This blog post is long overdue. I published the first instalment of this blog post many months ago – My Take: On Injecting An Ethnic Flavour Into Your Home Decor (Part 1) and have been meaning to write a follow-up ever since.
I am a huge fan of incorporating an ethnic vibe into my surroundings and I love rooms where ethnic pieces blend seamlessly with modern elements. Below are some tips on how to acquire and incorporate ethnic elements into your home decor that work well for me:
- Buy interesting pieces when you travel: We are blessed to live in times where domestic and international travel is easier and more popular than ever before. I love picking up interesting finds on my travels and I always make that extra effort to visit antique markets, furniture bazaars, art galleries and old furniture sellers if possible (you can imagine the look on the kids faces when I ask if they want to go and look at old furniture). The best part of travelling is that you don’t even have to go looking for treasures – sometimes you just run into them. The most important lesson I have learned is not to dither about a purchase (a painful mistake I have made many a time). If you like it and it is in your budget; just buy it. You may never get to go back…I bought this beautiful silver and amber bowl in a random shop in Gangtok, Sikkim, that I walked into just by chance. Every time I look at it I am reminded of the beauty of Sikkim and looking at Kanchenjunga (the third highest peak in the world) from the hotel garden. I purchased this stunning hand-painted box in Srinagar and it always reminds me of the beauty of Kashmir and the trip of a lifetime. Finally, I bought the black Chinese inspired mirror in Mumbai – it was in the corner of a shop on SV Road covered in dust. I asked them to paint it black, they thought I was strange but did it any ways. I think the result is stunning! Last but not least, no trip to Mumbai is complete without buying some old movie posters.
- Raid the family home for cherished finds: The black ‘kurmandal’ (kamandal) was lying in a cupboard in my parents home and when I heard the story behind it – I begged my mother to let me have it. A ‘kurmandal’ is usually an oblong pot used to carry water by yogis and sages. When my paternal grandfather was a young 10 year in Sialkot, before the partition of India, the family brought a 10-year-old orphan named Sainath into the household as a play mate. Then, partition happened and the entire family left their home behind and made their way to India and settled in Ludhiana. The little boy had become a family member of sorts by this time and accompanied them to their new home in India. He lived in the same house and later in life, one day appeared in orange clothes and announced that every one should call him Sai Baba as he had decided to become a holy man. He hand carved this kurmandal from a ripe pumpkin and would carry it with him as he visited and blessed people around town. He continued to live with the family till he died; in the same year as his childhood hood playmate, my grandfather.
- Group similar objects: Displaying similar objects together, such as my old ethnic boxes, makes a great decorative statement. In my opinion, this works particularly well for ethic objects as it draws your eyes to the collection. I have grouped many of my old boxes in my open bookcase.
- Except and highlight imperfections: Sometimes older objects are far more beautiful than similar brand new items. The level of intricate detail that can be found in an older object may not be cost-effective in today’s world. I love the knocks and dents found on old pieces as they add character and I always wonder about their individual back story. I bought the brass box in a dusty shop in Oshiwara market in Mumbai. 50 hours or so of scrubbing (certainly felt like it) revealed a beautiful box. Similarly, I bought this beautiful lamp in Mumbai from an antique dealer (ok more like an unknown guy I used to call brass man). I love the details on my brass lamp and I also use it as a candle holder on a daily basis.
- Explore local shops with a keen eye: You don’t have to travel far and wide to find beautiful ethnic pieces for your home. I bought the black pot for my fireplace many years ago at T.K. Maxx for a tenner and it has served me exceptionally well ever since.
- Incorporate ethnic fabrics and patterns: Using beautiful ethnic fabrics and prints is the easiest way to give your home decor an ethnic flavour. I absolutely loved this silk Ikat runner the moment I laid eyes on it. I am a huge fan of Ikat and find it one of the most gorgeous dyeing techniques ever invented. I also have a beautiful cushion with the pattern of an old car in my hallway that always puts a smile on my face as it reminds me of the cars in India from my childhood!
I hope you enjoy this post and thank you so much for reading!
