Every year, it seems, interior designers find themselves fawning over a new style. And, while Scandinavian interiors have been a popular choice for many years, 2018 is the year where exotic trends (known as ‘Exoticism’) take over.
Bringing character, colour and class to simple interiors, exotic styles are growing in popularity. With their cultural traditions and dynastic influences, these memorable designs are sure to get your guests talking. Each style, with their distinctive personalities, suit a broad range of aesthetics: Moroccan styles, for instance, are laid back, while Mexican décors are vibrant. Japanese style is stripped back and minimalistic, whereas South African design is typified by vivid colours and dyed fabrics.
If you’re inspired by exotic design but you are unsure how to work it into your décor, you needn’t worry. With the help of interiors experts across the world, we show you how to get started.
Think Mexico and you are likely to envisage sun-drenched courtyards, Aztec prints, and portraits of Frida Kahlo. And you’d be right to. However, beyond these well-known associations, Mexican design comprises far more than you might expect.
Inspired by the myriad cultures which have inhabited this country over the centuries – from primitive Mayan tribes to colonial Spanish conquistadors – Mexico is a melting pot of different styles.
Mexican style in the home
“Unleash your inner hippy-chic”
Mexican interiors are often characterised by carved dark woods and wrought iron embellishments. Typically, this is paired with rustic furniture, patterned tiles, arched ceilings, earthenware pottery and handcrafted textiles. For a quintessentially Mexican décor, offset the latter with terracotta hues or vibrant colours.
The secret to successfully using this style in your home is to be precise: only choose the elements that work in your space. You wouldn’t necessarily need all of the above, for instance, to deliver maximum Mexican impact. According to Carole King of Dear Designer, it’s perfectly fine to keep things simple:
“Keep the walls plain and incorporate striped blankets on the bed, along with bold patterned cushions, and plenty of baskets and plants to inject personality and charm”.
Bold colours are typical of Mexican design, especially red, orange, blue and green. However, you should proceed with caution: if an eye-catching colour, such as hot pink, already adorns your walls, it can pay to play down the rest of your interior.
On the other hand, if you prefer white or neutral walls, inject a hint of Mexico’s fiery chilli pepper with some red-hot accessories and textiles. Pots of giant cacti and other tropical plants are great for cooling down areas, should they feel too over-worked.
According to Carole King, however, Mexican design is best known for its brightly patterned tiles:
“As well as in bathrooms and kitchens, Mexican styles use tiles along stair risers, around fireplaces, patio floors, table-tops, mirror frames and even wall murals (although I would personally confine the wall murals to the garden!).”
In its purest form, a Mexican interior typically relies on sturdy textiles for warmth on otherwise cold hardwood floors. Mexican style champions handcrafts: from hand-woven blankets to handmade wicker baskets; if it looks factory-produced, its rustic appeal disappears. Indigenous woods and macramé wall hangings offer comforting “boho-chic” touches.
“My suggestions would be to lay rugs on tiled or wooden floors, keep walls plain and adorn with folk art and primitive paintings. Incorporate a few pieces of carved wood, some terracotta pottery, and colourful ceramics. Include some Day of the Dead skulls, religious artefacts, cactus plants, baskets, patterned blankets and colourful tiles, too”, says Carole.
While few rooms in the UK have an internal courtyard, one can easily adapt a sunny patio, garden room or roomy balcony to mirror this Mexican style. Tiled floors and walls, wrought iron furniture and exotic plants will immediately evoke images of lazy days spent by the pool in Cuernavaca.
Moroccan interiors reflect the diverse and culturally-rich heritage of North Africa. Influences from Islamic and Berber eras, to the more recent French and Spanish styles, have created an iconic – and enviable – interiors style.
As the country is placed at the crossroads between Europe, Africa and the Middle East, multiple cultures have, over time, blended to create a signature style.
The region’s landscape is another huge source of inspiration to its design. Saw-toothed mountains, bright blue coastlines, soft desert sands and lush foliage contribute to the Moroccan theme of eclectic colourings and layered textures.
Moroccan style in the home
“Don’t be afraid of clashing patterns”.
Moroccan décor has versatility in its DNA. With its relaxed soft furnishings and unpretentious palette, the style is warm and inviting. Its effervescent use of colour, energetic patterns and varying textures injects a free-spirited essence into Moroccan styled homes.
“If it were up to me, I would apply Morocco’s unique style everywhere in my home. Although, if it must be stripped back, I would introduce Moroccan décor into communal areas, such as lounges, where relaxed entertaining and socialising takes place,” Emma Palin of EmmaJanePalin.
