When it comes to decorating your outdoor spaces, there’s no need to re-invent the wheel. Throughout the centuries, even millennia, cultures from all ends of the earth have gifted the contemporary world with plenty of timeless and inspiring concepts.
“Regardless of when or where they live, people want outdoor spaces to be havens of serenity, places for family and friends to relax and extensions of their indoor spaces,” says Texas-based designer and artist Pablo Solomon.
From an island civilization in the Philippines to the prim and proper British society and a few places in between, here are a few imported ideas you can borrow for your backyard.
Even if you never step foot in Indonesia, it’s easy to incorporate Balinese aesthetics into your backyard. Bonsai trees, Koi fish, ginger flowers, lanterns and stone statues are a few of the elements Thomas Schoos used to create his whimsical 6,000-sq.-ft. Balinese garden in L.A. Still, the designer says you can create the same exotic experience by starting simple. “Balinese style thrives on nature and the senses,” says the designer. “Realize which colors, scents and sounds will relax you, and which materials will make your bare feet feel connected to the earth.” Finally, weave in Balinese fabrics such as batiks and silks when entertaining outdoors.
Capiz Wind Chimes
For more than 3,000 years, wind chimes have been warding off evil spirits in the Far East. Some 200 years ago Westerners adopted this exterior accent. Today they can be seen and heard in fancy gated communities, country bumpkin trailer parks and on the balconies of high-rise apartments. The metal bell variety may be popular, but Capiz wind chimes are about as authentic as they come. Ten Thousand Villages works with artisans in the Philippines—home to the province of Capiz where these glass-like oyster shells are harvested—to supply Americans with these soothing, traditional wind chimes.
Machu Picchu is a mystery, but archeologists do know the Incans implemented wall gardens. Thousands of miles away in ancient Persia, plants were being vertically seeded and pruned in a similar fashion. “Wall gardens conjure a visceral sense of calm and safety,” says NYC-based designer William Jude who is also a fan of the ground space they save. Today, these pretty amazing gravity-defying gardens are popping up everywhere from densely populated Japanese cities to remote tropical retreats in Brazil. Start with a wall that receives adequate sunlight, buy or build a frame for the plants and then identify an irrigation system and if needed, a fertilizer injector.
Ceramic tiles may just well be Spain’s greatest contribution to stateside home décor. “The bright colors and patterns reflect traditions of Moorish culture in Andalucía,” says San Francisco-based designer Warren Sheets who gives his clients’ outdoor areas a Spanish flair by incorporating sections of polychrome glazed tile. Tile is most fitting for a pool or fountain, but it also breaks up a boring wall and can be used to segment a large porch or patio. Make sure to consider climate when choosing tiles and a sealant—moisture and freezing temperatures can cause cracks and damage if the tile is too porous.
The right recipe makes all the difference when it comes to using Venetian plaster on exterior surfaces. L.A.’s Meoded Paint and Plaster relies on a formula fresh off the boat from Italy, and the end result is a long-lasting lustrous finish. The Italians knew what they were doing long before eco-friendly and economical were in the present-day design vocabulary. Avoid synthetic plasters and look for lime-based Venetian plaster which kills mold or marble-based Venetian plaster which gets harder and stronger over time.
English Cottage Garden
The Average Joe’s answer to the extravagant English estate is the less lavish, but equally beautiful, cottage garden. Winding gravel walkways lined with fragrant perennials such as roses, a cottage garden staple, untamed wildflowers and ornamental grasses create the ideal space to sip a spot of afternoon tea. “Benches and chairs in natural rustic materials are perfect for creating delightful seating areas among the blossoms,” says Laurel & Wolf designer Jessica Today who also recommends incorporating British-approved eye-catching elements including arbors, trellises and bridges.
Katie Jackson is a travel writer. When she's not working, she's chasing after a Leonberger named Zeus.