Ask any creative where they draw their inspiration and the chances are good that travel is high on their list. Whether you’re discovering new sources, or simply taking in the sights, sounds, and colors of a new city, exploring parts unknown in a surefire way to rejuvenate any creative brain. Of course, for much of the world jet-setting has been put on pause over the past year and a half. Suffice it to say, our favorite interior designers are itching to travel again—as, we imagine, are you. So, as you try to decide which bucket list locale to hit for your grand return to journeys, take their advice. Here, 23 designers share the best places to go for major design inspiration. Bon voyage!
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This colorful city topped more than one designer’s list. “My last trip before Covid was to Marrakech, Morocco’s fabled ‘pink city,'” says San Francisco-based Allison Caccoma. “It is still so vividly engrained in my mind; I have not stopped thinking about it! Marrakech is a visual feast of color and pattern which defines its culture. From hand painted ceramic pottery to exquisite mosaic tile to embroidered textiles to intensely painted walls, the vibrancy of this city is undeniable. Yves Saint Laurent once said, ‘Marrakech introduced me to color.'”
The city also captured the heart of Phoenix designer Katie Simpson of Mackenzie Collier Interiors (who has traveled to a whopping 43 countries!). “Marrakech is a place that touches all of your senses,” she says. “From the vibrant colors of the buildings and the smells of the street vendors, to the taste of local cuisine and the noises of the bustling medina, Marrakech is a burst of inspiration everywhere you look. One of my favorite things to do is spend the day wandering through the lively markets that are full of local artisans selling handmade products. I never leave without an extra bag full of beautiful finds! A few other places that I’m always being drawn back to when I visit include: Majorelle Garden, Jemaa el-Fna, LRNCE Studio, Ben Youssef Madrasa and El Fenn.”
“My wife Cristina and I both recommend Chile as a place to travel in search of design inspiration,” says Me & General Design founder General Judd. “We’ve both traveled there many times, due to Cristina’s Chilean roots—from the foothills of the Andes mountains to the art district in Santiago, to visiting the small town of Pomaire, which is known for its abundant natural clay. Pomaire bolstered a thriving pottery industry in the community, which we always support by purchasing lots of planters and pottery, along with local fabrics and tapestries to include into our designs. We are always inspired when we visit there and always give Chanchitos, little pig statuettes, to our family and friends to bring good luck.”
And there’s much more than just shopping, too: “You can always get inspiration while visiting some of the many amazing vineyards throughout Chile, offering some of the finest wines,” suggests Judd. “Or you can climb the volcano Villarrica, one of the many active volcanoes in the southern part of Chile.” Shown is the port city of Valparaíso.
“We highly recommend heading to Turkey in search of inspiration, as the country is filled with historical and cultural offerings,” says Dallas designer Jean Liu. “Istanbul (pictured) is a treat to witness, since its Old City is surrounded by the new city, and to experience the juxtaposition is nothing short of cool. The Grand Bazaar is also a symphony of color, textures, and scents that should not be missed. Outside of Istanbul are other must see sites such as the ruins of Ephesus, an architectural delight and one of the seven churches of Asia as mentioned in the Book of Revelation. And Cappadoccia, in stark contrast to the formal and Roman architecture of Ephesus, should be seen for their cone like formations called fairy chimneys. The landscape and dwellings that have been carved out of these volcanic forms are sites any designer or architect would appreciate.”
Sanf Francisco and San Miguel de Allende-based Jeffrey Weisman casts a second vote for Istanbul: “I vote for Istanbul because it’s ancient, has a unique confluence of cultures, and the most spectacular setting on the Bosphorous,” he says. “Everywhere we look we find inspiration. All the obvious monuments are superb and not to be missed, but our favorite destination off the beaten track is the Chora Church. Built as a Greek Orthodox church in 6th Century, the Chora has extraordinary mosaics we find captivating.”
