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How to Use Other Cultures' Designs in Your Home

by Rose Morrison|Sep 07, 2023

You may have traveled to Japan or Ghana and seen beautiful artworks and patterned fabrics that captured your heart. Maybe you admire the intricate designs of Morrocan rugs. Humans are drawn to things they admire and you may have seen something from a different culture that would be a lovely addition to your home. But how do you do it without cultural appropriation or exploitation?

Whether you are a seasoned traveler or admire the beauty of different cultures, it’s essential to be aware and self-reflective when taking inspiration from cultures that are not yours. Here’s how to incorporate other cultures’ designs and cultural elements into your home.

Do Your Research

While you might feel inspired by cultural artifacts and the vivid colors and patterns from a specific culture, it's important to know what these mean before using them in your home design. When you’re unsure, err on the side of caution. You want to display beautiful items without being disrespectful by using a Buddha as a decoration for your coffee table or a prayer rug as a bathroom mat.

Scandi bedroom interior design 

📸 Yuliya Mostovshchikova 

It becomes cultural appropriation when you reduce an object, whether a rug, culturally symbolic pattern, mask or headdress, into just a pretty thing without understanding its meaning. When you see something you want to use in your home design, you might want to ask yourself a few questions first.

Was an individual or community exploited for you to be able to use the sculpture, rug or pillow? Is the object used purely for decorative purposes — both in its place of origin and in your home? Do you know the cultural or religious history of the piece? Some textiles are reserved for ceremonial rites of passage or rituals. Sacred items like fabric or patterns used for special ceremonies and religious statues or objects used for prayer are best left alone.

You can use non-ceremonial fabrics, handmade rugs and other items as long as you do your due diligence to understand where the object comes from.

Use Ethically Sourced Design Elements

If you want to include statues, textiles and items in your design, buy from local artisans or use brands or designers with long-term partnerships with local artisans. If the object's monetary value translates to equal measures of value for the artisan or community, you are on the right track.

Morroccan Home Decor Ideas 

📸 Moroccan Rugs & Home Decor

Look for authentic, handmade pieces. This may be easier if you are a seasoned traveler and can buy directly from local artisans. Prioritize companies like Indegoafrica, who partner with groups of artisan women in Ghana and Rwanda to create handcrafted products like baskets, trays, fruit baskets and other decorative items. The artisans earn 50% of the wholesale price and the company sources all materials from the communities and invests in training and dedication for the women.

Directly supporting native artisans by giving them visibility and compensation for their work is a great way to appreciate their designs and creations.

Use Cultural Elements as Inspiration

If you want to incorporate a specific kind of design into your home, a good approach is to use elements of design, pattern and color and include them in ways that align with your personal style. For example, you can use paint with colors from an artwork or cultural pattern you like. The best practice is to design with an understanding of the significance of specific design styles and cultural objects. Here are some ways you can incorporate some cultures into your home.

French

French design dining and kitchen space 

📸 French and French Interiors

French decor features simple, effortless and calming elements:

  • Use neutral colors for backdrops like white, eggshell, grey and beige.
  • Achieve the French rustic style with distressed wood and decoupage or stencils for tables, cupboards and cabinets.
  • Add splashes of color with upholstery or accessories like throws, pillows and art using colors like lavender, rose, lilac, vintage green and pastels. You can also use vintage patterns and florals for variety.
  • Old world charm using wrought iron for bed frames, curtain rods and pot racks.
  • Use decorative lamps with shades of silk adorned with scalloped hems and lace.

Moroccan

Morroccan inspired living room

📸 Erika Hobart

Moroccan decor is known for its vibrancy, luxury and warmth:

  • Mix rich colors in seating and accessories. Use shades of purple, rose-pink, yellow and turquoise for throws, cushions and lanterns.
  • Look for luxurious Ottoman-style seating like daybeds, poufs and chairs.
  • Source rugs and throws from Moroccan artisans. Many beautiful and intricate Amazigh designs can be used with your choice of colors.
  • Use hand-carved wooden coffee tables and side tables.
  • Incorporate colorful Moroccan-style in your kitchen as a backsplash or a single wall in the bathroom.
  • Infuse plants like bird of paradise and large leafy plants in colorful containers into the space.

Scandinavian

Scandinavian Living Room Design 

📸 Third Floor Left

Known for its elegance, Scandinavian design prioritizes function and simplicity through subtle textures, clean lines and minimalistic decor:

  • Emphasize natural lighting and openness. You can do this by leaving ample space between pieces of furniture and leaving tabletops and walls bare.
  • Paint walls beige or crisp white and use neutral tiles for the kitchen and bathroom.
  • Use plain wooden furniture in oak and pine.
  • Choose fabrics made of natural fibers and solid-colored accents with shades like bright red, olive green, cobalt grey and muted mint.

Japanese

Japanese inspired dining room design 

📸 Ksenia Bortsova

Japanese decor is all about uncluttered space with peaceful decor:

  • Use clean and simple furniture with natural wood finishes. Japanese design favors floor seating because sitting improves posture and increases mobility, among other benefits. You can incorporate furniture items like low futon beds, coffee tables and low wooden bed frames.
  • The main colors include white, black, brown and beige. You can add accents of red and gold with art or Japanese silkscreen prints.
  • You can use rice paper shoji screens as room dividers if you have a large space.
  • Incorporate Japanese garden elements like pebbles, water features and wooden decks. Interior plants like bonsai and bamboo work well with the style.

Design Your Space Responsibly

It’s possible to use design elements from different cultures without appropriating culture or misusing elements. Remember only to use design elements and objects that are ethically sourced and honor people’s ethnic heritage. When in doubt, research! Understanding the religious and symbolic meanings of items before using them or incorporating them into your design is important.

Now, if all this has you buzzing with ideas but you're not sure where to start, why not give the DecorMatters app a whirl? Our virtual room decorating tool lets you visualize how these diverse elements can harmoniously co-exist in your home. You can also engage in interior design games to spark your creativity, and hey, you're never alone! Socialize with both designers and friends within the app to exchange tips, tricks, and maybe even a bit of cultural wisdom. Download DecorMatters today and turn your design inspirations into your own global oasis.

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