Specific colours to think about when following a Moroccan style include warm and earthy tones, such as terracotta and peach. A contrast of light colours on the walls, mixed with deep jewel colours, such as emerald, amethyst, jade, ruby and turquoise, work well with soft furnishings and on tiles. This rich and varying colour palette not only brings vibrancy to interiors, but it also means designers can be creative when designing with Moroccan in mind.
A wonderful source of Moroccan inspiration for colour is Yves Saint-Laurent’s Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech. “Here, vibrant primary colours mix with both pink tones and the world-famous ‘Majorelle Blue’ – an intense yet fresh shade of blue,” says, Emma.
Metallics are another integral pillar of Moroccan design. Shimmering lanterns, artisanal brass and copper side tables are popular choices within Moroccan homes.
The Moroccan style is well-known for its use of abstract and geometric patterns, which lends itself to bohemian décors. Handwoven kilim and Berber rugs, with their rich tapestry and myriad colours, bring traditional Moroccan patterns to the home. Cushions and pouffes can also be covered with fabrics in geometric patterns similar to that of kilim.
Other methods of introducing patterns are via a mosaicked surface, such as a mirror, coffee table, sideboard or pottery. Traditional tagines and ceramics are often embellished with beautiful Moorish pattern designs and jewel colours, which are ubiquitous across The Maghreb.
Where Moroccan fabrics are concerned, more is more. By mixing and matching different colours, patterns and textures, the resulting interior is given an injection of rustic charm.
Here’s how our interiors expert adds Moroccan vibes to dowdy spaces:
“Throws, drapes, room dividers and even fabric tented ceilings can be added to create a warm, inviting Moroccan-esque space – just ensure you use light, gauzy textiles or fine silks to let in the light. Metalwork in the form of lanterns, traditional tea ware and candlestick holders will also help to add points of curiosity to your space”.
Moroccan interior design is known for creating a homely, entertaining and magical aesthetic. In order to replicate this, one should incorporate low seating, mellow lighting, layered textures, contrasting colours and plenty of candles.
Original Moroccan interiors were created to let the gorgeous Middle Eastern sun in wherever possible, which is why light-filled spaces, such as courtyards and sun-rooms, are naturally suited to the Moroccan style. Open rooftops and large windows capture golden rays and highlight colourful interiors beautifully. Other design features include signature keyhole arches, as often seen in Moroccan riads.
Japanese interiors reflect nature and harmony; the two main pillars of Zen. This means pared-down spaces, natural materials and light colourings. Typically, furniture is arranged to create an airy and minimalist aesthetic, which naturally invokes feelings of calmness (in Japanese culture, this is known as “ma”). To stay in line with “ma”, furniture is often moved to the edges of the room and kept low, giving rooms complete freedom of movement.
In recent centuries, Japanese interior design has taken influence from other cultures and aesthetics. For instance, during the 19th century, when Japan began to forge relationships with Euro-American nations, it adopted a more Westernised style, which focussed heavily on additional seating and dark wood elements.
Japanese style in the home
“Layer the look with a tonal palette.”
Taking its inspiration from nature, Japanese interiors rely primarily on textiles from the great outdoors: bamboo, wood and paper are some of the most frequently used in Japanese design. These smooth, earthy materials not only instil a fresh and calming aesthetic into homes but also add an air of elegance.
This minimalist design of Japan has, over the years, merged with the convivial décor of Scandinavia to create a hybrid style: Japandi. Infusing Japanese simplicity with Scandinavian functionality, this style is both understated and simplistic. The accent colours borrow pastel greens and charcoal greys from Scandinavian palettes, while traditional Japanese dark timbers are offset with light oak tones.
According to Ruth Matthews of Design Soda, Japandi is a great way to “freshen up areas which already express a Scandi influence.” Areas with large open spaces, such as living rooms and dining rooms, work especially well with the Japandi aesthetic.
Neutral, muted tones are key to cracking Japanese interior design. Think woody browns, simple grey stone and pin-pointed greenery, such as bamboo plants and bonsai trees.
However, earthy tones should not be your only colour option when designing in the Japanese way. Bright colours, such as vibrant reds and greens, are welcomed, but should be used in moderation. For instance, pair bold shades with black accents and grid patterns to bring just the right amount of vivacity to an otherwise orderly interior. This is one way to infuse your own personality without having to compromise on elegance.
Traditional Japanese patterns tend to include natural accents, such as waves, flowers and fish. One such graceful wave design, seigaiha (literally translated as blue wave of the sea), is often used in Japanese interiors. It first appeared in the 6th century, when its undulating design was used to symbolise strength, power and resilience.
Cherry blossom (known as sakura) is another prominent pattern in Japanese design; the flowering trees symbolising the renewal of spring and the ephemeral nature of life. Cherry blossoms are often found in Japanese wall art and kitchenware.
