It’s amazing how much one vacation can change you. Whether by plane, train, or automobile, traveling somewhere new forces you to get out of your comfort zone and grow as both an individual and a global citizen. A new culture or country can give you everything from a mouth-watering new dish to a jolt of creativity. From Morocco’s Beni Ourain rugs to the delicate Venetian glass you’ll find in Italy, the world is packed with plenty of design ideas that are waiting to be brought back home. That’s exactly why we asked 18 design experts about the destinations that have inspired their careers and aesthetics the most.
While their sources of inspiration come from all corners of the world, the stories below prove you’ll never really know where design inspiration will strike next.
Absorb the History in China
Andy Higgins, founder of Pikka and Ciel Loft & Home, says, “I fell in love with my American wife in China, so it means everything to me. My wife and I lived in Beijing for three years right after we graduated college. We furnished our apartment from castaways, of remarkable quality, off the side of the road. What I found remarkable was the quality of workmanship."
If you're looking for beautiful furniture, look beyond the streets. Head to the markets, which are vast and filled with old furniture collected from all over China that's either being restored or sold as-is. You're bound to find a few treasures there.
Get Lost in Italian Frescoes
“I lived in Italy for seven years, so that had a profound effect on my design sensibility. From the quality of Italian handcrafts to Italian modernism and the maximal architecture, Italian design has a huge place in my heart," admits Justina Blakeney, interior designer and founder of Jungalow. Plus, with all of the centuries-old frescoes in just about every room, how could you note love Italy?
Blakeney isn't the only interior designer moved by the design on offer in Italy. Nina Magon, principal designer at Contour Interior Design is also a big fan. She explains, “From the beautiful architecture to the stunning quality of craftsmanship and intricate details that Italians incorporate into every product that they create, Italy produces some of the most inspirational designs. Whether it be the sleek trim piece on the bottom of a sofa or the elegant curves of a chair, these details within the design are manufactured to perfection!"
Touch the Textiles in India
As one of the largest countries in the world (population-wise), India has a lot to offer. Plus, it's backed by centuries of history. Laurie Blumenfeld-Russo, interior designer and principal at LBR Home notes, “I celebrated my thirteenth birthday in India, and it left a deep-rooted impression on my design aesthetic. The vibrant colors, textures, and spirituality, I find so inspiring. Each trip I take to India, I come home with boxes of saree fabrics.
Also, the Indian hand-carved, hand-painted furniture is divine. And anyone who loves rugs will happily layer them in among a neutral decor palette for a pop of intrigue.
Soak in the Mexican Sun
"For me, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico is the most beautiful, magical, and inspirational place I have ever been. I love the architecture, the colors, the gorgeous entries, the cobblestone streets. It is a perfect blend of old-world Mexico, artists, open-air markets, modern shops, and restaurants," Suzanne Ascher, designer and co-owner of Waterleaf Interiors says.
Another established designer who adores the equator-adjacent country? Bella Zakarian Mancini. She admits, “Mexico is the country I’ve traveled to the most and has consistently inspired not only my work but also my life. I was raised 40 minutes from the border in San Diego and grew up frequently crossing the border to Baja to eat, shop, and surf with friends."
After Ishe moved to New York City, she began traveling regularly throughout Quintana Roo, to soak in the sun during the cold winters. Eventually, she and her husband were married there in a big house on the sea. "Our many trips have uncovered so much beauty: friendships, food, music, and, for an interior designer with a bit of a tabletop obsession, craft," she adds.
Appreciate the Tradition of England
Interior designer Margaret Ash says, "The British have such an unapologetic appreciation for tradition and quality. I love seeing the use of heirloom china on display and the layering of well-worn antique rugs that you find in those great country houses." Not to mention: London also has a beautiful formality and refinement. The exquisite metalwork, stone, and sumptuous fabrics at Claridge's are the epitome of the Brits' love of tradition, "but it's also executed in a way that feels fresh and never stale.” Ash adds.
Alessandra Wood, interior design expert and vice president of style at Modsy, too, has an appreciation for all things London. She notes, “I love any city that preserves historic design and pairs it alongside a modern design. It really shows how you can be so deeply connected to the past while still living a modern life, and invites you to mix antiques and contemporary pieces in your home and personal style."
