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10 World Traveler Decorating Ideas

You don't have to travel the globe to decorate like you've been on a journey.
You don't have to travel the globe to decorate like you've been on a journey.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

You want your décor to reflect your good taste, worldly sensibilities and appreciation for the extraordinary, but if you haven't traveled more than 500 miles from the city stamped on your birth certificate, creating that big Bwana vibe can be a challenge.

Just because you haven't toured the Punjab, it doesn't mean you're condemned to the provinces when it comes to creating décor that embraces all the wanderlust in your heart. An armchair traveler is as surely the beneficiary of a spectacular Alaskan sunset as the poor mosquito-bitten guy who actually shelled out his hard-earned cash for the real deal. TV, movies and the Internet bring the world's wonders to our longing eyeballs -- lazy devils that we are.

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Let's indulge in a little excursion through decorating territory filled with global panache. If you've ever wanted a few colorful stamps on your steamer trunk, this one's for you.

You may not be able to decorate your walls with fierce animal heads from past safaris, but you can adorn that pale drywall with a few fiendishly clever weapons. A hand carved Maori spear or Aboriginal boomerang will give you that dangerous air women love and men respect. Although you should keep your firearms in a locked cabinet, no one ever said you couldn't hang that slingshot in a place of honor the neighborhood squirrels will whisper about in awe and reverence.

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Thank the gods of common sense that elephant-foot wastebaskets have been outlawed, but there are still plenty of other tasteless critter-based baubles and biological oddities you can seed your bookshelves with. A shrunken head -- even if it is of the faux variety -- will have late-night guests gasping with delight as they look for a little bedtime reading material. There's nothing like a stuffed porcupine or steer skull to let folks know you've been around the block a few times -- too many.

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Your kitchen can easily look like it belongs in wine country.
Your kitchen can easily look like it belongs in wine country.
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A date palm mural in your dining room or the constellation of Taurus painted on your ceiling (in glow in the dark paint) will add that man-of-the-world look to your rooms. Stencil a bull elephant on your bedroom wall -- we dare you. If that's too earthy, give your kitchen a little Tuscan charm with faux grapes, faux stone and faux wrought iron -- or create a built-in bistro in your breakfast nook with a striped awning complete with an espresso maker and a blackboard menu. Viola! Like magic, you too can experience La Rive Gauche, or the wonders of an evening in Tuscany under a canopy of stars.

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If the Orient Express sounds mysterious and enticing, or the Hogwarts Express seems like the perfect whimsical touch, put movement in your design by adopting a transportation theme. You don't have to stick with train, steamer trunk and ticket stub motifs, either. How about jet airplanes? They work at John Travolta's house, and they can work for you, too. If you like something more grounded, how about a Tin Lizzy (old Ford Model T) mural from before freeways, cruise control and GPS tracking? Better yet, try a Pony Express coach design with horses and saddlebags. Build a headboard out of old surfboards, or turn your son's abandoned tricycle into a table centerpiece. Longing for something minimalist? Immortalize a pair of old shoes by displaying them with a hitchhiker's thumb fashioned from papier-mâché. If it gets you from here to there, it's fair game.

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Include compasses, weathervanes, and even pirate ship swag to complete the look.
Include compasses, weathervanes, and even pirate ship swag to complete the look.
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Don't you love old maps? With the admonition, "There Be Giants," printed on the parts no one has explored yet, maps make the perfect decorating theme for world travelers (and world traveler wannabees). They capture the mystery of exploration. Don't think small when you're considering map décor, either. Go big. Those puny wallpaper-border maps are an insult. They make our big blue marble look like a discarded orange peel. Take a wall -- take two walls, and freehand a huge world map your kids can really investigate. Block print exotic names like Timbuktu, Katmandu and Xanadu (wait a minute; that last one isn't real!) large enough to inspire questions and daydreams.

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Sponge Bob will have nothing to complain about when you use coastal motifs to transform your family room into a windswept section of beach or a replica of the ocean floor. Turn your bathroom into a sunken treasure cave, and enjoy Neptune's throne in splendor. Bring Jacques Cousteau's explorations to your dining room, and experience your own version of the bends when your in-laws come to dinner. The vast, deep ocean is filled with wonder and menace. Make it your own.

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Now, that looks like a cozy bed.
Now, that looks like a cozy bed.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

A leather trunk, an atlas that spins, African masks, lacquered cabinets encrusted with semi-precious gems, and specimen cases filled with mounted butterflies are all clichés that announce that someone steeped in worldly tradition and possessed of arcane knowledge lives here. You can turn your back on brass accents, boldly patterned textiles and grasses woven into everything from brooms to baby beds, but why not revel in all things rare and far-flung? Install mosquito netting around your bed. That gauzy stuff can be an aphrodisiac as well as a vermin repellent. Walk on the wild side with faux tusk-handled steak knives and a zebra-hide ottoman. At first it may seem too Tarzan, but after a while, it'll grow on you.

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You won't be using an elephant gun on your African safari to bag the big one (photos are legal and much more PC these days), and you won't be able to bring a chunk of Stonehenge back from Britain as a souvenir, either. You can still keep a pretty impressive visual record of your travels, though.

Pictures capture the flavor of a locale, and they're easy to use in your décor, too. You can go with a simple and inexpensive electronic photo frame, or arrange individual matted and framed photos into a dynamic collage of your travels. Even if you're a lousy photographer, it's not a problem. Buy professional prints of picturesque locales you've visited (or want to visit). The exposures will be perfect, and no one's elbow will accidentally make its way into the shot.

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Handcrafted souvenirs are a must when you journey to foreign climbs, but thanks to stores that now cater to worldly design, you can get a well-heeled, seasoned traveler home makeover without ever leaving the city limits. Sometimes, quality can be an issue, as can pesky things like warranties and care instructions. Enjoy the lavish fabrics and exotic textures, but inspect items carefully before you buy.

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If you have an imported stained glass fireplace screen replete with cabochon butterflies, it might be just the thing to perk up your bland living room. Add flanking 5-foot candelabras and you've wandered into the Vincent Price zone. Unusual home furnishings are like flattery: a little can be delightful, too much is almost always obnoxious.

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Sources

  • Better Homes and Gardens. "New Decorating Book." Meredith Books. 2007.
  • Furniture & Design Ideas. "Travel Theme Decorating Ideas." Undated. (3/27/11).http://www.furnitureanddesignideas.com/living-room-furniture-design/travel-theme-decorating-ideas/
  • HGTV. "World Travel -- Guest Room." 1/16/2010. (3/27/11).http://www.roomzaar.com/rate-my-space/Bedrooms/World-Travel----Guest-Room/detail.esi?oid=13093440
  • Home Depot. "Decorating 1-2-3." Meredith Books. 2000
  • Home Extras. "World Traveller's Urban Oasis." Undated. (3/27/11).http://homeandgarden.homes-extra.ca/Decoration/2009/10/20/11464486.html
  • The Nest. "Personalized World Traveler Map." 12/22/10. (3/27/11).http://community.thenest.com/cs/ks/forums/thread/46887589.aspx
  • Tweed in the City. "Simple and Easy Home Decorating Ideas." 3/1/11. (3/27/11).http://tweedinthecity.com/2011/03/simple-and-easy-home-decorating-ideas/

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