Have you ever been on vacation and ended up dragging home a wooden sculpture that's heavier than you? Then you need HGTV star Sandra Espinet’s new book, The Well–Traveled Home. The LA- and Mexico-based designer is a master of mixing global finds into everyday design, and to celebrate the publication of her new tome, we’re giving away copies to two lucky California Home+Design readers! Espinet's extensive travels—to India, the Sahara desert, Bhutan and Myanmar, to name a few destinations—have shaped her dramatic, artisan-filled design style, and it's as fun to hear her shopping stories as it is to enjoy her eclectic interiors. Want a hint? During a trip to India one year, an emergency camel rental ensured that she got a trove of local textiles back to her hotel.
We got interior designer and lifelong gypsy Sandra Espinet to share a few of her best (and most inspiring) design advice and shopping tips gleaned during her travels. Hint: fill up your kids' luggage! Check out her tips, below, and don’t forget to enter your email address to win a signed copy of her book.
What's the biggest find you've ever dragged home from a trip abroad?
We were on tiger safari in Rajasthan, India, and I decided to take a camel ride. We rode an hour and a half to a village where there was a women's cooperative that produced the most beautiful textiles that were embroidered and appliqued. They were all indigenous and very unique—and they smelled. But the textiles were beautiful, so I bought everything. I needed another camel to bring everything back to the hotel, where I had the textiles cleaned to get rid of the odor. Then I had to buy 8 pieces of luggage to fly it all back to the U.S.
Maybe we hoard souvenirs while traveling—what's your tip for shopping smart and not lugging home suitcases full of embroidered Kleenex-box covers (and yes, that has happened)?
I'm not thinking about shopping when I travel, but I somehow always stumble upon great finds. It's helpful to buy from stores that can make international shipping arrangements, or bring your kids along and fill their luggage. I’d recommend avoiding the obvious choices (tin boxes from Morocco and tie-dyes from Bali). Instead, seek out unique pieces made by artisans and what I call "furniture artists" from specialty stores that don't cater to tourists. For example, we spent 10 days in the Sahara desert, in villages where they had no hotels or inns, looking for unique pottery.
What are your favorite design destinations?
For textiles, I adore Bhutan. It's a fantastic place to go for any type of fabric for throw pillows and bed covers. The fabrics are completely handmade, and they’re in vivid mountain colors that work beautifully everywhere.
Myanmar has beautiful shell-encrusted accessories, pottery and carved wood pieces such as panels pediments and chairs. I bought a heavily carved antique opium bed there, but then before I knew it, we had filled an entire shipping container—unintentionally—with additional treasures.
Mexico City also offers fantastic shopping with the added touch of luxurious hotels. You don't have to rough it by trekking through swamps or deserts. It’s the best if you're not feeling super adventurous. There’s a wealth of street art, paper art and gorgeous silver pottery in and around Mexico City. I like the Saturday morning market at Coyoacan near Frida Kahlo's house. Also, it’s worth the two-hour drive south to Puebla for amazing unique pottery.
What's your secret for integrating global finds with more standard furnishings that one might already own?
Look at the pictures and read the captions in my book! Just kidding. International design can be incorporated into any home. Being able to edit—and avoid making your home into a bazaar—is important. It's knowing when to say no. A traditional home can hold a lot of ethnicity in design, whereas in a modern house you might use the exotic items more as accessories and art. It's just a matter of preference as to how spicy you want the dish.
What is your dream room to design?
I'm fascinated with the Virgin Galactic—so when there's a room in outer space, I want to be the first one to design it.
Sandra will be hosting three book signings in Southern California in September:
September 18 from noon-2 pm at Aga John, Laguna Design Center, 23811 Aliso Creek Rd., Suite 121, Laguna Niguel.
September 18 from 5:30-7:30 pm at Phyllis Morris and Anichini, 655 N. Robertson Blvd, West Hollywood.
September 19 from 5-7 pm at Aga John, Pacific Design Center, 8687 Melrose Ave., Suite B538, West Hollywood.
Enter your email below to win
Contest is open to U.S. residents only and runs through September 6. Two winners will be chosen at random and notified by email.