Travel has inspired interiors ever since Marco Polo first brought porcelain back from China, and possibly long before. Throughout most of recorded history, very few people ventured beyond their own parish and foreign objects carried the exciting whiff of elsewhere. Their shapes, patterns and colours brought a sense of the exotic into homes that could afford them.
Fast forward to the late 20th century, when travel became a lot more accessible. Holidays abroad swiftly became the norm and bringing back a souvenir, either as a gift or for your own home, was part of the experience. Now, I'd challenge you to find an Irish home that doesn't have some memento of foreign parts. Even if it's only a fridge magnet.
In our homes, these holiday souvenirs punch above their weight. They remind us of wider horizons. This year, we're not going anywhere. It's also possible that the combination of a global pandemic and climate change may alter our travelling habits in the long term. How, then, can we maintain that sense of adventure in our homes? Probably in the same way people did in the centuries before cheap flights and sun holidays, with a mixture of clever design and fantasy.
There's nothing like a map for armchair tourism. I like the interactive aspect of Ikea's Klätta wall sticker (€12), a cut-out world map (60 x 103cm) that can be marked in chalk. Or, on a much grander scale, Andrew Martin's Constantinople wallpaper is based on a historic map of the Straits of Bosporus, complete with mountains, ships and seas. The considerable sum of €464 will buy you two panels, each 1.4m wide. Put them together to complete the picture.
"It whisks you away to a different land," says David Harris, Design Director at Andrew Martin. "People work so hard to go away on holiday and they love to surround themselves with things that remind them of different places." The design, he explains, came from two different sources. The map itself was bought at a country house auction, but the idea of turning it into a mural came from a house in northern Italy where an artist had painted a huge map on the wall.
Harris has also been involved in creating Andrew Martin's paint collection (€91 for five litres), which is also inspired by travel. The company's website includes a world map, with various colour swatches positioned across it. Click on the yellow square over India and it reveals itself as "Tuk Tuk: A dirty yellow hue that gets its name from the iconic rickshaw taxis found across India." I haven't tried the paint, but the storytelling is very evocative.
"Everyone who looks at that paint chart will have been somewhere," Harris says. "It doesn't have to be exotic."
The chart includes a dark grey called Welsh Slate and the biscuit-coloured Norfolk Dune. There's even a greenish neutral called Irish Linen, only it's not included on the map.
"You don't have to be literal in the way that you use the colour," says Harris, who has just painted his son's bedroom wall in Egyptian Indigo. "I've never been to Egypt but I don't think that matters. It's a deep electric blue, it reminds you of north Africa and Morocco, and it's brilliant fun!"
The mix-and-match approach to colours and patterns inspired by foreign lands is, he reminds me, reminiscent of contemporary cookery, which draws inspiration from several types of international cuisine and combines them in new and interesting ways. Ottolenghi doesn't do interiors, but if he did…
"Colour and pictures have always helped me remember," says Adele Roche, interior designer and colour consultant. "I have epilepsy, and I often don't remember words or numbers, so colours are hugely important." That said, the association that a certain colour brings can change over time. "When I finished college, I travelled around Greece with a friend. That combination of white and blue! But the funny thing was that, before the trip, I disliked that shade of blue because it was the same colour as my school uniform!"
How effectively you can use that colour combination, specifically evolved for the Greek climate, into an Irish home is a moot point. I've heard designers recommend that we stick to the rainy colours of home. But Roche thinks that it can be done. "You can bring Greece into your home, but you have to be true to it. You have to commit. Don't just put in a feature wall in blue and hope that it feels like Greece. You also need to have the pure white, and the light furniture, and a bit of tapestry."
What you want to avoid, she explains, is a look that's common in Irish homes. I call it Failed Scandi. "People buy Scandi furniture and wonder why it doesn't look like it does in the shops. It's because they've got two dogs, five guinea pigs, three children, and plastic toys all over the place!"
Bringing in smaller items that remind you of foreign parts is easier than creating a whole new look. "I was in Morocco about 10 years ago," she says. "The smells! The colours! The spices! And there was this man on the street, he was probably homeless and he had no arms. He was painting portraits with his feet. And I just thought, wow, - we complain about so much, but he's having a really bad life and there he is, painting portraits with his feet."
The portrait that Roche had done now hangs in her kitchen. "It looks nothing like me," she admits. "People come into my house and they say - that's awful, what's that about? I love seeing their faces change when they hear the story."
Roche is the co-organiser, with Gwen Kenny of Divine Design, of Inside Out, a two-day online home, garden and lifestyle show that will run on Saturday, July 25, and Sunday, July 26, across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
The event is in aid of the charity Friends of the Coombe, and will include virtual consultations with architects, interior and garden designers (each costs a €45 donation to Friends of the Coombe) and an art auction. All the artists have donated their work and all proceeds go directly to the charity.
"I just asked the artists that I work with to donate work," says Roche. "I didn't think that they'd all say yes!"
The auction is conducted by silent bid, with an advised minimal value (AMV) on each artwork, and artists range from Orla Walsh (Coke Cap, AMV €310) to Pigsy, aka Ciaran McCoy, whose canvas A Star Is Born carries an AMV of €1,500. The event also includes streamed interviews with Hugh Wallace and Dermot Bannon. Dig deep and donate.
See insideouthomeshow.ie, adeleroche.ie, andrewmartin.co.uk.