fight the tchotchke

i am a fool for travel. forget losing your passport or getting kidnapped by militants; any seasoned tourist knows that the single greatest danger of leaving home is trinket overdose. take years of shopping in bazaars, add the american consumer neurosis, and you may find yourself suffering from decor schizophrenia. (there should be a warning label on every boarding pass.)

so how do you showcase your travel without landing in crazytown?

anyone with a bohemian aesthetic has an easy time of this. i’m reminded of john robshaw, whose new york apartment fully and gorgeously embraces the international flavor of his work as a textile designer.



john robshaw and sara bengur / elle decor / dec 2012

notice how he draws all his treasures together with color, tone, pattern, and scale. (p.s. i’m pretty sure i’ve seen that dining room chandelier at a distant in-law’s house in hyderabad.)

huge smile at the way emily henderson styled the apartment of a client who was deeply in touch with her african roots.

Picture 62 Picture 63

this is cool. like, STUPID cool.

but as much as i admire these looks, we haven’t yet solved the dilemma for a traveler preferring contemporary lines, patterns, and color palettes over that ethnic stuff.

to address this problem, my husband syed and i have committed to a One Tchotchke Policy when traveling. the little time we spend shopping is focused on finding a single small piece that represents local flavor in an aesthetic that is consistent with our home. a couple examples…

machu picchu. it draws vast swarms of people eager to cross a big one off the bucket list. true to form, the peruvian economy has responded with a collection of hand-crafted knick knacks which tempt us, crunk on a 4-day hike through the andes, to clutter our homes with silliness. syed and i adore their country but see through this evil plan. (we were still in control of our wits as we didn’t actually do the inca trail. i am only so brave.)

Picture 58

this little black and white number was hand made in peru by an artisan. more importantly, it lives in our home as if it always belonged here. the colors are neutral, the pattern is bold, and the piece enhances the room rather than fighting with it. guaranteed i can make it work wherever i happen to live for the next 100 years. i had to pick this tiny thing out of a shelf full of black and white vases that leaned just a scoatch too tribal out of a lima shop full of stuff that screamed TRIBAL PERU!! win.

even the most sheltered cult baby could warn you about the danger of touristy cliche in australia. we succumbed to some extent by landing on a koala.


glass. interpreted. endearing. crafted by a melbourne artist. i still haven’t decided where to put this guy, but i know he will fit somewhere comfortably in my every home, forever. look at him! he belongs with us. consider the alternative:

Picture 56


beyond that, we use our travel photography and GIMP (think open source photoshop) to create artwork that goes with the apartment’s raging sea vibe.


i’ll walk through the process in a later, nerdier post.

so think about your home when exploring exotic lands. don’t let fast talking vendors seduce you with their incessant ‘3 for the price of 2!’ BE PICKY. no one wants to learn about your fabulous adventurous life on an episode of hoarders.


7 thoughts on “fight the tchotchke

  1. I love this post! John Robshaws feature was absolutely magical. His walls!! And I’m not going to deny the extra oomph of happiness upon seeing his Islamic art. We have a one trinket rule too, but it’s still a constant battle trying to figure out how to create such magic with your own place.

    Also, I’m curious about your pillows! I demand a post without the blurry shot.

    xx amber

    • thanks amber. he got it just about perfect, didn’t he? those dining room chairs are killer. and check out the headboards on his website – pretty badass. p.s. i’ve made mental note of your request for a pillow feature 🙂

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