My Take: On Injecting An Ethnic Flavour Into Your Home Decor (Part 1)

I have been asked multiple times to write a blog post on how to inject an ethnic flavour, especially Indian, into personal home decor. It is a fabulous idea for a post, however, also a particularly hard one as home decor is a very personal style statement and as such no set rules apply. In the end, we all have individual tastes and decor that may be relaxing to some, may be a nightmare to others. Before I present my take on adding an ethnic flavour, it may be helpful to address a precursor question that I have been asked numerous times – how do you decide how to decorate your house? I like so many styles of decor and end up with a big mishmash of things that don’t work together!

This is a question I can completely relate to as I faced this dilemma for many years. Certain people know from day one what kind of decor appeals to them and I envy their decisiveness.  Other equally talented people can combine a variety of styles, colours and objects and make it all come together in a coherent style statement and I envy their talent.  The rest of us are not so fortunate and require more time and effort to develop a structured understanding of our decorative style preferences.

In my case, many different styles of decor appealed to me and  I am an individual who is easily seduced by beautiful surroundings.  I would visit a home with modern decor and suddenly I was loving the clean lines and contemplating minimalism. Then, I would visit Ikea and four hours and forty meatballs later, I was sold on Scandanavian decor and a red kitchen!  Then one day, in a rare moment of clarity, I realized that  while I liked many kinds of decor, the bottom-line was that I only had one home to decorate. This home was my sanctuary and needed to be decorated in a style that  appealed to me on a daily basis.

So here is what I discovered; admire all kinds of home decor that appeals in some shape or form. Next do your research and due diligence – look at home magazines, study your friends and families homes, go on Pinterest and make boards of home decor styles that you like. Then, study your results and soon enough a pattern will begin to emerge. You will see that while many styles appeal, there is a particular style that you always seem to go back to and put simply, makes you happy every time you see it.  At this point,  it is very possible that you have found your favorite style of home decor and hopefully this will set you off on the right path to choosing how to decorate your house.

Personally, I found that I was constantly drawn to ethnically infused fusion decor  – I loved rooms where ethnic styles seamlessly blended with modern elements. I also discovered that I was drawn to interiors that included flashes of oriental decor with Chinese and Japanese elements.  Last but certainly not least, rooms done up in a modern colonial style always appealed to me. So now,  I stick to buying items that loosely fit into my general decorative style.  For me, a certain level of discipline works best – if  I love something but it is diametrically opposite to my signature style – I will not buy it. I admire it in the shop or on the street, and then leave it there!

Six useful tips that have always helped me in infusing some ethnic flavour into my home decor are as follows:

  1. Incorporate objects into your home decor that you may own, but have never considered as possibly having any decorative value.  These could include objects you might have inherited or received as part of your wedding present collection. When I got married, and it was time for the ‘Doli’ to leave, my mother-in-law draped an intricate woven huge shawl-like cloth on me called a ‘Phulkari Bagh’.  This is a traditional hand embroidered fabric from the Patiala region and often given to brides in Punjabi weddings.  Upon eventual inquiry, it turned out this was husband’s great grandmother’s and was a stunning old piece that had lain in a plastic bag at the back of my closet for years. Then one day, during a moment of inspiration, I decided to have it stretched on a canvas and now it makes for a lovely and humongous tapestry on my wall. A silver tea set is another beautiful piece that was passed down to me at my wedding from my mother, who received it from her mother.  For years it languished in a cupboard, until I pulled it out and gave it pride of place on a side table in my dining room. Now, I get a million compliments on it and it makes me happy every time I look at it.
  2. Incorporate old black and white photographs into your home decor.  Indian weddings (and many other weddings for that matter) are by their nature exotic, often featuring women in saris with garlands and men with turbans and swords.  Add to this horses and elephants, groups of dancers and piles of food and these photographs become unique and decorative pieces of wall art. One of the sets of black and white pictures that I have up on my walls are wedding pictures of my parents and my in-laws.  I highly recommend this as they look lovely and imagine the look on your mother-in-law’s face when she sees her wedding photograph on your wall.  That’s enough brownie points for a very long time!
  3. Buy paintings or other wall art that appeal on many fronts such as a fond memory or representing something important to you. Buy paintings that you think have the power to make you happy every time you pass them on a wall because you love the context or the colours or the style.  Do not buy artwork that does not inspire you or even worse, buy artwork because it matches your sofa.
  4. Buy beautiful objects that may appeal from your travels, regardless of whether they serve their original purpose. I love the bronze men that ‘climb my walls’ that I bought from Chatuchuk market in Bangkok.  I also love the bronze lamp holder and urli that I bought from Kochi, even though I would not light the lamp under my treasured painting!
  5. Beyond the functional purpose of a mirror, they make a great design statement and can help give scale to smaller rooms or hallways.  Buying mirrors with antique frames is a great way of incorporating an ethnic flavour into your home decor.
  6. Buy cushions, rugs and fabrics that have ethnic accents, incorporate ethnic fabrics, or represent ethnic styles of weave.  This is perhaps the easiest way of incorporating a subtle ethnic flavour into your home without turning the whole house into a set from Ram Leela!

I hope that this post in some way proves helpful to my readers.  At the end of the day, I firmly believe that decor, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.  As always, thank you for reading!


4 thoughts on “My Take: On Injecting An Ethnic Flavour Into Your Home Decor (Part 1)”

  1. Hi Isha. Loved this post. Funnily enough I spotted the same Men who Climb Walls at a hotel in Colombo, Sri Lanka last month. They had no idea where they sourced it. Thanks to you, guess I’ll be heading to Bangkok now – come join me!


    1. Thanks Nikita! I can’t think of much that would beat going shopping in Bangkok with you! You must get them when you go next – or just get someone to make them for you:)


  2. This post is totally up my avenue. Agree with all your points and advice and also love what you have collected over the years. I am a huge fan of phulkaris too and the tea set is just priceless. I didn’t realize the painting from Goa was hand painted. Anyway, you have a great eye and your interiors definitely reflect your tasteful style.


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