Tropical, oriental and global: three exotic interior design trends to know

Seek inspiration from the world around you to create a home that speaks of adventures had and yet to come

Coral, palm tree prints and wood for a soft tropical vibe. Photo: Furniture Choice Ltd
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With the world growing ever smaller thanks to technology and travel, savvy interior designers and keen home decorators are increasingly looking all over the globe for inspiration. As we make it to the halfway mark of this year, several exotic trends have emerged, giving decor fiends plenty of scope for injecting some travel-inspired style into their interiors. Here are three of our favourites looks with tips on how to adopt them in your living or working space.

Tropical but tempered 

The “tropical paradise” look has been moving in and out of vogue every few seasons as tastes veer between elegant and kitsch. The theme is back this year, but with a more contemporary and much softer feel.

Where in the past, tropical has been synonymous with bright and vibrant island-party style (think Rio in full carnival mode), this time around it’s more grown up and subdued. The palette is desaturated, the materials tactile and welcoming, and the overall effect one of tasteful luxury – a retreat rather than an adventure.

Colour-wise, we’re talking bottle green and sage over lime; nude pink and soft coral rather than fuchsia; and mandarin and warm mustard instead of banana yellow. Blue highlights range from navy to sea blue, with plenty of white space in between shades and patterns.

Palm-leaf print is the main motif of the soft tropical look, and you would have seen it everywhere this season, across both homeware and fashion. Florals are still in evidence, but not in the same abundance; soothing foliage is blossoming instead. Where there are flowers, their colours are muted, adding to the relaxed vibe.

Textures are natural without being raw. Buff leather, linen and cotton, wood – grain exposed, but not too rough or rustic – and artfully crafted rattan are all worthy options. Add in a touch of velvet for comfort, and edgy hints of monochrome painted metalwork.

The simplest way to get this look is to add a statement item: a wallpapered accent wall, shapely lamp or fresh bedding in palm-leaf print.

Pina Colada lamp from Yellow Octopus 

Add a few plants for a cost-effective start – again, foliage being a priority over flowers. Remember to leave plenty of breathing space around any colour or pattern blocks for a look that will elevate your space from the humdrum, and help you create a tropical oasis that’s colourful yet calm.

Become part of the global tribe

If you dream of spending every last week of your holiday exploring far-flung corners of the globe then this is definitely a look that will appeal. The global tribe trend is universally inclusive, inviting the eclectic traveller to curate a collection of evocative accessories that isn’t limited to one country.

Print is a big part of this look. Ikat, chevron, geometric – it doesn’t matter what it is, just so long as there’s plenty of it, yet repeated in a small, intricate way rather than oversized chunks. Combining different, even clashing prints is fine, which blend to form an unexpected and vibrant cohesion much like the bustling bazaars of Marrakech.

Add a kilim rug from your travels into your living space. Photo: Einrichten Design

To stop this from becoming overwhelming, keep the palette subdued, with nothing overly shouty or bright. The heart of this colourway is warm, spicy and earthy tones: clay, ochre, terracotta, stone and sand, with slate and chalk adding a touch of monochrome cool.

These shades instinctively work with raw, unfinished surfaces across a range of natural materials, such as roughly hewn stone, woven textile, textured rope and basket­work, and hand-­finished ceramics. These speak of our planet’s bounty and should be designed with adept craftsmanship to become the types of artisanal products that stand out against a sea of mass-produced factory items.

Wood, too, is a prominent feature of the global tribe trend. Choose from sustainable mango, sturdy oak, or rich and exotic ebony – whatever works best for your tastes and budget. As with the soft tropical look, the background includes plenty of open space and light to stop the eclectic prints becoming too much.

The simplest way to get the look is to switch out a few accessories, adding in a handwoven kilim rug, a few ikat print cushions, a reed basket or a tribal wall hanging.

Bohemian Tribal Ikat cushion from

If you have the budget to redo your walls, floors and carpets, stick to a pared-back colour palette that will allow your eclectic accessories to take centre stage.

An air of eastern artistry

The mysticism of the Far East has long inspired home interiors worldwide, and this year we’re travelling back to the Orient once again. For 2019, designers are combining different aspects of the East by merging the simple and minimalistic with the decorative and regal into a rich cultural tapestry.

Traditional motifs still dominate this look, from delicate florals such as Japanese cherry blossoms to Chinese dragons, and chinoiserie. For a modern take, mix these with a contemporary aesthetic that is almost austere in its plainness. It’s a juxtaposition that, rather than bringing tension, serves to either calm an ornate look or add interest to a stark one.

Add interest to a stark look with a touch of the East, such as this Chinoiserie side cabinet. Photo: Orchid Furniture 

When it comes to colour, this approach is about blending two seemingly different palettes to create a whole that is more appealing than the sum of its parts. On the one hand there are the regal purples, peacock blues, jade greens and other jewelled tones, but these are balanced against a backdrop of soft monochrome neutrals: slate black, chalky white, dove grey, navy and taupe.

Like the other exotic trends of 2019, this is a style that leaves a lot of room for personal interpretation. Rather than trying to recreate a national style, it’s about cherry-picking the bits that work for you and your home.

Eastern artistry is also as much about philosophy and approach as it is individual furniture and accessories. The influence of Marie Kondo’s minimalistic exhortation to keep only that which “sparks joy” is certainly in evidence. There’s also a touch of the ancient Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi, which celebrates that which is imperfect, impermanent and incomplete.

This design sense can be injected in subtle ways through the inclusion of calligraphy prints, enso circles and kintsugi items – those that have been broken and repaired with gold, such that the so-called flaw becomes a statement of beauty.

Kintsugi. Courtesy Kyoto Heiando

In the end, seek inspiration from the world around you – your own standout travel sights and experiences, glimpses of appealing destinations in magazines, and open-to-interpretation descriptions in books and blogs – and let your heart guide you as you create a home that speaks of adventures had and yet to come.