“Statement wall art looks incredibly striking within the Japanese design. Lacquered furniture with oriental designs, and traditional Shibori patterned textiles, monochrome patterned cushions and wall murals are also effective ways to introduce nature into Japanese-style homes”, Ruth Matthews.
Sleek wood, smooth stone and leafy houseplants are essential for adding natural elements into Japanese interiors. This can also be achieved by adding paper lanterns, glass partitions, wooden floors and bamboo blinds throughout.
To exaggerate the free-flowing texture of Japanese décor, try hanging silk kimonos to your walls. Clean lines, grid designs and soft tones further emphasise the sophisticated softness of traditional Japanese décor.
Clearing a space for meditation is the ideal way to channel Japanese serenity in the home. Translucent room partitions, mellow orb lanterns and large bay windows with white mesh curtains inject quietude into open spaces.
Furniture which varies in height is another way to circulate energy. According to Ruth Matthews, this is achieved by incorporating low-level pouffes, floor cushions, high stools and tall plants to your interior. “Pair these with diffused lighting, such as paper lanterns and pendants and minimalist interiors for a serious sense of Zen,” Ruth Matthews.
Soft fabrics, neutral tones, wax candles and natural features, such as bamboo plants and exposed wood, further characterise the Zen ethos of balance and harmony.
Once regarded as a design scheme favoured by the wealthy (both in South African and Western homes), South African décor is now a popular style suitable for every kind of home.
Central to the look is, first and foremost, the African people. Vivid Ndebele patterns – originally designed by the Ndebele people in the 18th century – dominate the aesthetic, while shweshwe fabric – a dyed cotton traditionally used for African clothing – is the primary textile used in South African soft furnishing.
Local wildlife is another influential motif in South African design. Animal hides, skulls and leather are often used, although synthetic versions are now used more frequently.
South African style in the home
“It is a dramatic ‘all-or-nothing’ style.”
Strong yet serene, powerful yet understated, South African décor is as diverse as the land it came from. With its eye-catching designs, intense colours and natural materials, this a style which can be as bold or as bare as you like.
Earthy and adventurous colours make South African décor a bold interior choice. The style’s characteristic gold, yellow and red colours, are often complemented by neutral base shades, such as black, white and brown, which take the majority of focus.
For a contemporary tribal aesthetic, throw vivid greens and burnt oranges into areas which need livening up. Minimalist settings, on the other hand, can benefit from layered neutral base shades coupled with faux fur animal hides.
Hammered metal is used throughout South African styles; something which reflects the region’s monumental and integral mining industry (today, it is the most industrialised nation in Africa). Reflective silvers and deep coppers offset the style’s central muted tones, while decorative clay vases are a reminder of the nation’s homemade style.
According to Melanie Lissack of Melanie Lissack Interiors, the South African style should display “just the right amount” of colour:
“Bright colours optimise the ‘Rainbow Nation’ aesthetic, while metallic shades have an inherently contemporary feel. However, natural elements of the country’s arid climate should not be overlooked; this means incorporating plenty of muted tones, artefacts and animal relics.”
Tribal zig zag patterns and repetitive simple shapes typically adorn South African furnishings and upholstery. Frafra and Ndebele patterns dominate, offering intricate designs and intensely vivid colourings. Animal prints are similarly iconic to the style, with zebra, leopard and tiger prints often used on rugs and armchairs.
Minimalist interiors can still benefit from this style’s iconic patterns: simply choose those with clean lines and natural tones. Busier environments, however, have free rein to play with the style’s vivid patterns and prints.
However, choose your patterns and colour pairings wisely; bold patterns combined with eye-catching colours can sometimes seem a little chaotic in the African style.
Materials such as raffia, wicker and sisal are used for many South African soft furnishings and decorative items. Wicker baskets and bowls, in particular, feature heavily in South African interiors and are often hung on walls in groups or displayed as artwork.
Coarse materials reflect the nation’s rough, rugged climate, while plant and animal-derived textiles nod to the land’s natural beauty. Inject South African style into your home by juxtaposing natural fibres, like cotton and burlap, with soft furnishings.
“Untreated surfaces are iconic in South African design, with unpolished, unvarnished wooden furniture preferred. Carvings and the crackle finish of driftwood finish off the natural aesthetic handsomely,” says Melanie Lissack.
Large open spaces are ideal for South African styling. Animal prints, bones, hides and a blend of natural materials will deliver an elegant, homely touch, while large architectural trees and hanging plants incorporate a relaxed, outdoorsy feel.
