Now that much of the world is on major Covid-19 lockdown yet again, the global travel community may have finally reached Peak Wanderlust. I know I sure have. While I’ve been dreaming about travel since the pandemic began, this winter has been especially brutal, with bitingly cold winds and 4:30 pm sunsets that seem to, as Bob Dylan says, “take the dark out of the nighttime and paint the daytime black.”
Fortunately, there are all sorts of ways to fuel this aching wanderlust from the couch—like sitting on it while you watch and read all of the escapist stories. I even wrote a whole book on this topic, Destination Wellness, that’s filled with ideas about how to weave global health philosophies into your life at home. But today I want to focus on the transportive tactic that’s been bringing me the most amount of joy lately: interior decorating. Because my husband Rahul and I both traveled so often in the “Before Times,” we never felt the need to decorate our tiny Brooklyn apartment all that much, treating it as more of a home base between trips. But once we realized we would be sheltering in place for the foreseeable future, we moved into a bigger apartment nearby—and officially caught the home design bug. Now, instead of visiting global markets on our travels, we’ve become obsessed with turning our apartment into one, instead.
Of course, like most people, we can’t afford to makeover our apartment all at once—especially during Covid. And we don’t even want to buy everything online, either, as that would leave little room for impulse travel purchases in a post-pandemic world. That said, we both spend countless hours scouring global home goods sites for deals and sales these days, in addition to making home design wish lists and apartment vision boards. Sometimes, instead of watching an episode of whatever it is that I’m watching, I’ll just grab my laptop, pour myself a glass of red wine, throw on some Thievery Corporation (one of my favorite travel-vibe bands), and settle in on the couch for a nice long evening of looking at cool internationally-inspired house stuff. Travel in 2021, right? Here are some of my favorite online home design stores, so you can get in on the transportive decor magic, too—whether you actually buy the stuff or not.
For a highly curated collection of ethically-crafted global accent pieces: The Citizenry
Let’s start here: The Citizenry describes itself as a “globally-inspired home decor brand,” so you know you’re in the right place. The direct-to-consumer brand—which just opened their first-ever physical store in SoHo in Manhattan—sells all sorts of beautiful global goodies, from handwoven Indian rugs to organic Turkish cotton bedsheets to handwoven baskets and coasters from Uganda. A couple months ago, I splurged on the baya lumbar pillow from Oaxaca for my bed, and its warm colors make me so happy every time I enter the room—like I’m back at Mansion San Miguel, a boutique hotel I absolutely adore in San Miguel de Allende. I also have my eye on this hinoki wood bath mat handcrafted in Japan, which reminds me of the hiking trip I took through the Japanese countryside last fall.
But the best part of all? The Citizenry has collaborated with local artisans in various countries all around the world, and you can read more about them on their “Meet the Makers” section of their website. They are also committed to paying their artisans fair wages and providing good working environments, and they even invest 10% of their proceeds back into the artisan communities—so they can take their craft to new heights.
For a bigger selection of handicrafts from around the world: Ten Thousand Villages
Founded in 1946, Ten Thousand Villages is one of the original pioneers of the global decor movement. As a nonprofit fair trade organization, they sell purposeful handicrafts made by disadvantaged artisans all over the world, including beautiful textiles from Bangladesh and recycled rugs from India and handmade coffee mugs from Vietnam and so much more. As a diehard wellness lover, I’m particularly fond of their spa + wellness section, where they sell items like handmade singing bowls from Nepal, waxing moon tealights from India, and coconut wooden soap dishes from Indonesia.
But my favorite part about Ten Thousand Villages is the backstory behind each handicraft. Like The Citizenry, they are careful to explain who made each item, and what makes their story unique. I love that they work mostly with women, too. Click on the “Be Still Eucalyptus Soa” from Bangladesh, for example, and you learn that the artisans are women who have broken away from the sex trade and now make their living by making this soap and other handicrafts.
Local art is one of my favorite souvenirs to pick up on the road, and both of these sites make it easy to do so from the couch. (Note: There are a bunch of other sites that sell local art from around the world, too, but these are my two favorites.)
