Is the concept of global interior style racist?

Soooooo, I guess you could say that this is not a typical post for me. I usually write posts that are light-hearted, up-beat and, well, about shopping for interiors products. Hardly high brow. But something grabbed my attention this weekend, and I kind of needed to write it up, put it out there and check it out with you guys.

Is the concept of 'global' interior style racist? On www.needsmorecushions.com - interior style inspired by global adventure

Image Credit: David Tsay

In case you didn’t know, I’m a HUGE Emily Henderson fan. I think she is a fabulous interior stylist and her debut book, Styled, is one of my regular reference guides for design inspiration. One of the things I love about Emily’s style is that she has quite eclectic taste and I regularly spot African indigo fabrics, mudcloth and other traditional textiles in her photoshoots. Right up my street. She also offers visitors to her site a chance to discover their own personal style using her online quiz (yes, I have done it several times…!).

So what has got me so fired up?

One of the possible quiz outcomes, and the one I got, is global style. Shocking, huh!? Emily describes global style in a recent blog post in the following way: “If traveling to the far off corners of the world, collecting beautiful things and layering cozy and handcrafted textiles is your favorite hobby, then you my friend could have a global style. It’s a mix of eclectic and bohemian inspired pieces from all over the world and it’s exciting and totally wild”.

So far, so good. She goes on to set out the importance of mixing and matching different styles and pieces in order to create a collected, curated look, all of which I wholeheartedly agree with. She then goes on to pull together a shopping list with global pieces sourced from US interiors giant, Target. Target!? A huge no-no for me as none of these products will be genuine or ethically sourced. Argh! But that’s not what promoted me to write this post…

Is the concept of 'global' interior style racist? On www.needsmorecushions.com - interior style inspired by global adventure

Image credit: David Tsay

Say what!?

I scrolled through the comments section on this particular post to see what people were saying about global style. But, man was I surprised when I came across this showstopper of a comment:

The idea that this is a “global” style is a pretty white-centric view and counts as racist in my book. If it wasn’t obvious, *all* of the styles featured on this website are global to some degree — they involve influences from around the world and incorporate design elements that span countries and eras. The only difference here is that many of the textiles and patterns are from so-called “third world” countries, which white people have historically traveled to in order to collect “exotic” furniture for their homes. Often this “global” style prioritizes natural elements, geometric patterns, and hand-made adornments — reinforcing the idea that third-world artisans are primitive and somehow closer to the earth.

Conveniently left out is the fact that the African continent, India, and other developing countries moved through all of the beloved styles included on this site, including mid-century modern, brutalism, minimalism, etc. This ahistorical focus on *only* third-world craft (to the exclusion of third-world modernism, etc.) plays right into the narrative of white Europeans as civilized and artistic, and people from the global South as primitive and natural.

Please research the ways that art and design are influenced by the racist histories that all of us bear in some way or another. And please research the other styles represented in these so-called “global” countries — they will not disappoint”.

Wow.

Disagreement

Of course this led to some heated debate in the remainder of the comments section. Some in agreement, others diametrically opposed. I’ve included a link to Emily’s original post here where you can see the ensuing debate for yourself. I have to say, perhaps unsurprisingly, that I don’t agree with the comment above. I can see where the commenter is coming from. And maybe, in some circumstances, and by some people, global style could be construed as racist. However, I don’t believe that it is inherently so.

Is the concept of 'global' interior style racist? On www.needsmorecushions.com - interior style inspired by global adventure

Image credit: Gaia for Women whose items are handmade by resettled refugee women.

After I’d spent some time in a massive flap about whether I’d inadvertently created a racist interiors website, I thought rationally and decided not to pull the plug on NMC.  I completely take the commenter’s point that technically all interior style can be considered as global. This of course largely depends on where you’re from in the world: something made by an artisan in Rwanda is certainly global to me (originally from the UK, currently in New Zealand), in the same way as a UK hand-crafted piece would be considered global to them. That I get.

But the idea that global interiors are such because they are from less-developed countries, or reinforce the idea that they are ‘primitive‘ is something I disagree with. There is nothing primitive in keeping alive traditional techniques, such as weaving and printing, using natural materials. Indeed there are a number of companies out there doing some fantastic work to marry traditional crafts with contemporary design in innovative ways. Check out Gone Rural in Swaziland as an example of this.