“Portugal is the best-kept design inspiration secret,” says Swati Goorha. “From its beautiful Ajulejos tile-covered buildings in vivid colors to stunning black and white geometric mosaic pavements. Everywhere you look, the country is full of fantastic inspiration.” And it offers it up in a plethora of styles, too: “From Romanesque, Moorish, Gothic, Neoclassical to Art Neauvo, Portugal is a feast for the eyes for architecture enthusiasts,” she says. Some buildings stay in one’s psyche years after the trip, and I go back to them for inspiration all the time. The list of unique buildings and their stories in Portugal is long and impressive.” Shown is the Pena National Palace in Sintra.
LA designer Kari Whitman agrees. “I feel Portugal is going to be the next hot spot for design, craftsmanship and fabrication,” she predicts. “I also feel the architecture is so beautiful and so diverse in so many areas of Portugal. They really know how to modernize in a comfortable way and mix old with new the way Paris and Italy do but with a splash of color.”
Raleigh-based Zandy Gammons of The Warehouse Interiors gives Portugal a third vote: “One of my favorite places I’ve been is Lisbon,” she gushes. “The beauty and history of that country is incredible. The Portuguese tile work is full of inspiration and color and it is all over the city streets, castles, buildings. The Castle in Sintra is full of amazing rich color and so unique to the country. We also enjoyed a city still within castle walls. I have never seen such a source of beautiful inspiration as I did when we visited and I cannot wait to go back.”
“Personally I can’t wait to get back to India,” says New York designer Kati Curtis. “I landed in NYC on March 16, 2020 after an incredible trip there with the Soane Foundation was cut short. The sites, smells, patterns, and colors are what inspire my work. With Soane, we were touring many of the major architectural sites and also getting some time to shop for local crafts. I did get a beautiful dhurrie rug I’m still trying to find a place for! But can’t wait to go back to get more and to support a place that’s been devastated so badly this past year.”
“My wanderlust is at 11,” gushes Jonathan Adler, who cites a longtime fave as well as a few bucket list destinations: “I’m desperate to go somewhere new and inspiring; I’m thinking it’s time to schlep my wheelie to all those mysterious cities of the former Austro-Hungarian empire. I loooooove Vienna, but now I’m longing to go to Budapest, Trieste, etc. Design inspiration awaits in the nooks and crannies of Slovakia or Croatia. I just know it!”
“I would like to go back to Japan,” says New York designer Mark Cunningham. “I am inspired by the architecture, the shopping, the style and way of life. A good trip is Naoshima, Japan’s Art Island. It is a small island in the Seto Island Sea where, in addition to small fishing villages, you can see architecture by Tadao Ando and sculpture installations.”
Providenciales, Turks and Caicos
Fresh off completing a renovation of the island’s Point Grace resort, Young Huh has Turks and Caicos on the mind: “Turks and Caicos has the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean with truly unmatched turquoise waters,” she gushes. “Travel to these islands to be inspired by the vivid colors of mother nature!”
The City of Light has long been a favorite of interior designers, Dallas-based Jan Showers included: “I am inspired by Deyrolle for the most beautiful and old animals, all the antique stores on the left bank, the Dior store on Avenue Montaigne for the beautiful displays of accessories, the museums—I love the Rodin Museum just for the experience— and, of course, the Flea Market,” she gushes. “I am simply inspired by the Place Vendome and just walking down the street, dining at the smallest restaurants where only French people dine and just breathing the air.”
New York designer Bella Mancini is in the same boat—er, bâteau: “Paris is a place that has been the source of endless inspiration for me over the years.,” she says. “For some reason, no matter how many times I visit, I am always lost and wandering the streets trying to make my way back to familiar spots, but in getting lost I am also lucky because it’s when I find myself discovering new shops, bars and restaurants. Of course, it’s not all eating and shopping for me! During my last trip before COVID I hoofed it to the Fondation Louis Vuitton to see the incredible exhibition of the life and work of Charlotte Perriand. This deep dive exploration into her world helped me come away with a new appreciation of her work and many ideas of my own.”
