The style you choose should be a combination of the style of the house and your taste rather than current fashions or the previous owner’s taste. It helps if you live in a house for awhile before deciding a style or making any major structural changes. This is not always possible. You can use just one style throughout the house or you can have various ones in different rooms. The type of atmosphere that you like in the kitchen may not be what you want in the sitting room. You can also mix and match different styles in the one room, but this should be done with caution or you could end with a muddle. It is not different pieces of furniture that makes the look, but it’s the way things come together, the background (colours and materials) and type of accessories used with them.
There are numerous styles to choose from, but they can be divided into four major themes and a fifth which I will call others which includes those that don’t fit into the main categories. Country Style—within this style you have Cottage, Farmhouse, French Country, Scandinavian, Laura Ashley styles etc. It is an easy and relaxing style, it brings a sense of countryside into a home. Traditional Classical Style is the one that has its roots in the past, borrowing freely from Victorian, Edwardian, and Georgian—the big house. Contemporary Style is inspired by the best traditions of the past, but with a distinctly up-to-date flavour. Those that I categorise under Other Styles eg. are Art Deco, Art Nouveau, Mediterranean, Minimalist, etc.
The Ethnic Style is influenced by patterns, motifs and handicrafts from non-industrialised cultures. It draws its ideas from Africa, India, China, Latin America and other exotic locations. The look is a combination of natural material, simple practicality and bold use of pattern and colour. Many basic elements of the style—rugs, textiles, decorative objects and even furniture—are handmade; a change from most mass-produced items. It is a relaxed and spontaneous look with the human touch. Holidays abroad can be used to create this style, have fun trawling through local markets or visit artisans’ workshops. It might encourage you to go on trips further a field to find some exciting items. You may already have an item from a holiday, so take it down from the attic and use it as a basis for a new look for the room. The good news is you don’t have to wander too far to find the items to create this look, many are available in local shops. You can also find things at antique shops or fairs. Mass produced fabrics, wall-coverings and accessories are influenced by ethnic theme, so these can be used with more authentic pieces.
The Ethnic Style covers a wide range of different effects, so you can tailor it to suit your room. You create the look with a few well-chosen details or you go for the total effect. One way is to choose influences and objects from one particular area eg. Africa or the Middle East, but it lends itself to mixing accessories, colours and influences from different lands in one scheme. You could blend the ethnic style with the less rustic look, just have a few accessories in a streamlined, modern room.
Surface–Walls & Floor coverings
Choose wall colours from the warm or natural part of the spectrum. Creamy whites with dark-stained woodwork create a tropical feeling. You can go for earthy shades of terracotta, dull red, russet, ochre etc. A broken colour paint effect can suggest roughened plaster. Less than perfect wall surfaces suit this style. Use wallpaper with an ethnic design or broken colour effect or it you are more adventurous cover the wall with fabric. Rough plaster brick or stone walls provide a perfect background for displays. For a bathroom use earthy coloured tiles or plain ones with a few handmade decorated ones placed randomly or as a border.
This is not the world of the fitted carpet, but if you must use it, use a plain neutral one. Wooden floorboards waxed and sealed or stained with a dark mahogany colour, stone slabs and terracotta tiles are good choices. Natural materials such as coir, sisal, jute, seagrass and rush are very suitable in creating this style. Interesting rugs such as Indian cotton dhurries, kelims, rugs embroidered with animals or Mexican shapes all provide a decorative feature as well as warmth.
The natural textures and colours of the Ethnic Style combines with the simplicity of some modern furnishings but avoid fitted units or the coordinated look. The emphasis is on comfort and informality. Heavily built, freestanding storage units and chests from Portugal or Mexico can work well as sideboards or coffee tables. For seating choose a sofa covered in a plain, rugged cotton fabric or a modern ethnic print. To give the room a sense of the outdoors use a rattan or bamboo sofa and chairs with deep cushions to sink into.
The key to window treatments is simplicity. Formal, tailored or elaborate ones are at odds with this look. Simple curtains made from hand-woven or block-printed textiles look good hanging from wooden or wrought iron poles. Natural cane blinds, plain roller blinds or lengths of white muslin can also be used. Wooden Venetian blinds or louvered shutters look right and give light control.
Lighting & Accessories
Simple glass lanterns, table lamps in natural materials with terracotta or Chinese Ming style bases or brass lampshades with wide, flat shades all add to the theme of the room. Fabric covered shades in ethnic designs make a good topping for plain ceramic or pottery bases. Iron wall sconces on either side of the fireplace give a restful glow. Candles are an obvious choice for atmosphere and add an exotic touch. Place nightlights in pierced brass globes or terracotta pots, or big candles on tall iron or wooden candlesticks. You can make your own ethnic style ones from old staircase posts.
Accessories are a big part of this style and a room could be designed around these only. You can capture the right mood with carved African animals or heads, Mexican tin ornaments or painted ceramics etc. The charm of these objects is that no two pieces are made exactly the same. A small grouping of tribal carvings and an old cooking pot on a rough wooden table can look charming and has a curiosity value as well. Use African or Indian framed prints, an Indian mosaic mirror over the fireplace or an ethnic bedspread as a throw for a sofa etc. Tropical plants or exotic hothouse specimens eg. orchids add to the theme.
There is nothing new about the ethnic style, fashions in decoration has always been influenced by foreign elements e.g. French style in the early eighteenth century or Greek motifs in early nineteenth century. With the world becoming a smaller place the crafts and artifacts of different cultures are influencing the latest trends in the furnishing of our homes. Different styles can live happily together, blending into a look that reflects your own individual personality and this is what really matters.
Mary D. Kelly