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Bringing our Travels Home: Vases and Bowls

To bring our travels home is an ideal which is actually a lot easier said than done.

Sure, you’re walking through the street markets in Acapulco, wearing a colourful poncho, and perhaps you’ve even bought yourself a Sombrero already. You are living and loving Mexico, strolling carefree in the sunshine... Suddenly, a vase that you would never in a million years buy for yourself catches your eye.

From this point on, one of three things can happen:

a. You buy it, get back home, unpack and display it somewhere in your house only to realise that it looks so out of place, that you end up packing it away and storing it in the cellar never to be seen again.

b. You don’t buy it because you have no clue how to integrate it into your decor. You get back home and regret it big time because you realise that you’re probably not going back to Acapulco for a long time, if ever at all.

c. You buy it, get back home, unpack it, put it on the mantel with other items in your collection and it looks so perfect, that it’s almost as if your home had actually been waiting for that one addition for years.

This last scenario is the one we all want to achieve, right?

I am here to help you do just that by giving you some ideas on how to integrate ethnic, exotic, rare market and online finds into your home. If you live in Switzerland, you are at best an avid traveler, or at worst, able to access online stores offering hundreds of beautiful meaningful products from other cultures of the world. As an interior designer, I gravitate towards homes with meaning, which is why I am a big fan of sourcing products with history and a rich background. These pieces express your personality, remind you of the things you value in life, fill your home with originality, and are even great ice-breakers when you have guests.

However, because of their own unique characteristics, these treasures are not always easy to incorporate into our everyday décor. Some people choose to integrate a piece by blending it into an existing design, others prefer to do it by creating shock, or making it perfectly obvious that the piece should stand out. What both approaches have in common is that they require a certain amount of premeditation, i.e., it helps if you already know which style you favour: are you a blend or contrast kind of person?

Whichever side of the fence you’re on, here are some tips that will work the trick when it comes to bringing your travels or exotic online purchases home.

1. Have a designated spot for them. This can be anything from a built-in cabinet or floating shelves to a set of bookshelves or a mantel. Grouping different styles against the same background gives you the freedom to choose exactly what you fall in love with. You let the background do the rest.

2. Purchase vases and/or bowls in one specific colour. This way, if you outgrow the display and need to continue your collection elsewhere in the home, the uniform colour palette will integrate them immediately wherever they may be. You can even display them as a centrepiece on your dinner table.

3. If you enjoy online shopping, you may decide to explore what kinds of homewares a culture offers and settle on one specific style that will guide your purchases in the future and make it easy to group them anywhere around your home.

It pays off to take a good look around your space to assess what would look good with your style: a more rustic collection, bohemian trendy wares, glass, tribal, wooden items... If you’re buying online, this is a no-brainer: pick a style and stick to it. If you’re traveling, you may discover that every culture has a variety of designs and finishes within their heritage, which means that you can bring back tribal style vases and bowls from Mexico, Kenya or Chile and wooden bowls from Morocco, Japan or Sweden! One style doesn’t necessarily limit you to one land.

Let me illustrate how to consciously choose pieces that go with your décor through two very different examples. You may not fancy these interiors but the vases here have been masterfully integrated within the desings. The first one in a traditional residence and the rustic ones in an eclectic home.

4. A trick that has always worked for me is to combine bowls/vases with books. The curves and corner of the pieces combine nicely with the uniform predictable shape of the books to create a warm and interesting wall feature.

This tip works particularly well if you don’t actually own that many books but want to display them anyway. When arranging shelves, take your time to go one by one styling each surface individually. Make sure it has a few books, a vase or bowl and another element, perhaps a lamp or a frame. At the end, take a step back and observe your display as a whole and shift whatever you need to achieve a balanced look. Alternatively, if you try to arrange an entire set of bookshelves at once, you run the risk of getting overwhelmed, giving up and leaving everything lying on the floor!

5) Another way to bring your travels and culture-specific online purchases home is to actually use what you buy! Sometimes this means thinking outside the box. You might get a beautiful Mexican bowl and decide to use it on your desk to hold paperclips and pins. You may decide to use that same bowl for your reading glasses or watch on your bedside table, or for hair accessories in your bathroom. You may be strolling through those markets in Acapulco and decide to buy the gorgeous vase to have it on your kitchen cabinet full of straws or wooden spoons.

When you use vases or pitchers to put flowers in, remember that there are certain styles that lend themselves better to particular kinds of flowers. If you’re bringing home or buying a chunky black vase, your best option would be to pair it with full flowers like peonies, hydrangeas or large dahlias... if your choice is a pitcher style object, they work well with a mix of garden flowers or daisies rather than with a curated bouquet. If you purchase a traditional style holder, this may go well with traditional roses. Bottle shaped containers go perfect with longer greens, so you can style them with magnolias, olive stems, eucalyptus or even plain dry branches for that matter!

6. Finally, a note from my own home when it comes to incorporating items with a specific style but lots of meaning. I personally don’t like to have all my accessories out on display constantly, instead, I prefer to ‘circulate’ them. What I mean is that I like to alternate accessories and bring them out for certain occasions, on a specific season, or pair them up with another with another piece. This way it feels like my house is alive, it adjusts to the times and moods and it’s never boring! What you see below are two examples of how I integrate this colourful vase I bought in Mexico fifteen years ago. The vase is so far away from my style and the tones of my home, and yet, I totally fell in love with it. I knew that the best way to display it in my home would be seasonally, and by creating contrast, an unexpected pop of colour to make me smile every time I looked at it.

As you see on the right, sometimes I like to buy extravagant flowers for my little vase to complete the colourful vignette. I then place it against plain white curtains with no accessories around them in order to turn it into a real eye catcher. When I get rid of the flowers, I pack the vase away.

Below is an example taken from my home office, specifically of the shelves where I keep all my design books, there are a lot more above and below this display, but I’d like to focus on this surface right now. I have styled the books to resemble the tones of this framed painting I brought back from Dubai, and the frame, in turn, mimics the metal finish of the furniture. Most of the times, I go for a stocky glass vase and white flowers on top of the books. However, this time I wanted to introduce and burst of colour: I bring my vase out for a few days and pack it away when I buy fresh flowers and I don’t worry that the tones don’t match: that’s the whole point of game!

So, bringing our travels home and buying ethnic organic décor products online are ideals that can be achieved if we dive into the exercise with a plan in mind. Be conscious of what you buy, have an idea of where the item will go and why. If you hesitate, buy two, or even three, and at least you will have started a collection!

Vases and bowls are elements that can encompass my three pillars when it comes to decorating: beauty, functionality and meaning. I encourage you to dress your home with items that tell the story of who you are, and vases couldn’t be a more versatile homeware to do just that!

Oh, and by the way, yes: the girl walking through the markets wearing a poncho in Acapulco was me, and the vase that inexplicably caught her eye is this one adorning my office shelves.



Photo credits as follows:

1. 32 Estados E-Concept Store


3. via

4. via 5. traditional

6. via




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14. Spaces for Life Interiors

15. Spaces for Life Interiors

16. Spaces for Life Interiors

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