It’s a Knickknack: How to Make It Fit at Home
Travelers often are tempted by mementos from their trips. Meet Julie Frank, design director of Le Méridien hotels in her New York apartment. She loves to travel and collect mementos from her trips. Here's how to make your items stand out when you return, and how to avoid buying the wrong thing.
When you’re on your summer travels, the temptation can be great to pick up mementos. But what to do with them when you get home? If you aren’t strategic in your collecting, your home can end up looking like a hodgepodge of exotic bazaars.
Julie Frank knows this question well. The director of design in the global brand-design group of Le Méridien Hotels, which is part of the Starwood Global Brand Design Group, Ms. Frank typically spends 50% of her time on the road for either her job or vacations, and she often finds herself picking up items for her home along the way. “If I’ve formed a connection with a place, I’m always looking for something that, when I see it, smell it or taste it, it reminds me of a place I had an affinity for,” she says.
Ms. Frank, who lives in a New York City apartment, is careful about what she buys and how she works it into her home, however. “I don’t have a ton of space,” says Ms. Frank, whose work travels often take her to cities ranging from Indianapolis to Istanbul.
Ms. Frank contains her travel items in just four areas within her home. That way, she doesn’t have items spoiling her clean and modern aesthetic. “When you create clutter, everything loses its appeal,” she says. “It’s like getting dressed and putting on too many accessories—if you have too many competing elements, nothing gets to shine.”
In many cases, common visual elements help disparate items “belong” together. A large frame in her living room, for example, displays a collection of black and white postcards from places such as Barcelona, Bangkok and Paris. “I love anything retro, anything old, and each black and white postcard captures the place where I’ve been and each image triggers a little memory of a trip,” says Ms. Frank. Even though she is mixing images from different cities, the fact that they’re all black and white is a unifying element that ties the look together neatly.
In her kitchen, a glass kitchen cabinet holds functional items related to that space. “It has little espresso cups I found in the south of France, a tray from the Magritte museum in Brussels, vintage tea cans I found in Cape Town, South Africa,” says Ms. Frank, who also keeps her cutlery in an old wooden box she found in a Paris flea market.
On a bookshelf in Ms. Frank’s living room, books are interspersed with small knickknacks—a miniature chair from Barcelona, a tiny minivan she picked up at Bangkok’s Chatuchak market. “When you’re dealing with smaller items, it’s easier to mix them together,” she says, adding that she tries to place the items next to books that bear similar colors. “An orange item goes with the orange books,” she says.
Ms. Frank also has a strategically-placed console that is the first thing she sees when entering the apartment. “This is my happy place,” says Ms. Frank, who displays items she’s particularly fond of there. “There’s a beaded African doll, a beautiful photograph of a monk that I picked up in Thailand, and my favorite restaurant in Nice has these blue chairs and I found these two vases in the same shade of blue. The place is along my favorite running route in the Cote d’Azur.”
It’s generally much easier to work in items from disparate places into a home that has a clean, simple aesthetic, Ms. Frank says. “It’s obviously easier if you have a neutral base that’s not confusing,” she says. “When you have a very distinctive [home] style, something that’s very baroque or very ornate, it’s harder to bring in elements from other cultures and other influences.”
Ms. Frank tries to edit her travel memento spaces as she goes along, making sure to remove an older item each time she adds a new one.
Also, she’s careful to think hard before making any large purchases. “Often, when you are in a country, you catch yourself in a moment and you want to bring it home with you, but then you pay a lot to get the daybed you fell in love with in Bangkok halfway across the world. And then you don’t know what to do with it,” she says. Instead, she urges, “take a pause. Take a photo and get the name of the place—go home and think about it and if you still want it, you can email the vendors.”
Julie Frank, Design Director of the Meridian hotels, has a way to keep her travel collectibles from creating a cluttered feel.
- Display your mementos in specific, contained spaces.
- Use unifying elements—such as similar colors—to tie disparate items together.
- Constantly edit the spaces—remove an item each time you add one.
- With large items, get the vendor’s information and make your final decision when you’re home.
- Consider your home environment carefully and how a piece will fit into it (or not) before purchasing.
When purchasing rugs, she says, keep in mind the room they are going into so you don’t end up with something that looks out of place. “Beautiful exotic rugs also make great wall hangings,” she notes. Pillows are great buys to bring a pop of color and exotic flair to a couch or bed.
Don’t buy anything too impulsively, no matter how small it is, she says. “Travel is exciting, yes, but think about your home environment— if I bring this back, is it going to just sit in a box under the bed?” she says. “Don’t buy that candle or that picture just because you’re caught up with the thrill of the bargain and the energy of the moment.”
Main Photo by Rebecca Greenfield for THE WALL STREET JOURNAL