August is almost universal vacation month. In honor of vacation it’s time to celebrate all the ways travel can reinvigorate life—and not only when we are away from home. What I love best about travel is how it—a vision that I can bring back home.
On a trip to Spain, I visited Gaudi’s Parc Guell in Barcelona. The fabulous and unconventional tile work played out on such a large scale is shocking, exuberant, and mesmerizing. It is difficult to believe the park was constructed in the early 1900’s—it reminds me of the explosion of color in the 1960’s, when psychedelia influenced both color and form. Gaudi reminds me that there are always new color combinations. You can put murky colors next to bright, use texture to add another element to a wild mix of colors, and, most of all, enjoy riotous color without making an immediate value judgement of whether it “works” or not. Just enjoying is the point.
The middle photo, which was taken at City Hall in Santa Barbara, CA, is a happy riot of color, but in a completely different way. Here the tile shapes are square, and the design is more subdued, but there is still plenty of excitement. The black and white diagonal lines add spice to the circular patterns of the rest of the tile. It’s a pleasant sort of tension that makes me see all of the elements separately: the arches at the top of the wall, the plant growing up the middle, the inset of flowers on the diagonal lines, and then look again and see a beautifully balanced whole. It is playful and calming at once.
On a trip down the California coast, I saw this fountain, from the Alcazar Gardens in Balboa Park, San Diego. I love its star shape repeated over and over, in so many different ways. It was very difficult to just stand and admire, without hopping in! It’s a good lesson that design can be lighthearted without being whimsical and inspiring without being serious.
What all of these enchanting places have in common—besides the fact that they all feature ceramic tile, a personal passion—is that they offer instructive decorating lessons. Here is what I learned: be bold and inventive with color. Don’t be afraid to throw an unexpected element into a design, like a diagonal line or something roughly textured next to something smooth. The sound of water is both soothing and uplifting. It can also block out less desirable sounds, such as traffic. Even the simplest fountains look and sound great. Why not take that a step farther and build an unusual shape?
One way to be bold with color is to gather a range of colors together and play. My favorite way to do this is to use color chips from a paint store, cut up. Put some surprising combinations together; use a color you would normally never consider with a few you like and see what happens. Another way to enlarge your vision of color is to look at paintings in museums, in books, or in postcards. I collect postcards of paintings I particularly like when I visit museums. Not only are they fun to display on a tiny easel or two, they are wonderful guides to color possibilities.
To make sure your rooms are lively, or even just that the pillows on your sofa are intriguing, throw in a curve if there are many square or rectangular shapes. A round table in the midst of a square space brings balance and grace to the room. Put a bold stripe next to a splashy print. Use arches to soften a wall.
Wherever you go, enjoy the way your perspective shifts when you’re not at home, and it’s not business as usual. I’ve found many wonderful objects to bring home from my travels, but the best souvenirs are the ideas brought back and adapted to make your home your own kind of fabulous.