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5 Tips for Creating Ethnic-Eclectic Rooms

A cool color palette plus one stunner centerpiece mirror allows for beautiful eclectic details like turquoise figurines. See more modern design idea pictures.
Blake Little/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

Decorating requires a steady hand. Combining textures, patterns, colors, accents and focal points to create a unified, balanced space can be a test of patience and restraint: Often, beauty must be cultivated.

But that's not the end of the story. Imagination, too, goes a long way in developing a unique and appealing style, and few styles rely more on imagination than what we'll call "ethnic-eclectic." This type of décor involves combining more than one ethnically representative style within a single room. Done with care, a mixture of cultural elements can create a sum that is more than its parts.

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The "with care" is a crucial point here. You don't want to simply throw together a hodgepodge of styles from around the world.

So, how do you do it right?

Here, five tips to help you put together a beautiful room with character, balance and mixed cultural interest. To begin with, the very idea of ethnic-eclectic requires stepping just a bit outside the box …

Include small details that you love in addition to great focal points that complement your décor.
Include small details that you love in addition to great focal points that complement your décor.
artparadigm/Digital Vision/Getty Images

It's simple enough to create a well-coordinated space when you stick with a single style, like modern, American traditional, rustic, "shabby chic," or American West. It's fairly safe to say your modern couch will match your modern end table.

But what about when you're mixing styles? Here, you need to set aside traditional thinking and contemplate the impossible: that African can meet Indian can meet Bohemian and not just work, but work beautifully.

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So begin your ethnic-eclectic adventure by setting aside the idea of "matching" and picking up the idea of "consistency." Your couch and end table needn't be the same style to look great together. A cherry-blossomed, Japanese screen can really spice up a traditional beige sofa.

They do, however, need to have something in common. But we'll get to that a bit later.

First, you'll decide which styles you want to incorporate -- and that doesn't mean picking something from every culture that catches your eye

Ethnic-eclectic can as easily be cluttered as it can be interesting -- much easier, in fact. To avoid the dreaded mess of a mixed-up room, choose a few styles and stick with them.

Three is a good number, often with one star and two supporting roles. If you're sticking with some of your current, major pieces (bed or couch or dining room table, for instance), be sure to keep those in mind, because you'll want to tie everything together. If a clean-lined, white, modern couch takes up a third of your room, your central ethnic style should work with that, since both will have strong presences in the space.

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Which brings us to a cardinal rule in decorating: A room needs a focal point. In eclectic décor, this is especially true…

If you're looking to include Japanese influences, don't forget the style's central tenet: simplicity. This Tokyo home tops a simple cabinet with one stunning flower arrangement.
If you're looking to include Japanese influences, don't forget the style's central tenet: simplicity. This Tokyo home tops a simple cabinet with one stunning flower arrangement.
Michael Hitoshi/Photodisc/Getty Images

Imagine a dining room table sporting three separate floral arrangements. It might look a bit off -- like someone couldn't make a choice, and now you don't know what to look at first.

It's the same with a room that has more than one or two focal points: Where do you look? A focal point is probably a major piece -- perhaps furniture or art -- that stands out as special, bold, noticeable. It's something that draws your eye as soon as you enter the room. Limit those.

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For a small room, one is perfect. For a larger room, you might be able to pull off two. Just keep in mind, the more focal points you put in a room, the less of an impact they have. You don't want your room to look like a furniture bazaar.

And with that, we come back to the idea of connectivity: When you're putting different ethnic styles into a single room, they should bear a common thread …

It may seem difficult to find something that ties an antique Chinese console with an African mask with a Persian rug -- but it's doable. And it's necessary if you want to create a harmoniously eclectic look.

Just a few potential tie-ins include:

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Theme -- Do they recall a similar event, lifestyle or region? Are they all calming, or festive or ancient?

Color -- Don't go for pieces that are all red or all blue or all yellow, but instead, look for similar color schemes, a common color that runs through each style, or simply a common "temperature" -- for instance, red and orange are warm, while blue and purple are cool.

Scale -- Basically, this refers to size, or grandness, and for your main styles, you want this to be a shared trait. A massive, stone coffee table from Santa Fe will dwarf the tiny, hand-painted cabinet you found at the French antique store. Balance should be a prime consideration when combining disparate elements.

Finally, even as you practice restraint, don't forget why you started this project in the first place: Pairing unexpected styles can be so much fun …

Scout markets and antique stores for items that catch your eye. And, hey, if you're in Peru and you just have to get that rug, have it shipped!
Scout markets and antique stores for items that catch your eye. And, hey, if you're in Peru and you just have to get that rug, have it shipped!
Steve Allen/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Balance, harmony, focal points, connections -- all these rules can make eclectic decorating seem downright stressful.

It can be a challenge to make it work, but don't get bogged down. Pinpoint the ethnic styles that move you and the pieces that make you feel at home, choose from among those the styles that complement one another, and go with it. Try out different combinations, and see what works. Buy some low-cost décor first, until you feel confident about your style selections, and that way, if you decide to go in a different direction, you haven't blown your budget.

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Plus, chances are, you'll find a place for everything you love. Simply pull a single ethnic style through the majority of your house, and mix up the accompaniments. You may discover a sense of excitement as you go from room to room.

For more information on cultural décor, eclectic decorating and other home style topics, look over the links on the next page.

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Sources

  • Bartholomew, Kitty. "Ethnic Decorating." HGTV. (March 31, 2011)http://www.hgtv.com/decorating/ethnic-decorating/index.html
  • "Decorating Styles: Eclectic Decorating." TLC Home. (March 31, 2011)https://tlc.howstuffworks.com/home/decorating-styles4.htm
  • "Eclectic Decorating Style." Great Home Decorating. (March 31, 2011)http://www.great-home-decorating.com/EclecticDecorating.html
  • "Eclectic Style 101." HGTV. (March 31, 2011)http://www.hgtv.com/decorating-basics/eclectic-style-101/index.html
  • Pavone, Camila. "Combine Design Styles like a Pro." HGTV. (March 31, 2011)http://www.hgtv.com/decorating-basics/combine-design-styles-like-a-pro/pictures/index.html

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