A Touch of Culture

Whether it’s a souvenir from last year’s vacation, a funky garage-sale find or an exotic gift a cousin brought back from her honeymoon, many people have a piece (or several pieces) of a different culture they want to display in their home. Though this can be intimidating, interior designer and co-owner of Longmont boutique Encore! Dena Blackburn says it’s a risk worth taking.

“What we find more often than not is that people are afraid because they feel like they don’t know how to do it, so they just don’t do anything,” Blackburn says. “People shouldn’t be afraid. If they really fall in love with something, go with it. Make a statement with it.”

Blackburn co-owns Encore! with her mother and fellow designer, Judi Supplee. Supplee advises paying attention to color schemes and style when trying to incorporate an exotic piece.

“Stick with the same color tones,” Supplee says. “A lot of Asian and Indian art looks really good with a contemporary or modern aesthetic, whereas, with a country aesthetic, not so much.”

In their experience as interior designers, Supplee and Blackburn have seen decorations from many cultures, from Indian Buddha heads to African tribal masks. Supplee urges souvenir shoppers to spend their money wisely if they want to incorporate a piece into their home design.

“If people are actually going to be on vacation thinking about buying a souvenir, don’t buy a small one, because it’s going to look like clutter,” Supplee says. “Buy something substantial. Spend a lot of money on one piece as opposed to a lot of money on a whole bunch of little pieces. That will usually be more easy to incorporate into every design situation that you have.”

Christine Costigan of Alabaster Design in Longmont, says it’s important that you can appreciate whatever item you’re displaying.

“Put it somewhere where you can see it and enjoy it,” Costigan says. “That could be your kitchen, your living room, on your coffee table. Put it somewhere prominent in an unobtrusive way.”

In addition to these tips, it is important to know the background and meaning of the item being displayed. Discoveries Egyptian Imports, a Longmont store specializing in Egyptian handcrafts, offers providence cards informing the buyer of their purchase’s significance. Marlene Collins, who co-owns the store with her husband, Steve Collins, says there are few concerns when displaying Egyptian items, but that isn’t always the case.

“I know I’ve looked at Tibetan and Buddhist things and there is a sensitivity around displaying things that are sacred and symbolic,” Collins says. “But as far as our merchandise, I haven’t come across any kind of sensitivity to displaying it.”

Most people will display their exotic items respectfully by default, Collins says.

“Usually people that are buying something have a connection with that ancient culture,” Collins says. “There is almost sort of a reverence around what they take home.”

Supplee says she thinks people will be naturally inclined to display their exotic items tastefully, as well as respectfully.

“Typically people are going to buy what appeals to them and its all going to be cohesive anyway because they’re not going to step outside their box too much,” Supplee says.

While cohesion often comes naturally, Supplee says the best rule of thumb is to consider room design before purchasing an exotic item.

“I’d rather see people really spend their money wisely when they do go cultural,” Supplee says. “It’s good to buy something that they’re going to be able to display, that’s going to be an important piece in their home.”

Published in Loveland Reporter-Herald on 10/15/11 and Longmont Times-Call Home and Real Estate Weekly on 10/11/11 (see PDFs below).


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