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