As summer vacation season winds down, all that’s left – once the mosquito bites, poison ivy rash, sunburn and jet lag have subsided – are the memories, and maybe a few gawd-awful souvenirs.
I get that we all want to keep that still-on-vacation feeling going once we get home, but there are ways to do that, and ways not to. What were you thinking when you bought that cheesy shot glass that says, “I got shot in Barbados”? And those hollowed-out coconut shell cups with the banana-leaf handles were right at home in Maui, but look pretty foolish in Toledo.
While our homes should reflect not only who we are, but also where we’ve been, the trick is to pull that off without looking as if you dragged a rake and fishing net through World Market.
Now, I assure you, I’ve gotten this wrong plenty often. I have a Guinness beer glass engraved with my name that I got in Dublin. I don’t even drink Guinness. I think it smells like rope soaked in skunk urine.
But recently I got travel-inspired home décor, or rather home-décor-inspired travel, just right.
Which brings me to the story of the ginger jar from Delft.
My love affair with the blue-and-white porcelain pieces and patterns started last January, when I noticed more of the look cropping up in furniture stores, home catalogs and wallpaper lines. I wrote a column about the trend. My research led me to the Royal Delft factory, named after a city in The Netherlands, where the iconic blue-and-white, hand-painted-porcelain pieces have been made since 1653.
That year a war in China shut down the importing of Chinoiseries (think Ming vases) to Europe, sending Europeans into fits of apoplexy. So Dutch artisans stepped up to meet demand, and they’ve been doing a beautiful job of it ever since.
Charmed by the history and classic nature of these distinctive pieces and patterns, I became even more drawn to home décor that featured it. In spring, I planned a trip to Amsterdam, and knew I would visit nearby Delft while there.
In the months before the trip, I came across a cotton print fabric that featured the famed pottery on a bold brick background, and had drapes made from it for my guest room. I picked up two ginger-jar lamps for the nightstands, and stumbled across a Kobalt blue and white floral duvet cover and pillow shams.
In Delft, I toured the Royal Delft Factory and museum, and watched the trained artists meticulously work. I bought a hand-painted ginger jar. I knew exactly where it would go.
And that is how an interest inspired a trip that inspired a room.
Whether you take trips to explore interests or discover new ones, traveling is a great muse, and can lead to new looks that say a little about you and where you’ve been. Here are some ways to translate your travels into inspired home décor.
Pick a room. So the novelty doesn’t wear off, consider creating that feeling of escape in rooms you don’t live in every day. Guest rooms and powder rooms are great places to make feel like elsewhere.
Capture the essence. A hint of Hawaii, a whisper of wine country, a brush of Broadway, that’s the idea. Don’t overdo it. If you want to evoke the feel of Hawaii, use woven bamboo placemats, not a hibiscus-patterned tablecloth, and set out plumeria scented soap and candles, not surfer statuettes with bobbleheads. Likewise, a love of Napa Valley might be best captured by a rustic-wood table and wine-barrel planters on the patio, not posters of grape-clusters. Tip: Don’t decorate with anything you can buy in a souvenir shop.
Incorporate the palette. Places have colors, which, when repeated, can evoke a sense of being there. Shades of sand, watery blues, and driftwood gray can recall a favorite beach. Woodsy browns and greens can transport you to a mountain cabin, while tropical colors can whisk you to the Caribbean.
Use worldly accessories. To suggest that travel is part of your life, accessorize your home with items that imply adventure: vintage suitcases, a globe, or antique maps.
Create a unified collection. If you want more literal, physical reminders of the places you’ve been, pick one, small item: a cheese knife, a dish towel, or coasters. Then bring back the same item from each place and organize a single collection. Holiday ornaments gathered from your travels are nice to use to decorate a small Christmas tree.
Build on a story. If you find one item from your travels that calls to you, a painting by an artist you got to know, a piece of pottery from the land your parents or grandparents came from, or a hand-woven basket by Indians that still practice an ancient native art, bring it home, and let it inspire a room.
Apply the acid test. Before buying something for your home while traveling, ask three questions: Do I love it? (Don’t just buy something because you feel obligated to get a souvenir.) Does it come with a story that adds meaning? Will I be able to make it work in my home or will it always look out of place?
Home and abroad -- The Royal Delft ginger jar sitting on this bed tray, and purchased on a trip to Amsterdam, inspired the décor direction for this guest room.
Then and now -- The author at the Royal Delft Museum stands in a replica of a late 17th Century Delft dining room.
Photos courtesy of Marni Jameson.