However, even where traditional handicrafts are made and sold without an additional layer of innovation, it still takes a great deal of talent and ingenuity to make the products in the first place and then undertake the marketing and publicity required to showcase them to potential buyers elsewhere in world. More entrepreneurial than primitive in my book.

And another thing…

Furthermore, my own, and this site’s, approach to global style is not exclusively focused on products emerging from “less-developed” parts of the world. One of my upcoming posts will showcase interior design pieces that are handcrafted by talented makers in Reykjavik, Iceland. I also regularly write about global (by which I generally mean ‘overseas from the UK’) interiors from European countries, such as the Netherlands, Finland, and Switzerland.

The last word

Lastly, I would add that regardless of the points above, I am proud to be supporting companies and the artisans across the world who strive to produce unique, hand-crafted designs that help to educate us about past traditions and cultures and get us to think more consciously about what we buy. In a world of mass produced, cheaply made ‘stuff’, I believe that we need global style more than ever. To attach problematic labels, such as racist, to the concept of global style merely undermines the cause of supporting local talent, traditional crafts, natural materials and the empowerment of local communities that many of us hold dear. And that just isn’t cool.

What do you think? Does the commenter have a point that I’ve missed? Will this make you think twice about global style? Let me know in the comments below or over on Facebook.

Happy travels, and shopping

Jill

 

 

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2 Comments

  1. Eva
    6th March 2017 / 2:19 pm

    Hi Jill

    First things first, NO, you definitely haven’t created a racist blog!

    This seems to be more about different concepts of globalism /internationalism and (over)PC’ness clashing?

    Yes, the angry blogger has a point, there is a little danger of a globalised interior being a pure showcase of just-add-something-exotic-magic-fix. However, with your sense of quality, artisanship and fair-trade, you are very far from this stereotype.

    Furthermore, the over-PC blogger is overlooking some important nuances (thoughts in random order):

    – Interior interest is mostly made by stylish style-clashes… Thus, what we chase is something that stands out as a contrast to what we already have. To add soul, colour, interest, difference, texture personality etc. It is simply somewhat more difficult to tell the difference between a European and African/Asian mid-century modern or minimalistic design (brutalism would never get over my door-step!) – exactly because they would be inspired by the same trends and aesthetics. Therefore the more artisan colourful handcrafted, older worldly looking (I guess the terminology ‘original’ would be un-PC in this context) items/looks simply inspire more and add more WOW to our more modern interior.

    – We do the same with our ‘own historic’ design elements. I appreciate old artisan handcrafted items from my great-grandmother just as much as (or more than) the items I have taken home with me from my travels. Why do you thing flea-market interior tittle-tattle is so popular; because it adds an element of history you cannot just pick up at the local department store. But is the intention or effect much different form the ‘global items’ the angry blogger disapproves of?

    – We also do the exact same with European looks. Recognise these phrases from interior magazines/TV-programmes or estate agent bragging: ‘Italian luxury marble bathroom’, ‘classic French county kitchen’, ‘romantic English rose garden’ etc etc. Does that mean that we assume that all French have kitchens that haven’t developed at all over the last 200 years? No. But it is still the style that stands out the most – for us – the one we aspire to include a little ‘touch of’ in our otherwise very urban, modern non-French home.

    – By the way, it work the other way around too, doesn’t it? Looking at interior design abroad, I have seen a s**t* load of stuff presented as ‘modern Nordic’ (normally clinically white walls, glass and steel horrors) or ‘classic Scandinavian’ style (sauna-yellow pinewood, layers of old rugs/blankets and in the most horrible cases top-up with a little Viking-motif woodcarving). This have very(!) little to do with the sense of stylish hygge I would classify as home. But I would never label it un-PC interior design! It is just what happen when inspiration is adapted, twisted, reinforced and evolved, when it goes global.

    Well, that was my record for the longest comment…

    Keep up the global blogging!

    XXX, E

    • Jill
      11th March 2017 / 9:31 am

      Eva, you definitely get the record for longest blog comment ever, but you make such excellent points! And thanks for the additional reassurance that my blog is doing global style in the best possible way! You are so right on the whole ‘European’ look too – I notice that way more now that I am in NZ – it’s all about European bathrooms and kitchens…x

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