How to Add Cultural Décor Into Your Home

Start by adding things you love, like the Moroccan tea set you brought back from last year's vacation.
Start by adding things you love, like the Moroccan tea set you brought back from last year's vacation.
Vincenzo Lombardo/Photographer's Choice/RF

There are homes where cultural influence happens naturally, in the form of world-travel souvenirs, family heirlooms, an art degree or a bad antiquing habit. In these rooms, decorations instantly recall specific ethnicities, locations or eras, perhaps in the form of an African mask, Amish quilt, Eames chair, Moroccan-style lantern, Greek mural or mirrored throw pillow from India.

If it doesn't happen naturally, though, creating a "cultural" look can be complicated. You don't want it to look contrived, cheap, or, heaven forbid, gaudy, yet you're probably going to be dealing with pieces that are embellished, boldly printed and/or very far from beige -- and almost definitely a departure from your primary decorating style.


So, how do you add cultural influence without subtracting elegance? It's a fine balance, but a manageable one. You don't need to be a professional (or a Trump) to create an interesting room.

Here, some starting tips to begin the journey of incorporating cultural décor, beginning with the most basic: If you plan to hang an African mask on your bedroom wall, know what an African mask is.


Bring home a mask collection from South Africa, sure, but also scour antique stores for bargains.
Bring home a mask collection from South Africa, sure, but also scour antique stores for bargains.
Gallo Images-Denny Allen/Photodisc/Getty Images

With some thoughtful planning and time, you can make your home look like you've been around the world, or at least around a region or two, while keeping it beautifully yours. First things first: Know the cultures from which you plan to draw.

Know Your Stuff

While authentic is best, there's really nothing wrong with buying cultural items from World Market or Target -- but putting those items in your home without knowing what they are or where they come from can be kind of, well, lame.

That doesn't mean hours of research, it just means checking it out. When you bring home a Buddha statuette, type "Buddha" into the Google search box. In 0.09 seconds you'll know the figure on your console table is the "Awakened One" who founded Buddhism around 500 B.C. (And look up "Buddhism" while you're at it, in case anyone asks.)

Tie It In

While culturally influenced pieces don't have to match your décor -- in fact they probably won't -- they should fit in. You can blend apparently disparate styles, perhaps adding a cabinet from the Ming period to a modern room, by focusing on color, pattern, scale (is it grand or delicate?) or finish, to name just a handful of elements. If you can find this type of thematic tie-in, you can probably pull it together.

Get Creative

You're not limited to the combinations you see on home decorating shows (although they are excellent places to get inspiration). When you add a new, culturally derived style into your home, you're adding eclecticism, and maybe even some whimsy. So go with it. There are few absolutes in terms of which styles will or will not fit into your home, especially if we're talking about a high-quality piece. A collection of Native American arrowheads can spice up a clean, sparse space, and Ikat-print silk drapes can give an American-traditional room an eye-catching focal point.

Don't Overdo It

Here's the thing: Focal points are, by definition, singular -- or, in decorating, at least few and far between. The quickest way to "gaudy" or "overdone" is to put too many grand elements in a room.

If you're adding major items, like a statue, a wall-sized tapestry or a brightly colored, mosaic coffee table, use a light touch. When you walk into a room, you don't want the eye drawn in 16 places at once.

For added cultural interest beyond a main piece, go small and a bit more subtle. Companion pieces and "background art" can round out the room.

The Cost of Culture

As with most things in life, adding cultural décor is a lot easier when you've got an unlimited budget. Hop a plane to the Middle East and pick up a rug.

Otherwise, start small and shop around. Hit thrift stores, antique malls and online auctions, where you can often find gems for reasonable prices if you give it time. And there's nothing wrong with looking around at a chain store, either: Real is great, but available and affordable go a long way.

Just put some thought into it, and go with your gut. An African mask comes pretty easily off the wall.

For more information on culturally inspired decorating and related topics, look over the links on the next page.

Related Articles


  • Bartholomew, Kitty. "Ethnic Decorating." HGTV. (March 29, 2011)
  • Becker, Holly. "What We Love: Ethnic Prints and Patterns." HGTV. (March 29, 2011)
  • "Eclectic Decorating Style." Great Home Decorating. (March 29, 2011)
  • "Fabric panels to decorate walls." Zinmag Chronicle. June 11, 2010. (March 29, 2011)
  • Pavone, Camila. "Combine Design Styles Like a Pro." HGTV. (March 29, 2011)