Naqashi – hand painted box from Srinagar
This mirror from Mumbai and box from Vietnam look great on my sideboard in London
My ‘antique’ kurmandal made from a pumpkin
The ends of my beautiful ikat silk table runner
Old movie poster of Neel Kamal
Silver and amber filigree bowl from Gangtok, Sikkim, India
The back side of my silver and amber filigree bowl from Gangtok, Sikkim, India
Old brass lamp with Nandi
Black pot from T.K. Maxx
I find a great thrill in shopping on the proverbial ‘roadside’. It doesn’t matter what country it is or what is being sold – if it’s make-shift stalls on the edge of a road, edge of a beach or even the edge of a cliff, then I am very interested in browsing their wares. I think it has something to do with the ‘thrill of the chase’. The almost primal response I feel upon seeing things being sold on a curb-side is that they are going to be cheap and nobody else will have the same thing. These factors make for a heady combination and the only way forward for a shopping enthusiast such as myself is full speed ahead. Of course, the sensible part of my brain knows that this may not be true but this desire to browse curb-side offerings is the literal application of the term ‘curb appeal’.
I bought this kurta top on the side of the road in Bandra, Mumbai. It was my first year there and a fellow expat friend and I decided to go exploring near Linking road. As we walked along, we spotted a man on the pavement selling stuff from a big potli (bag) on the floor. His goods looked interesting and as we got closer we realised that he had some rather lovely looking clothes in that mysterious bag of his. He was pulling out various kurtas and we slowly edged closer in order to get a better look. However, our initial politeness swiftly gave way to a more assertive shopping approach and soon we were asking him to pull out kurtas in every shape and size. A few minutes later, all bets were off as other women crowded around and soon everyone was trying to help themselves while ‘Houdini with the magic bag’ was trying to keep control of his customers by slapping their greedy grabbing hands away. Eventually, the gleeful grappling led to two kurta purchases by me and one by my friend.
Luckily for me, this impulse purchase fit well and I paired it with a black churidar (leggings) I owned. One day when I was tidying my cupboard, I found this beautiful Kantha work dupatta that I had been given as a present many years ago but had nothing to pair with. Seeing the kurta and dupatta together, I realised it was a match made in heaven and voila! I had myself a complete outfit!
On a separate note, I have often found that pairing outerwear with Indian clothes can present a unique styling challenge. While it does get brutally cold in many parts of India, much of Indian wear is designed for warm weather and frankly, I prefer a sari without a big puffer coat on top! I am a fan of the ‘long coat on a sari look’ and of course there are lovely shawls available in every colour and size to help with the cold. A few years ago, I decided to expand my Indian clothes outerwear repertoire by experimenting with non-traditional options such as leather jackets. The result is that I no longer hesitate to pair conventionally western outerwear with Indian clothes. Sometimes, my pairings look great and other times maybe not so good but at least I can say I tried something new.
I hope you enjoy this look and thank you for reading. Have a great day!
(Clothes and Accessories: leather Jacket – Marks and Spencer, Sandals – Dune)
I have always been a huge fan of handloom and ethnic fabrics. I saw this dupatta hanging in the shop window of a random store in Mumbai that I would pass everyday. It was the kind of inconvenient location where there was not even a pavement to walk on, let alone stop your car and alight! So I would pass the premises, admire the duppatta in the window, and promise myself that one day I would stop close by and walk through that door. Often when you finally do this, you are disappointed that the item in the window does not really look like what you had conjured up in your imagination. That did not happen in this case – not only was the dupatta gorgeous in real life but he had them in all kinds of gorgeous colours! I really could have bought them all, but I managed to reign in my hoarding instinct and settled on this beautiful black and white one. I then saw the handloom material for the shirt many months later at Delhi Haat and just knew that they would go well together. I am so glad that I entered that shop and bought this cotton dupatta – I love the design and colours and I always get so many compliments when I wear it!
I have always had a fascination for those ‘rare’ pieces of jewellery that we all know exist, but it’s not that often that you see people wearing them. These would include pieces like the passa or jhumar (which I know has had a revival recently), and the bazuband. When I saw this bazuband in a shop on the Mall in Darjeeling, I wanted it immediately! Of course, I talked myself out of it, and wandered around for many hours thinking about it as one does. By the evening, my husband was so sick of hearing about it that he marched me back into the shop and insisted I buy it on the spot! Who was I to argue with hubby and it would have been rude to say no – so I finally relented and agreed to purchase it after a suitable haggling episode with the shopkeeper. Again, it’s been major love for this piece ever since and I always compliment my husband on his astute decision making skills whenever I wear it!