Ideas for Decorating with Ethnic Accents

Michelle Radcliff
Moroccan style accent pillows

Ethnic accents add interest and flair in many types of settings. Cultural art, artifacts and crafts tend to stand out more as conversation pieces or even focal points when mixed with other styles or modern and contemporary décor.

Moroccan decor

Moroccan Accessories and Embellishments

Moroccan style decorating is wildly popular and with good reason. Bright, vivid colors, intricate carvings and highly detailed patterns found on textiles, ceramics, metal, wood and glass create stunning elements for the home.

  • Textiles- Moroccan weaving is a highly skilled craft performed mostly by women and includes detailed geometric and abstract designs on vivid, jewel-toned fabrics. Rooms are often layered in colorful pillows, cushions, rugs and blankets.
  • Lanterns- A signature look of Moroccan décor, Moroccan lanterns feature beautiful colored glass and intricately carved metal casings. When illuminated from within, the lanterns cast a beautiful glow of color or throw off a stunning display of light and shadow from their carved casings.
  • Furniture- Beautifully carved rosewood and ebony furnishings feature Moresque and Arabesque, lattice style carvings. Embellishments such as camel bone or mother-of-pearl inlays add additional beauty and flair. Colorful ottoman-type furnishings known as "poufs" make a fun, whimsical addition in modern living rooms or bedrooms.
  • Tile- Moroccan tile is imported worldwide for its highly sought-after and detailed patterns and striking colors. These tiles can be used to embellish practically anything such as a fireplace, fountain, swimming pool, bathtub, backsplash or are very popular on stair risers.

Decorating Ideas

A little bit of Moroccan flair will go a long way in contemporary room. Moroccan influences are common in free-spirited, eclectic or Bohemian styles as well. Dress up a sofa, bed or chair with colorful Moroccan accent pillows or a colorful Moroccan throw. Accent a tabletop or shelf with Moroccan lanterns or hang a collection of them on a covered patio. Create a standout focal point with a Moroccan bedframe or intricately carved wood divider screen. Surprise guests after a dinner party by bringing out a beautiful Moroccan tea set, which would also make a nice display on a credenza, sideboard, coffee table or ottoman.

Moroccan tea set.

Where to Buy

Buy exotic Moroccan accents from the comfort of home.

  • Treasures of Morocco- This store has affordable Moroccan decor, from furniture to accents to kitchenware and offers helpful decorating tips. Find hand painted tables as low as $140, leather candle holders for $20 and colorful tea glass sets starting at $32.
  • sheherazade- A New York City based importer of Moroccan made furnishings and decor, as well as goods from India, Syria and Turkey. Find a variety of Moroccan textiles including Ikat pillows from $35 to $95, floor pillows (similar to poufs) from $156 to $550 and Ikat quilts from $125 to $195.
  • Just Morocco- This beautifully designed website will get you in a Moroccan mood with a large selection of high end furnishings and décor. Find a large inventory of exquisite Moroccan lanterns in various sizes, ranging from $85 to $2800, one-of-a-kind hand carved cabinets from $1400 to $2800 and colorful poufs from $55 to $99.

Asian Accessories and Embellishments

The Silk Road became a well-established route through Europe and Asia to satisfy the demand for Oriental and Middle Eastern treasures such as silk textiles, fine porcelain, exotic plants for medicinal and culinary uses and other materials such as jade, coral and pearls. Exotic décor from Asia is just as popular today as it ever was in history.

  • Chinese Accents- Although the sleek, glossy look of highly lacquered furniture began in Japan, it is also common in Chinese style furniture, along with delicately painted motifs of nature and Chinese calligraphy. Chinoiserie, a décor style that mixes European elements with Chinese art and materials like porcelain and lacquer, helped to further popularize the Oriental look in traditional and contemporary settings.
  • Japanese Accents- Japanese furniture and décor is very clean and simple, fitting perfectly with minimalist design styles. Organic materials and textures provide a very natural look and a quiet, peaceful atmosphere. Shoji screens, made from rice paper and lightweight wood frames are popular room dividers that allow light to filter in from one room to the next.
  • Indian Accents- Throne style chairs, once reserved for nobility, make stunning conversation pieces in rooms. Indian textiles are full of color and highly detailed motifs and patterns. Hand block printing is still a practiced art in India, where craftsmen apply vivid patterns to fabric by hand using wooden blocks.
Chinese room divider

Decorating Ideas

Asian accents work well in formal traditional and upscale decorating styles and in modern or minimalist (Japanese) style interiors. Create a luxurious conversation area by placing a beautiful Chinese style room divider behind two armchairs. Use Shoji screens to divide a long, narrow room into separate functional areas. Display a floral arrangement in a colorful oriental vase or create a grouping of oriental ceramic vases. Silk scrolls make lovely wall art or use silk accent pillows on a bed or sofa. Use a block print curtain to cover exposed linen shelves or cover a washer and dryer alcove. A block print tablecloth would look great on a breakfast nook or small kitchen table.

