Expat Interior Design

Date Created: 27.03.2015

A dinner guest sent us a thank you email the other day and added:

“On a side note I must add that I appreciated your home décor very much; a well-balanced mix of fine African pieces with modern/earthy/understated northern European eclecticism, non-cluttered and warm. Well done. A true expatriate home of good taste! Very refreshing.”

I was, of course, chuffed to receive the compliment and grateful that he had taken the time to write it. We’ve been rearranging our growing assortment of ‘stuff’ in different ‘homes’ across multiple continents for over 20 years now. My guest missed the Asian touch in the form of a rather large Vietnamese painting and a Chinese bamboo bench. Humbly, I acknowledge that the success of my ‘design sense’ is not all of my own doing. We were lucky with our company-designated apartment in that our multi-ethnic collection does particularly well in the spacious apartment, framed by the cool marble floors and large windows overlooking the Lagos Lagoon.

But what most intrigued me about this flattering email is the idea that there exists such a thing as “expat interior design”. My first reaction is that it is hard to imagine expat homes having anything in common: the choices made by each family reflect their personal (individual/cultural) taste as well as the specific countries they lived in.

On second thought, however, I would argue that the eclecticism of expat homes has a particular nature: the items we buy in each country are not just a memory of the places we’ve lived, not just a trendy item we pick up in a shop, but are a statement of the fact that we have learned to see beauty through the eyes of another culture.

In this sense, perhaps the notion of ‘expatriate interior design’ is the drawing together of an aesthetically unified expression of beauty from diverse cultures of the world. Though this international eclecticism could make a home look like a museum or a jumble sale, it somehow rarely does. It is the individual’s particular ‘taste’ that unites the carefully selected elements from each culture. Expat interior design, therefore, can be seen a living installation of multicultural art.


Diane Lemieux  has spent a whole lifetime as an expat and sees moving to live in a new country as a life choice made by an increasing number of people. Those who successfully recreate a full and satisfying life in a new place develop the skills and approaches needed to deal with any change that life presents us.Her new book, The Mobile Life, co-written with Anne Parker, helps those who are undertaking this journey for the first time, and highlights the achievements of those who are experienced resettlers.

Blog: www.diane-lemieux.com/mobilelife/