Artfinder: Founded in London in 2013 by a Swedish art lover, the site sells thousands of original pieces of art—including photographs, paintings, and more—from independent artists all around the world. I have not gotten anything myself, but I’ve spent a good amount of time browsing the site. My favorite part is that you can search by country, so it’s quite easy to match your art to the vibe you’re going for (I love this watercolor of the northern lights in Norway for our work-in-progress “nature nook” in our bedroom). Bonus: by purchasing art through Artfinder, you are buying directly from a local, independent artist, which helps support them and their work.
BetterShared: Founded in 2016, this site is a platform that highlights work from artists of the African Diaspora. Though I haven’t bought anything from here yet, I love browsing around (behold my current obsession). I especially like the site’s “new artist” and “featured artist” section that allows you to read a bit about each artist’s background. It even links to the artist’s Instagram account so that you can start following them directly, which gives it a very modern and authentic touch. Though BetterShared is based in the UK, it ships all over Europe and to the US.
For candles that take you away: Homesick
I first discovered this candle brand at a boutique gift shop in my Brooklyn neighborhood, and I’ve loved them ever since. As you may guess from their tagline “faraway places brought right into your home,” all of their candles are named after different destinations around the world, from France to Brazil to India—and they actually do smell like those spots. As a massive beach bum, I’m particularly obsessed with the Hawaii candle, which features notes of pineapple, coconut, and tropical flowers. I also can’t wait to try the Australia candle, which, according to the website, smells like eucalyptus, saltwater, and sunscreen. Take me there!
When I was in Japan, I popped into a kitchenware store in Tokyo and picked up a set of two ramen bowls that have come to be my favorite bowls of all time. I originally got them because they were the perfect shade of blue, but it turns out, they are also the perfect size. Did you know that a ramen bowl is also great for eating basically all other foods? It is the perfect vessel for everything from other soups (not just ramen), salads, pastas, and even scrambled eggs—and doing so transports me to Tokyo every single time.
But alas! A couple weeks ago, I dropped one of the two bowls and it broke. I was absolutely distraught—probably more than I should have been for a bowl?—and immediately went down a Japanese ramen bowl internet rabbit hole to find a replacement. My final winner: Zen Table Japan, which sells gorgeous Japanese kitchenware shipped directly from Japan. I ordered two of these, but they have not arrived yet due to Covid delays. And the runner up: Hasami Porcelain, a tableware company inspired by Hasami Town, one of Japan’s most well-known ceramic industries. The company’s dishes ooze Japanese minimalism, and are a bit more modern than Zen Table.
For Indian accents in every room: Fabindia
My husband Rahul grew up in Rahul, and every time we go to visit his family in New Delhi, we somehow end up at Fabindia. It’s the go-to store for everything you need: clothes, makeup, furniture, and, yes, all of the home decor you never knew you wanted. While they sell all sorts of items, from dishware to table runners to lanterns, I’m particularly into their bedding—it transports me to Rahul’s family home in Delhi. We have a printed cotton quilt like this one in our apartment in Brooklyn, and it is so soft and comforting. I also love their sheets and vibrant silk pillowcases (like these). Rahul’s mom has given us a lot of Fabindia bedding over the years, and we always get compliments on it from visitors—the prints are so beautiful and unique.
For….pretty much anything else: Etsy
I know, I know, this is an obvious choice. But before the pandemic turned me into Joanna Gaines 2.0, I hadn’t really gotten on the Etsy train—and man was I missing out! For anyone else who is in the dark like I was, Etsy is an e-commerce website focused on handmade items that connects buyers with independent sellers all around the world. Rahul and I worked with a guy in England to design our own custom live-edge coffee table using all local wood, for instance, and I love knowing that we now have a piece of the British countryside in our living room. We also got a new kitchen table on Etsy (also from a maker in England), plus a couple handmade wooden stools from Turkey...and we’re only just beginning. After all, we may be stuck at home for a little while longer, but it’s pretty fun to turn your home into the world.