A Taste of India Can Make a Minimalist American Interior Pop

Home to some of the planet's wealthiest and most impoverished people, with wondrous architectural masterpieces, unimaginable slums and overpopulated cities a short plane ride from rich biodiversity, India is an intensive study in contrasts.


Lucky is how I feel each time I travel to India. No matter how many times I’ve visited, I see and learn something new.

The world’s largest democracy is complex, layered and unquestionably a nonstop visual feast. For designers, inspiration is on every street, in every bite and in every interaction.

Home to some of the planet’s wealthiest and most impoverished people, with wondrous architectural masterpieces, unimaginable slums and overpopulated cities a short plane ride from rich biodiversity, India is an intensive study in contrasts.

And the unmistakable influence of that interior design perspective is popularly finding its way into homes across our country and all over the world.

If your dream interior can best be characterized as minimalist – and exemplified by a pattern-less palette of warm grays popped by highlights of white – a full-on India-inspired interior may not be for you. That’s not to say that Indian influences can’t weave beautifully into predominantly neutral homes. They can and often do. But to truly experience the vibrancy of today’s Indian design trend, you’ll want to be a little more open to letting saturated color and bold pattern seep into your life.

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit the newly opened Oberoi Sukhvilas resort, situated at the foothills of the Himalayas in the Siswan forest range, to witness an expression of full-on Indian design at its best. Like the country itself, Indian design can be characterized as warm, inviting and unabashedly bold without sacrificing sophistication or taste. If that sounds like a great refresher for your home, here are several steps to use, in full or in part, to help transport your interiors there:

–Gemstone colors: If a color recalls the finest example of a gemstone, it almost certainly works in India. Deep sapphire blues, rich ruby reds and lush emerald greens, supported by a framework of darker hues of gold, convey the luxurious essence of today’s Indian interior trend.

This is not a bashful palette. In fact, it stands in complete contrast to the recent popularity of pale, soft shades. It’s the antithesis of the now thoroughly pervasive millennial pink and spectrum of pale blues that nearly fade into white.

These are strong, dramatic and luxurious colors. And they perfectly accompany cooler fall temperatures. Because of their saturation and depth, these colors thrive when showcased in luminous velvets and silks.

Sofas, chairs and headboards upholstered in gemstone hued velvets, in particular, speak to the current side of this trend. For longevity and freshness, focus on integrating a singular gemstone hue, in an otherwise neutral space, where it can carry the color load. Or, for the boldest expression of this trend, use them all collaboratively to make the most dramatic impact.

–Floral and animal patterns: Bold pattern on fabrics, furniture, rugs and accessories has an important and prominent role in Indian interior design. A deep layering of patterns, within a single space, can infuse it with both soul and story.

Floral patterns featuring symbolic Indian flowers, such as the dahlia, rose, lotus, marigold and zinnia, are among the most popular. And skillfully juxtaposing graphic animal hide patterns, as well as patterns featuring animals set in scenery, alongside floral ones is emblematic of this Indian interior point of view.

Elephant and horse figures, often adorned with colorful blankets and headpieces, are a frequent favorite. In more transitional interiors, graphic deer spots, leopard spots and tiger stripes reference India’s rich history with these creatures.

Remember, when layering a combination of floral and animal patterns in your own home, ensure that a broad spectrum of scales is employed. Placing small, medium, large and extra-large scaled patterns adjacent to one another allows for easy cohabitation.

–Tent chic: Indian tent interiors – replete with mahogany floors, canopy beds, claw-foot tubs and miles of fabric – have become a notable highlight of the country’s award-winning hospitality industry. They reference design cues from an earlier time when the privileged traveled across India in unbelievable style, and their romance, softness and tinge of nostalgia can quickly relax, rejuvenate and revitalize the weary.

Though “glamping” (officially added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2016), otherwise known as glamorous camping, has seen a significant uptick in interest among Americans, aspects of these elegant and adventurous tent interiors are really beginning to permeate and influence our lives. As more of us seek to decompress through home designs with a vacation mind set at the core, borrowing design elements from luxury tents has gained real relevance.

This fall, more really may be more. Deeper and more saturated colors, such as sapphire blue, ruby red, and dark gold, are surging, replacing paler colors that have been pervasive this past spring and summer. Depictions of animals, particularly elephants and horses, is a big fall trend as shown here at the Oberoi Sukhvilas. Photo credit: Courtesy of Vern Yip

Though not everyone can have, nor necessarily wants, a literal tented ceiling in their home, lining walls and ceilings with fabric can create the same cocooning effect and is great for absorbing sound. Certainly being ensconced inside the fabric panels of a canopy bed can inject a needed dose of romance into a tired bedroom.

And you don’t have to reside in the mountains or in a rural setting to take part in this trend. Even urbanite apartment dwellers and suburbanites in ranch-style homes can embrace elements of Indian “tent” design to help turn down the stress while upping the relaxation factor.

The physical environments that cultures showcase often speak volumes about who they are. Sometimes even more so than their words.

India’s culture is multifaceted, dynamic, elegant, incredibly vibrant and full of wondrous complexities and contrasts. It can certainly never be tagged as boring or accused of being clinical.

In so many ways, this also perfectly characterizes today’s Indian interior design. As India’s increasing economic influence continues to be felt all over the globe, her design point of view will, too.

So, whether it’s an entire renovation or a subtle shift in accents, embracing the colors, patterns and adventurous spirit of this powerhouse nation will lend a relevant dimension, complexity and enduring beauty to any home.

Yip is a TLC/HGTV interior designer and host and author of the book “Vern Yip’s Design Wise: Your Smart Guide to a Beautiful Home.” Originally from McLean, Va., Yip is based in Atlanta and New York.

Special to The Washington Post

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