Where to Buy

Try these resources for Asian style décor and furnishings:

  • China Furniture Online- This site has a large selection of imported furniture and decor from China. The gifts category features hundreds of beautiful décor items that can be searched for by price, by recipient or by occasion. Find silk pillows for $49 and hand painted divider screens starting at $299. This company has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau and earned the Bureau's Complaint Free Award for 2012. Customers praise this company for offering quality pieces and for the care the company takes in shipping items.
  • Oriental Furniture- Here you will find both Chinese and Japanese decor and furniture, including shoji screens from $49 to $199 and Korean cabinets and chests starting at $399. Find bamboo rugs for $19, tatami mats starting at $89 and Japanese platform beds for $525. You can order by phone 24 hours a day in addition to the website checkout.
  • Saffron Marigold- This site carries Indian hand block print textiles including bedspreads starting at $59 for a twin, duvet covers starting at $139 for a twin, curtains as low as $35 and table linens starting at $34.99. You can shop by the pattern and view everything offered in that collection. Fabric swatches are $7.99.

Southwestern Accessories and Embellishments

Heavily influenced by Native American tribes such as the Navajo and Hopi, Southwestern accents also contain cultural elements from Mexico and Spain. The look is colorful, artistic, primitive and rustic.

  • Pottery- Centuries-old craftsmanship and beautiful geometric designs make authentic Native American pottery some of the most sought-after ceramic art in the world today. Distinctive styles include Acoma pottery, Horsehair pottery, Jemez pottery, wedding vase and Mata Ortiz pottery from Mexico.
    Native American baskets
  • Talavera Pottery- Originally introduced by the Spanish, this type of majolica earthenware also has influences from the Arabic Moors who conquered Spain, making it closely resemble Moroccan tile in color and design. Accents such as Talavera plates, jars, vases and tiles add bright pops of color wherever they are used.
  • Baskets, Rugs and Blankets- Navajo weavers produce beautiful rugs and blankets with complex geometric designs. Basket weaving is one of the oldest known Native American crafts. Made from organic materials such as tightly coiled willow wood, sumac and birch bark, Native American baskets add rich organic texture to a room.

Decorating Ideas

Southwestern style accents are commonly seen in rustic, lodge style decorating. These accents can also be blended with contemporary, modern (because of the geometric designs) and country decorating. Display pottery in groupings or use individual pieces on a shelf, mantle or in a bookcase. Use similar methods to display Native American baskets or hang them on the wall.

Drape a colorful Navajo blanket over a sofa, chair or the foot of the bed. Add color and pattern to hardwood or tile floors with Navajo rugs. Accent a hutch or kitchen wall shelf with Talavera pottery. Use colorful Talavera tiles to cover a tabletop, frame a bathroom mirror or fireplace or for an artistic kitchen backsplash. Impress guests in your home with a Talavera sink in the guest bathroom.

Ethnic patterns are commonly applied to modern decor and furnishings such as bedding, pillows, upholstery and wallpaper. You can also add an ethnic touch to walls or furniture with stencils.

Talavera pottery

Where to Buy

Find authentic Native American and Mexican crafts online:

  • AllTribes- Based in Arizona, this store sells authentic Native American pottery, baskets and genuine Navajo rugs and blankets in addition to dozens of other Native American crafts. Find a great deal on wedding vase pottery for $36 and free shipping. Small Mata Ortiz pottery starts at $40 and prices go as high as $1000 for prize winning pieces signed by the artist. Navajo baskets start at $24 and Navajo rugs start at $220. Crafts made by Native American artists come with a certificate of authenticity.
  • Direct from Mexico- Find a great selection of Talavera pottery and tile, as well as other rustic accents made in Mexico. Talavera vases and tableware starts at $17, wall hangings start at $19, sinks start at $114 and tile comes in 4 inch ($1.46 each) or 6 inch ($3.10 each) size. Customer reviews for this merchant are positive, especially for the fast shipping.
  • Sunland Home Decor- This company has been in business since 1997 and offers a huge selection of contemporary Southwestern style home accents- meaning not all of the products are handcrafted but they do carry artisan-made décor including metal wall art ranging from $20 to $120, art prints starting at $35, canvas transfers at $90, artisan furniture at $325 and artisan baskets start at $21.95.

Mixing Styles

Shoji Screens

Ethnic décor lends itself to eclectic styles, especially when mixing cultural elements together. Look for similar elements in ethnic accents that will keep a balanced, unified look. Accents with rustic, organic or natural

elements typically work well together. Provide harmony with similar patterns, forms and color intensity. Cultural blends occasionally end up as all new styles, as in the case of Chinoiserie style.

Ideas for Decorating with Ethnic Accents