New York-based designer Barry Goralnick is looking closer to home: “This summer we plan to set out in our convertible and explore the riches around New York City,” he says. “There are so many inspiring historic homes including Lyndhhurst (shown), The Mills Mansion, and the Vanderbilt Mansion. Great homes that include outdoor sculpture gardens at Kykuit and Store King. For modern architecture, don’t forget The Glass House by Phillip Johnson. Art trips should include Dia Beacon, Mass MOCA and the Clarke Museum in Western Mass. Stone Barns at Blue Hill is the best, most creative dining experience possible.”
“I would like to go back to Brussels,” says Atlanta designer Beth Webb. “The shopping and design is amazing and I haven’t been in many many years. The food was amazing, the architecture, and the interiors too.” She’s hoping to add another Belgian city to her list, too: “I’d love to see Axel Vervoodt’s 12th century castle called Kasteel van Gravenwezel. It’s in Antwerp and I have never seen the prairie garden that was planted and was inspired by Axel and May Vervoordt’s favorite Abstract Expressionist paintings,” she says.
Florence is beloved for its medieval architecture and artistic masterpieces, but what draws Marika Meyer to the city is one specific building, designed by Michelangelo for the city’s prominent Medici family: “The Laurentian Medici Library in Florence is my absolute favorite spot,” she says. “I have been obsessed with this room ever since first studying it in an Art History class. I was able to visit in person several years ago and it was every bit as inspiring and incredible in person as I had hoped. It is so clean and simple but embodies my passion for classical design.
Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
“We were thrilled to jet off to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico last month for a first look at a vacation home our clients just bought,” says Nashville designer Lori Paranjape. “I knew the house would be incredible, but the inspiration we brought back from the resort was unexpected. The architecture, doors, paths, spa, art, pools, views and restaurants were beyond beautiful. I could design a thousand homes in a thousand different ways after exploring the properties in the resort. Can’t wait to begin (and go back!).”
Laguna Beach, CA
While many designers have eyes abroad, Chicago designer Kate Taylor is looking closer to home: “I would recommend Laguna Beach,” she says. “We love it so much we bought a second home there! Laguna is a magical little gem of a beach town and former artists enclave. From the moment you arrive in LB you settle right into the relaxed SoCal vibes. It feels like a true vacation and getaway.”
Amalfi Coast, Italy
Keith Williams of Nievera Williams also loves the whole of Italy, but has a special place in his heart for the coast. “The Amalfi Coast is my favorite place to visit and really get inspired. Everything from the food to the gardens seems so effortless, so pure and so romantic. The light in Italy is incredible, there’s really nothing like it anywhere else. I focus on light and scale in all of my designs and each time, in my mind, I go back to Italy”
And he’s in good company, too: Massucco Warner’s Melissa Warner Rothblum also has her eyes on Amalfi. “Not only is the landscape beautiful, but the food is delicious, people are welcoming and the architecture beyond inspiring,” she says. “Dreamy all around!
Dallas-based Traci Connell agrees! “At risk of sounding cliche, nothing beats Italy,” she says. “My family is from Sicily, my daughter got married in a quant villa in Tuscany, and the historical inspirations are infinite in our daily lives! For endless inspiration, visit the Amalfi coast and stroll the cobblestone streets. Poke your head in each and every shop along the coastline—they are overflowing with handmade pottery, exquisite custom artwork and fine dining. You will leave breathless and inspired, ready to infuse elements in every design project! And that’s not to mention the vineyards and wine that are a personal favorite as well!”
“My favorite thing about traveling is coming home with spontaneous purchases,” says Lauren Lowe of Lauren Elaine Interiors. “I always tell my clients to be on the lookout for treasures when traveling–this is the best way to start a unique, special collection of accessories and the best way to add depth to any space. Positano has a special place in my heart. I am forever inspired by the town and all of the treasures you can find, from artwork, pottery, tablewares, to linens. I especially love staying at Le Sirenuse and perusing their resort clothing line Emporio Sirenuse. I often find inspiration for interiors from clothing, and I can’t get enough of their patterns!”
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