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Bring Home Global Style

Get the look of international style in your home without ever leaving the country.

The Mediterranean coast, vintage European posters, Indonesian batik, a Japanese kimono, an Ethiopian three-legged stool, tea from Ceylon, Uzbekistan textiles. These are just a few of the many international inspirations that are influencing the U.S. decorating picture. From language to cuisine to furnishings, there is a heightened appreciation for the world’s diverse design and cultural heritage.

Whether a homeowner travels to foreign locales or simply dreams of adventures while drinking oolong tea, global style has become a reality, says color expert Aimee Desrosiers, director of marketing at California Paints. "Today home decorating is about adapting diverse design influences to fit our own individual taste and style. Our homes say something about who we are and what we believe in, what items we treasure from the past, and what new collectibles we’ve acquired in our travels," she says. And whether your last trip was to a Moroccan bazaar halfway around the world or only as far as the international collections at the local Target, you can create an escape of global proportions.

It’s a Small World After All

Why are Americans now opening up to global style? Part of it is our modern-day cultural mosaic, says Desrosiers, who is also a member of the Color Marketing Group, which studies such things. Whether you travel or not, the world really is a smaller place, with ethnic and international influences staring at you from every corner, she says. And though travel is still relatively limited, people have wanderlust. "Rather than doing it externally and going to all of those places, they might bring the excitement home in a paint color or ethnic furnishings," she says.

Those who do travel often come home with photos that inspire a new palette. She suggests that travelers take their photos to their nearest paint retailer and start pulling chips. "Try to match the colors of the sky, the land, the ocean, the architecture, the colors of the people," says Desrosiers, "whatever it is that takes you back to that place and how you felt when you were there."

Or if you brought back a textile, piece of art or clothing, pick out the colors from that item for walls, furnishings and accents, she says. "Look at the vibrant colors in Indian saris. You could pull out a spicy orange and a few other hues and mix them up in your own way." The result will be something that is international but is personal to the homeowner. "It’s not something prepackaged that says India or Sweden; it’s something you’ve created and that is individual."

An Affair to Remember

Such is the desire for an international look in our homes that California Paints has a Southeast Asian-influenced World Affairs Palette that contains selections called EcoTourist, Can Can, Coconut Curry, Sari and Passport. Its Tropical Paradise line (think Thailand or the Caribbean) inspires visions of dark wood and linen, says Desrosiers. "Forget neon-pink flamingos. We’re talking about the atmosphere of palms, natural fibers, bamboo, tortoise, walnut, rattan and tropical flora and fruit."

Just Your Cup of Tea

The whole art and practice of serving and drinking tea has caught on like wildfire in America, and with it has come an interest in the cultures of the countries where the tea is grown. Maybe because drinking tea is more meditative than slugging down a soda or a cup of coffee, we’ve become more open to the kind of style that seems to go with it, a style that is often seen in today’s trendy tearooms.

At Samovar,, in San Francisco, color consultant and paint specialist Barbara Jacobs created a riveting atmosphere with two paint finishes: a waxed troweled effect and a dragging technique. "The wall where Buddha sits is a dark chocolate brown with red layered on top and then waxed," she says. The rest of the space is done in a raw-silk-like finish created by dragging a big brush through a thick material. The resulting bumps and threads resemble the slubs and imperfections of silk. "I’ve done this technique in people’s homes and it’s a really beautiful sophisticated finish," says Jacobs.

As drinking tea has become a lifestyle choice, retailers are offering more Zen-like furnishings that provide a sense of peace and global flair, from rattan and wicker to wooden Asian stools — not to mention teapots in every possible style and color.

Mediterranean Style

Another lifestyle choice that is influencing design is the Mediterranean movement in cooking, says Taylor Hastie, director of design and trend analysis at Home Depot’s Expo design centers. "Ten years ago people didn’t have artisan or gourmet olive oils or balsamic vinegar. Now they’re very comfortable with Mediterranean cooking, and that has spread into the design of kitchens." The burnt orange, blue and white of the Mediterranean basin are popular as well as hues such as saffron, wine and indigo — spicy colors that Hastie calls "Mediterranean Napa."

International Inspiration

As part of her job, Hastie travels across the world to design shows, introducing Expo merchants to the international color stories and style directions for the year. Here are some of the ideas and trends she has picked up on her global adventures:

  • Silk panels, sheer and iridescent, were shown in aubergine and burnt orange. "I also saw a lot of white-on-white in different textures," Hastie says. "In fact, I got some that actually look like silhouettes — like lace stenciled onto a white sheer. It is beautifully monochromatic with big bold shapes."

  • Since tile is a big part of Expo’s kitchen and bath offerings, Hastie spent a lot of time being amazed by tiles from around the world. "Bisazza is doing black and white mosaic tiles that create a blown-up image [now available by special order at Expo]. And the mosaic tiles from Italy were amazing. I saw a lot of glass and tile sculpted into different shapes. Glass was everywhere, including countertops and walls."

  • The variety and beauty of countertops captured Hastie’s fancy. "There was everything from wood lava stone from France that is made from actual lava to copper and a compressed paper/pulp countertop product called Richlite [actually made in the U.S.]." And countertops were in brilliant colors, she says: "I was in Spain at a kitchen and tile show and saw that they were doing orange solid-surface countertops with red and orange contrasts against white in the kitchen."

  • At the Maison et Objet show in Paris, Hastie saw a style she dubbed Asian fusion feng shui. "Feng shui has been around for a while, but the European influence mixed in with the Asian is interesting. There are strong metallic charcoal colors mixed with what I call a Manchurian yellow," she says. Hastie loved the beautiful agate turquoise and persimmon colors influenced by antique pottery and ceramics combined with a charcoal black. "This isn’t a black black; it’s black mixed with white and provides a wonderful contrast," she says.

  • Swedish Country Gustavian colors — a chalky bisque, a matte robin’s egg blue tinted with white, a mauve beige with bisque — all caught Hastie’s eye. "You see this look in Paris stores and European hotel styling. It’s a traditional European antique country look that’s clean and not cluttered. It’s very monochromatic but with a sense of country and romance."

Anne Krueger is the editor of's Decorating newsletter. She has written for In Style, This Old House, Martha Stewart Living and The New York Times.

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