to the big city? You can buy "local folk" art there, too. Just watch for street artists selling watercolors of scenic hotspots. What exemplifies a trip to the Big Apple better than a painting of The Brooklyn Bridge? Once you decorate your home with real art from your travels, you’ll never hang mass-produced art on your walls again.



Vacation Vignettes

Smaller souvenirs can make a big statement when arranged into travel vignettes. Russian Matryoshka dolls look like priceless collectibles when you showcase them with handpainted lacquer boxes. Buy postcards or take photos to serve as backdrops for your displays. Show petrified wood from Arizona in front of a postcard of the Grand Canyon. Exhibit evil eyes from Istanbul with a picture of you buying them at the bazaar. These vignettes are ideal if you already have lots of little mementos from past trips. On their own they might be hodgepodge, but displayed with your best snapshots, they become a three-dimensional vacation scrapbook that is a custom decorator touch.



Gift Shop Chic

Kitschy keepsakes are inexpensive and irresistible! And if you love this look but think it isn’t decorator-chic, think again. Vintage state map fabrics are showing up in decorator showrooms, and you can get your own as tea towels on your next trip to a roadside Stuckey’s! Other classic souvenirs, like snow globes, floaty pens, and magnets, can make a big statement grouped together in a big collection. Thirty snow globes side-by-side make a whimsical conversation piece. One hundred matchbooks from around the world add spark to a plain vase. State spoons, teacups, and plates look charming together––and these silly souvenirs are practical, too. Next time you have the book club over, break out the teacups and lighten the mood with Key Lime Pie served on a Florida state plate. Now that’s souvenir style!

More Funky Shui Inspiration:

Sisters Kitty and Jennifer O’Neil are authors of Decorating With Funky Shui (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2004). The San Francisco duo credits their parents and their grandfather (Chic Young, the creator of the Blondie comic strips) for their distinctive style. For more, visit their Funky Shui website,

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