The Beauty of Contrast: Global Furnishings in Modern Spaces

Mixing modern design with ethnic furnishings may not be an obvious choice, but when you look at the history of modern design, you’ll see a strong link between the two. Many influential architects and designers of the early 20th century, including Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright, were inspired by the simple forms and honest qualities of ethnic art and furnishings.

If your taste leans modern and you’ve picked up a wide range of regional textiles, rugs, art, lighting or furniture, don’t hesitate to incorporate them into your modern space. They can make your space more visually interesting while also enriching it with your own personal and cultural narrative.

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Global 1: KuDa Photography, original photo on Houzz

Mix bold with bold: The safe thing to do here would have been to let this collection of bold African masks and sculptures be the main attraction. The unexpectedly bold gesture of mixing them with a bright yellow fireplace and iconic modern furniture takes the room to a vibrant new level.

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Global 2: Leslie Glazier @ Properties, original photo on Houzz

Add an ornamental backdrop: In this almost all-white space, the deep red folding screen is a strong backdrop that introduces color and ornamental detail. The effect is so powerful that no other art is necessary.

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Global 3: Delia Shades, original photo on Houzz

Introduce a subtle pattern: Note how the Moorish pattern on the window shades adds a subtle decorative layer to this minimally furnished modern loft. Imagine how much plainer the space would look with standard shades.

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Global 4: Diego Perez, original photo on Houzz

Keep it light: In this airy, high-ceilinged space, colorful Mexican folk textiles, artifacts and café chairs introduce culture and personality. Painting the walls in bold, bright colors was an option, but the lightness here allows for the decorative accessories, along with the modern furnishings and lighting, to shine.

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Global 5: Jessica Helgerson Interior Design, original photo on Houzz

Add texture: In this black and white modern space, the Beni Ouarain rug, Morrocan leather poufs and rustic wood table add texture to create a warm and intimate feel. This is a great example of accessories setting the tone — this room would feel less inviting with colder accessories.

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Global 6: Clifton Leung Design Workshop, original photo on Houzz

Try an unexpected grouping: A large Asian armoire is flanked by two matching smaller Asian armoires to create an interesting and unexpected composition in this modern dining room. Notice how the fretwork on the larger armoire adds subtle pattern to the neutral palette.