How to pull off eclectic global style: á la Malene Birger

3/07/2017 07:00:00 am HELEN STILES 0 Comments

I'm a firm believer that your home should be full of the things you love and collect along your way through this life. If you like to travel, or have connections with other cultures, then a few global treasures can evoke fond memories and add personality to your home. I've always liked a bit of eclectic global style, but it is a very tricky look to get right – one Indian mirror-embroidery cushion too far and you risk ending up with something that looks less like a spread in Elle Decoration and more like student digs circa 1993!

So if you're wondering how to make that Day of the Dead skull work with your shisha pipe, Moroccan wedding blanket and didgeridoo, then you'd be well advised to take a look at the homes of Malene Birger (Danish fashion designer and, more recently, founder of her own interiors line).  I have a serious design-crush on this very chic lady. Her take on eclectic global style is jaw-dropping – she pulls together amazing rooms that mix global artefacts with classic Danish furniture, vintage lights, natural textures and a hint of the1970s, without looking totally crazy (well, maybe a bit crazy, but definitely in a good way!)

Because I'm a design-nerd (and I'm taking inspiration for my new office) I thought I'd break down why this seriously cool and stylish take on boho works.  (Plus I have a few choice finds to help you shop the look at the end)...

The monochrome colour palette 

Black and white is a classic interior choice, but the key here is that there is plenty of black, to stand up to all those white walls. It's simple but strong, which means it can handle plenty of 'stuff' whilst still feeling structured. Birger also warms it up with some brown and tan neutrals to keep things from feeling too stark. 

Great rugs

I bang on all the time about rugs – I'm definitely a bit obsessed. Birger's penchant for a classic, monochrome Moroccan Beni Ourain rug is clear to see. A Beni Ourain grounds almost every room – providing both structure and softness. And when she's not using a Beni Ourain, she's using that other monochrome staple, a zebra-print rug. Love it!


Strong graphic motifs are repeated throughout the rooms – classic black and white stripes, checks and diamonds abound, adding interest and keeping your eye moving. She uses pattern on textiles, pattern on furniture and patterned accessories – but all within that very simple, monochrome colour palette.

A touch of 1970s chic

Chrome coffee tables and retro accessories add contrast in both form and texture. There's something about putting a primitive African sculpture next to a curvy chrome arc lamp that just makes both look even cooler! Maybe it's because I'm a child of the 70's that these styles feel very nostalgic, but whatever...I love it. (Just don't get me started on the amazing brown glass Guzzini table-lamp I missed out on last weekend on ebay. Sob.)

Utilising every surface

This is certainly not a look for the minimalist decorator – every coffee table, console, sideboard and shelf is used as a display surface. The walls are filled with art, either propped up on shelves or conventionally hung. This gives plenty of vertical interest, and even the tops of tall cupboards and shelves are not ignored (so many people stop decorating somewhere around shoulder height, but these images go to show how fabulous a room looks when decorated vertically as well as horizontally).

Shiny accents

This is key to avoiding the aforementioned student-digs look. With so many textiles and ethnic artefacts going on, you have to add some hard edges to keep things interesting. The metal tables/lamps/shelves add some shine and polish to offset the patina of the wooden objects. Shiny plastic chairs and reflective surfaces (like that great black lacquer desk) do the same job.


Lots of people think about art when they're decorating a room, but not so many about sculpture. Admittedly we don't all own a Henry Moore figure to pop on our coffee tables, but you can use candlesticks, interesting-shaped lamps, even oversize shells or stones to add a sculptural element. Although a warning to anyone else with small boys in their household – anything you might see as 'sculpture' they will see as 'weapon.' Beware of anything a). heavy – potential shot-put  b). tall –potential sword or c). fragile – potentially smashed to smithereens.  Using those high shelves is probably your best bet for combining sculpture with little darlings, although I do find that a briefing along the lines of "touch this object and the iPad will be removed for 3 months" is semi-effective too.

Authentic and handmade 

If you're going for the eclectic, global look then in my book, it works best when the items you display are authentic and mean something to you. Maybe you have a carving that reminds you of a holiday; a basket that was handmade by a women's collective or paintings that support a local artist? Of course you can buy knock-off moroccan rugs and look-alike boho cushions on the high street, but you can't build an eclectic, global interior like Ms Birger's entirely from mass-produced items – it's the craftspeople, stories and memories behind your objects that make it feel special (and yours!)  I'm not saying you can't add in the odd high street find (we can't all travel as much as Ms Birger) just keep it meaningful.

So, when work gets a bit less crazy, I'll be putting my own tips into action in my new home office. I think I've decided that a simple, monochrome scheme will work best (without distracting me too much for whichever projects I'm currently working on). Unfortunately, working on several interior design projects, delivering a few bespoke pieces of furniture and trying to make time for marketing/social-media and networking too mean that, as ever, my own project is a bit of a slow-burn. In the meantime, here are some cool picks to create that eclectic global style...

Grape light  //  2 Brass Bowl  //  Stool  //  4 Chrome table lamp  //  5 Vase  //  6 Tassle cushion  //  7 Arc lamp  //  8 Beni Ourain rug  //  9 Sculpture  //  10 Chair  //  11 Antique lassi cups  //  12 Zebra print cowhide  //  13 Mud cloth cushion  //