Take in the Natural Beauty of Bali
"Bali is truly heaven on earth. It has incredible natural beauty from its surf breaks and beaches, to jade green rice paddies and lush mountains. Plus, it has this peaceful, spiritual feeling everywhere: In its ancient temples, artist studios, open markets, and villages, as well as on the beaches and in its waters. Bali is my place of inspiration," Jill Johnson, designer and co-owner of Waterleaf Interiors, notes.
Note the Attention to Detail in Japan
Joy Cho, founder and creative director of Oh Joy!, is a big fan of Japan: “I love Japan. I visited Tokyo and Kyoto several years ago and it changed my outlook on design forever. The attention to detail is stunning and everything is so well thought out. Now I always think twice when designing products to make sure to add special details that give our products a little something extra.”
Plan your trip to Japan between mid-March and early May to catch a glimpse of the stunning cherry blossoms.
Explore the Richness of France
“As a young designer, I was taken on several trips to France while working on a chateau in Normandy. It was through those trips that I fell in love with French culture and European design sensibility. I’ve always left France feeling enriched, after combing through flea markets in Paris and Nice and all those late-night dinner conversations over bottles of rosé in quaint sidewalk cafes. I feel like that mixture of history and beauty combined with casual urbanity has become the foundation for my style," Kevin Dumais gushes.
Melissa Benham, principal at Studio Gild, adds, “Paris is bursting with art, culture, and history. We can’t walk the streets without taking a million photos of inspiring fashions and interiors that we know we’ll want to reference when designing Studio Gild projects."
Observe the Palettes in Morocco
For those who live in a highly visual world, prepare to meet your match at the Souks of Marrakech. Janie Molster says, "They are a wild ride into a treasure trove of color, smell, texture, chaos, ingenuity, craftsmanship, and brash hustling. The Medina is not for the faint of heart, but an organized shopper can conquer the meandering and confusing corridors of vendors and the rewards are well worth the sweat equity. I strongly recommend a guide on your first foray."
Stacy Garcia of Stacy Garcia, Inc. adds, “I’ve traveled so many amazing places and have experienced beautiful cultures, but a recent trip to Morocco stands out. Home to an overwhelming array of design inspiration, I’ve taken cues from the bold colors, rich flavors, elaborately geometric Zellige tile, and delicately intricate architecture."
Learn the Culture of South Africa
“My current collection of textiles and wallpaper was inspired by a recent trip to Tanzania and South Africa. Whenever I travel, I'm always on the search for local textiles for inspiration. The colors, textures, and various animals found across the continent are spectacular," notes Melinda Marquardt, designer and founder of The Vale London.
Anne Hepfer also has a deep connection to Africa. She says, “South Africa is one of the most aesthetically and culturally beautiful countries I have ever seen. I love a beautiful landscape, which is partly why I decided to visit, but I also went to visit the brilliant and smiling children at the Nobantu Township School. These kids, who are a big part of Education Without Borders’ mission, are the reason why I chose EWB as the charity behind my furniture and accessories line. The pieces—a selection of accent tables and trays—are made using sustainably sourced ostrich leather, and a portion of the sales directly benefit Education Without Borders."
She continues, "Of course, I also felt massively inspired by the brilliant colors and textures of Cape Town because it sits in a valley between some of Africa’s tallest peaks. It’s the only city where you can trek to the top of a mountain, hike back down, and already be right on the beach ready to sunbathe. It somehow has a tropical, luxury and outdoorsy feel all wrapped up in one.”
Pay a Visit to Dutch Museums
Alexander Doherty explains, “Denmark provides me with constant inspiration. From the colorful Copenhagen architecture, charming museums, and booming cafe scene, Denmark is one of my favorite countries to source new ideas. In particular, Copenhagen’s Thorvaldsens Museum is one of the best spots to provide design inspiration.”
Stay in the States
Interior designer Laura U makes a case for staying in the United States. She notes, “I create through adventure, and never want to be without something I enjoy. This is my mantra to design and why my summers in Aspen are so inspiring." She has a point. The connection residents have with their homes and their surroundings can have a great impact on the way we become inspired.