“Bold shapes are key to creating dramatic shadows, of which deliver a grounded yet grand aesthetic. Large floor lamps and oversized shades are similarly everywhere in South African design,” explains Melanie Lissack.
Lighting also plays a major role in South African homes. Soft lighting from low hanging lamps reflects heavenly on metallic elements, and emphasises the style’s iconic gold and brown accents.
Known for its lavish textiles and intricate patterns, Indian design is both opulent and elegant. Just take the Taj Mahal, for instance: its white marble exterior, towering spires and over-the-top patterns epitomise the excessive and elegant aspects of Indian design.
The country’s deep-rooted ties with spirituality and religion are reflected in its design, with deities like Ganesh, Vishnu and Buddha abundantly enshrined in the form of statues and images. Exotic wildlife, such as elephants and lions, also feature heavily in Indian imagery. Tigers, the national animal, are also rarely far from Indian interiors.
Indian style in the home
“Indian décor is shrouded in meaning”.
When designing your home with Indian style in mind, follow the “more is more” ethos. Decorative items should be scattered generously, soft furnishings should be heavily embellished, and walls should be covered with plenty of artwork and religious imagery; “plainness”, put simply, has no place in Indian décor.
With this in mind, Indian styles should not seem chaotic. To get started, choose a range of decorative items which are steeped in symbolism and set them out throughout your home. A good rule of thumb is to only select items with a story to tell; those chosen for any other reason should be discarded.
Colours are the primary symbolic element in Indian design; this is why Indian décor is traditionally bright, varied and full of energy. Red, for instance, is used as a symbol of the most revered Hindu goddess, Durga. Red also symbolises purity, which is why it often features in Indian weddings and ceremonies. Blue represents Lord Krishna, the god of compassion, love and tenderness, while green has its ties to the subcontinent’s harvesting season, evoking feelings of new beginnings and catharsis. Yellow depicts sanctity, which is why ochre and burnt orange are thoughtfully placed into many Indian décors.
If in doubt, draw inspiration from the colours of traditional Indian spices from which many of these celebrated colours find their origins. These include chilli, cinnamon, cumin, ginger and pepper.
Like colour, patterns are one of the most important elements of Indian interior design. Often symbolising the natural elements and religious folklore of the land, Indian patterns are shrouded in meaning.
Sacred geometrical patterns, like Sri Yantra, also known as Sri Chakra, and Shiva Nataraja, are repeatedly referenced in Indian décor. The latter is the nation’s powerful symbol of “Holy Geometry”, with the design’s interlocking triangles representing the union of the Masculine and Feminine Divine.
Decorative floral patterns are a particularly iconic design favoured in Indian design, representing the country’s diversity and liveliness. A single flower, it is believed, can be the key to gladdening the mind and conferring prosperity. That is why flowers are a main staple of design throughout the home, as well as at festivals, during prayers and celebrations. Other nature-inspired themes, such as birds, mammals, banyan trees and lotus flowers, frequently appear in Indian décor.
Indian décor is epitomised by contrasting textures: from dark wooden furniture to fine silk, khadi and cotton. The use of solid wood nods to the region’s expert craftsmanship, with ornately curved armrests, legs and intricate carvings a main feature of the style. Natural imperfections, such as knots in the wood and rough exteriors, are also welcomed in Indian décor due to their unbridled links to Mother Nature.
Indian spaces typically centre around statement pieces, such as furniture, while softer furnishings tend to be used for decoration. Long, flowing cotton drapes, silk cushions and bed canopies are just some of the ways soft materials are used to emphasise fluidity.
Hand-stitched textiles are another key element of Indian design. Often, fine threads are woven into bedspreads and pillows; semi-precious stones are embedded into floorings; and colourful patchwork throws are made from scratch. Recycled and upcycled materials are also frequently used.
Indian design centres around versatility, with informal, relaxed spaces in keeping with the South Asian aesthetic. Mixed seating promotes a comfortable and communal atmosphere is the home. Diwans, footstool, high chairs, bench-style sofas and plush flooring fabrics can be combined to create your very own Indian-inspired haven.
Jhoolas, South Indian swings, are a relaxed seating option used in many Indian living rooms. Their informal, kick-back quality, combined with ornate carvings, offers a tranquil and glitzy statement piece. Typically suspended from ceilings and adorned in bold patterns, Jhoolas are sure to get you guests talking.
Bright colours nod to the nation’s humid climate, while cool granite and white-washed marble are a high-end flooring option. For a more cost-effective floor covering, tiles work perfectly.
Western homes can encapsulate India’s sun-kissed climate by using plenty of lighting and reflective surfaces used to mimic sunlight. Embellished mirrors and decorative chandeliers not only circulate light, but also earmark the opulent aesthetic of the style.