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Decorating Styles

Decorating with a World Flair

The warm colors and animal print offer a taste of Africa.

Given modern travel and technology, our oceans have shrunk and the boundaries between nations have all but faded, and the result is a greater influx than ever of fresh and energizing ideas.

Today you can celebrate a number of cultures without ever having to leave your home by decorating with a world flair. A mix of elements -- be they Asian, Swedish, or Indian -- imbue a room with memorable presence and personality.


You may already adore hurricane lamps, wooden shutters, tie-dyed fabrics, and vivid colors like azure and lemon-yellow and not know these elements have their roots in the Caribbean.

Also, the dark Colonial-style furniture -- much of it boldly carved -- that is so coveted now was produced for British colonials who occupied the islands long ago. With a ceiling fan, some well-chosen rattan pieces, and a few large plants you can evoke a similar atmosphere without a lot of expense.

Look beyond the styles you already are familiar with, and a whole world of breathtaking ideas awaits!

Materials that we have come to love such as bamboo, porcelain, lacquer, silk, and bronze, for instance, are all products of Asia, a country that has inspired architects and designers for centuries.

Asia's refined furniture and fabric design had a dramatic effect on the Art and Crafts movement in the '30s. Military personnel who served in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam brought Asian furnishings home with them, and that also spurred American interest.

Now, with most trade barriers down, many sought-after Asian pieces are readily available and affordable. A room derived from, say, a Japanese aesthetic provides a calming, Zen-like atmosphere, which is just what we need to relieve the stress of everyday pressures. For this kind of timeless decorating, a less-is-more approach works best.

The sheer, breezy drapes and bare wood evoke Argentina.

Since walls contain more square footage than any other surface in the room, wall-coverings are one of the simplest and quickest ways to infuse a living room or dining room with Asian ambiance.

Go global with patterns that mimic natural materials like bamboo, granite, and cork in subtle earth tones, or for more drama, investigate grass cloth or metallic grass cloth in copper or gold. Neutral-colored flooring such as sisal or sea grass rugs will allow your furniture to stand out and make your room appear lighter and airier than before.

The buttery yellow walls, touches of red, and dark wood let you imagine you're slumbering in a Tuscan villa.

To get a breath of Eastern air without scrapping all the furnishings and accessories in the room, invest in one wonderful piece. A shapely Japanese stair chest or an ornate antique Chinese table is better than a room full of minor players. To assure that your new star looks like it belongs, be sure to keep the scale consistent.

Strip the space of accessories, and then carefully add back in ones that carry the right message. Minor alterations like changing the hardware on a hand-me-down bureau to metal handles inspired by characters of the Asian language will make a huge impact.

And when it comes to flowers, do as the decorators do: A cache of graceful apple blossom branches or delicate yellow forsythia (you could force your own every spring) are far more enlightened in an Asian-inspired room than a fussy arrangement.

The floor pillows, low table, and natural mat are reminiscent of a Japanese tea room.

Moroccan and Indian accessories are very current and popular. Search out throws, floor pillows dazzling enough for a Bedouin tent, and inexpensive but carefully chosen artifacts. Pretty Indian-inspired jacquard panels hung at the window or black-and-rust-colored hand-thrown pots from Tunisia exude an intriguing faraway flavor. Spice up your private domain, too.

A reproduction Balinese bed mounded with velvet pillows and layered with a lush Moroccan brocade duvet and shams creates a scene right out of the Arabian Nights. Lay a hand-knotted rug from Turkey in mellow gold hues where your toes will find it first thing every morning.

Visit shops and galleries that specialize in imported furnishings as well as rugs and art. A lovely 20th-century kimono hung on the wall is an exotic accent. Design centers, home stores, furniture stores, and mail-order catalogs feature a large variety of tempting globally inspired furniture and accessories, everything from inexpensive hand-carved pagoda lamps and Chinese country baskets to lacquered Chinese-like storage units for books, CDs, tapes, and other media.

From the top of the world comes another design breeze with a similar pared-down and be-simple kind of attitude but with a whole different venue. Originating in the mid-18th century, under the influence of King Gustav III, Scandinavian style is a look that slides effortlessly into place in a contemporary, open-plan house.

Features that appeared long ago -- delicate furniture, uncluttered rooms, and decorative paintings -- are being embraced all over again. The spare lines and uncluttered, harmonious interiors address our need to slow down and appreciate life's little things, like the slant of the morning sun across a bare floor or the stillness that envelops a house when snow falls.

Scandinavian design embraces clean lines, light-colored wood, and pale blue.

Born in a country deprived of the sun for months on end, Swedish style concocts a light of its own with rooms painted luminous shades of icy blue or muted white. Although these colors make up the classic recipe, you can achieve the same aura by painting walls (plaster or paneled) the palest grade of green or pink.

A simple swag or a stenciled border of summer flowers trailing along a wall is traditional and adds visual interest in a living room, bedroom, or bath. Wall-coverings are also suitable, but they should be dainty in scale. Blue-and-white tiles (try a decorative ridge behind the kitchen or bath sink or around the hearth) are standard elements.

Veto dark, gloomy wood floors in favor of light woods like beech or ash, or hide an existing floor under a coat of white paint. Curtains should be simple, unbleached muslin. If you can't live without a snap of color, gingham is pretty and also light-affirming.

Dark furnishings would upset the wintry mood, and nothing pulls together a mismatched group of furniture better than a coat of pristine white. One word of caution: Swedish rooms have few furnishings and what is used is carefully arranged around a focal point like a ceramic-tiled stove or fireplace. Edit what you have down to a few well-loved, comfortable pieces.

Get the Look

  • Cover pillows in crewel fabric or batik.
  • Frame a large vintage world map for the dining or living room.
  • Bleach floors and walls to shape a Scandinavian decor.

All these styles can come to life in your home. It's just a matter of making a few decisions and finding the right materials. When you walk into your house and smile, you know you've done it right.

One style that has enjoyed a long popularity is Arts and Crafts. For an example of an Arts and Crafts-style room, see the next page.

To learn more about interior design and get tips and information on decorating your home, visit:

  • Interior Decorating: Get tips on how to decorate your home and read about organizing a project and selecting an interior design that fits your lifestyle.
  • Home Decorating Tips: Learn about home decorating styles and get tips on how to plan and complete decorating projects.
  • Decorating a Room: Find out how to decorate a room from floor-to-ceiling.
  • How to Design a Kitchen: Create a kitchen that works for you and get tips on how to choose and place appliances and create a decorating scheme.
  • Kids Rooms: Get tips on decorating your child's room, with information on colors, smart strategies, and money-saving tips.