I've spent most of my adult life traveling the globe and staying inspired by the world around me. Here's a look through my eyes, as I share interior design tips, inspiration from my travels, and art and textiles I’m finding and creating.
As an interior designer, I am someone who appreciates beauty, certainly to a fault. I love to gather beautiful treasures from around the world and I have been collecting since my childhood. I was lucky enough to live in Asia for more than 18 years, where I travelled across the region and throughout the world acquiring beautiful things to bring home. There have been some successful foreign shopping experiences and some not so great ones. I’ve learned a few things about how to shop abroad and ship it home.
I have a penchant for pottery. Many years ago our family travelled through the South of France where I found rustic French pottery plates and vessels, and my husband willingly dragged the big, heavy suitcase that contained them through the country, in and out of hotels each night, on to the US (a stop on our journey) then back to Asia. He will never let me forget about that! And I still love those pieces. I have shopped for pottery in Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, China, Japan, Sweden, Spain, Czech Republic, Hungary, England, Canada and elsewhere.
I’m also a collector of textiles. I can’t count the number of scarves, shawls, quilts, tablecloths and carpets I have packed into my luggage. I can’t resist hand stitched, woven or knotted treasures.
We have had some mishaps, such as the large terra cotta warriors we purchased (during a moment of excitement) in Xi’an, China, which were sent by train (and which we were told could be left outside, no problem). They were massive and heavy and did indeed spend the night outside. It rained that first night and the outer coating washed right off. We were livid and wanted to contest the purchase, feeling we had been scammed, so we contacted our credit card company to complain and were told we had to send them back to the point of purchase in China in order to receive a refund. That would have cost a fortune, so we kept them for a while until they eventually were hoisted over our balcony and dropped onto the jungle floor, where they continue to rest. We bought (and had shipped) hand-painted Tibetan furniture in China, only to receive completely different items at our home, and there was nothing we could do about it. It is a risky business!
I accumulated beautiful handmade stainless utensils and serving dishes in Vietnam. When it came time to pack bag after bag I had accumulated, the weight really added up. My checked bag had reached maximum weight, so I put the remaining pieces in my carry-on suitcase. It was terribly heavy, and I had to try to lift it “effortlessly” into the overhead bin so as not to attract attention to its excessive weight. I still can’t believe I got away with that! I would have been wise to have these shipped.
Oh, the lengths I have gone to in order to bring home treasures!
Through nearly 3 decades of international travel and collecting, I have learned a few lessons and tips for shipping treasures home:
1) Ship via DHL. I had one set of rugs from Morocco (purchased for clients) shipped to my door via DHL hassle-free, whereas I thought I was saving money with another batch of rugs by sending with a less expensive carrier, only to learn later they were being shipped to the airport where I had to go through the US customs office in order to collect them and nearly had to hire a customs broker. What a pain in the neck that was!
2) Do not ship by sea! Customs charges can be exorbitant. I purchased a vintage tripod floor lamp from Bali two years ago and paid what I was told was the total amount to get it to my home. Many months later, I received an email from US Customs in Los Angeles and was informed that in order to get the lamp through customs and then to my home in Utah it would cost an additional $900 (twice what I paid for the lamp!!) – just for the customs fees!! I was appalled and decided it was not worth it, and reluctantly decided to let the lamp go. About a year later I received a phone call from a man in LA who buys items left at customs, at auction. He had my lamp and wanted to know how much I wanted to pay him to have it in my possession. We negotiated a reasonable price and, nearly 2 years after buying that lamp, I have it in my home! No more sending by sea… I would have been better off to pay the extra luggage fees to bring it on the plane (since DHL was not an option).
3) Ask yourself if you have a place for that item in your home right now. I am not good at following this advice, but I do wish I had done so from the beginning. I have moved 23 times during my marriage and still do not have my “forever home.” We have been paying monthly storage fees for over 25 years and we are still storing items I have purchased overseas during the past many years. We fell in love with pottery in Italy, which we had shipped, and which have never looked right in any of our homes, so continue to sit in boxes, having paid to store them many times their value. It is easy to get caught up in the moment, fall in love with pretty things and purchase them without asking yourself, “Can I use them right now? Do they fit my home’s aesthetic? Do I LOVE them?” If not, you’re better off passing them up.
4) Perhaps start a collection of small things as souvenirs. One woman has a vintage typesetting drawer, which is divided into many tiny spaces, and is mounted on her wall. On her travels she finds one tiny thing from each place. It could be a tiny porcelain blue & white Dutch shoe from the Netherlands, a miniature hand painted Dala horse from Sweden or a little jade Buddha from China.
5) Travel with bubble wrap. It’s lightweight and provides your purchases with extra cushioning if you pack in your luggage.
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