Global Home Decor Styles Of the Past And Present, Informed By Indian Crafts

Global Home Decor Styles Of the Past And Present, Informed By Indian Crafts

India’s vibrant arts and crafts landscape is a globally acclaimed treasure, the subject of endless interpretations and adaptations especially when it comes to the home decor and lifestyle space. From textiles and embroideries to dyeing and weaving techniques, India’s artisanship is most valued for its supreme intricacy and storytelling. And yet, there are some arts and crafts which have survived years of evolution and have played a more significant role than others in shaping global interior design and decor trends.

In our series titled ‘Global Home Decor Styles Of the Past And Present, Informed By Indian Crafts’, we dedicate this first chapter to decoding the history and evolution of Indian Florals, namely Mughal, Kalamkari and Paisley over the centuries.

A History Of Intertwined Cultural Roots

  1. Rajasthani Block Prints: Looking back at the history and evolution of floral prints, particularly in India, one comes to realize that both the east and the west have had an intrinsic dependency on each other for inspiration. The design language of Indian florals, which consisted of lotus motifs, later transformed into an elaborate representation of the Mughal gardens and Jahangir’s love for nature, especially the Kashmiri landscape. The Indian floral motifs with their leaves, stems and buds as we know them today came to be during the 17th century. Their development is also partly attributed to Nur Jahan’s Persian roots.
Above: (Images via floral motifs developed under British Rule

Defining the true heritage of Indian Florals becomes even more complex when one takes into consideration that European imports during the seventeenth century, especially English Crewel and French embroidery greatly inspired Indian Floral motifs and soon their composition became more stylish and imaginative than realistic. This new format was not only featured on fabrics being exported to the West and to Asia but also became popular among rural artisan communities of Rajasthan and Gujrat. What is known as modern day Rajasthani Bagru, Sanganeri and Dabu was once known as the Mughal Floral Print originating from India.

Above: (Images via Pinterest) Sanganeri Block Print carries on the tradition of floral motifs.
  • The Art Of Kalamkari or Indian Calico: While Rajasthani floral prints were born under Mughal rule, Kalamkari originated centuries ago in Andhra Pradesh, before the Mughals or the English came to India. However, the different design languages of Kalamkari tell their own unique tales of cultural influence. For instance, Srikalahasti style usually depicts tales of Hindu deities, their hobbies, their holy abodes and musical instruments. On the other hand, Machilipatnam style has the strongest Islamic influence due to its development in the Golconda Sultanate in Hyderabad during the sixteenth and seventeenth century.


Above: (Images via Pinterest) Srikalahasti style of Kalamkari on the left and Machilipatnam Style on the right tell two different cultural tales.

Upon their arrival in India, the British fascination with all things Indian also extended to Kalamkari and soon, it became a popular commodity to be traded. Not only was the East India Company sending these goods to England, but also extending it to countries across Asia and other parts of Europe in exchange for spices and other goods. The popularity of Indian Kalamkari Florals was especially evident in France and England and this was attributed to the middle class’s ability to afford vibrant and long lasting textiles without paying hefty prices of silk. It is said that French elites such as Madame de Pompadour adopted Kalamkari fabrics for home furnishing and dresses in the eighteenth century. Following the approval of the upper class, the European and English industrialists soon attempted to recreate the colorful dyes and designs of Kalamkari, so much so that France’s printed textiles Toile de Jouy are said to have been born as an influence of Indian Kalamkari Florals.

3)   The Journey from Buta to Paisley: The motif known to the world today as Paisley is said to have originated in Persia and is said to be the portrayal of a bird sitting on the tip of a cypress, causing it to bend. This pretty Persian motif is believed to have entered Indian during the fifteenth century and was first incorporated into Kashmiri Shawls, a favorite of the Mughal royalty. Kashmiri Shawls bearing the Paisley motif became part of Akbar’s court as a symbol to bestow honor on his most trusted men by gifting these opulent ‘robes’ to them. Some texts also note that the buta bore a resemblance to the royal jewel used to pin a feather to turbans of members of the royal Mughal court. Soon, the buta motif traveled from Kashmir to the textile weaving town of Varanasi where it got the name ‘ambi’ meaning raw mango.


Above: (Images via Picture of Empress Josephine in a dress featuring the Buta or Paisley Motif. Below: A Kashmiri Pashmina Shawl with Paisley Motif embroidery

Like other craft forms which gained popularity in India during the Mughal rule, by the eighteenth century the buta traveled to Europe enroute the East Indian company where it became the desire of anyone with social prominence. Napoleon’s wife, Empress Josephine and other prominent members of European society are said to have an extensive collection of Kashmiri Shawls and robes bearing the Paisley motif. Its heightened popularity made this motif a subject of mass production, especially in the town of Paisley, Scotland. It was here that the buta motif got its widespread name ‘Paisley’.

Modern Day Adaptation of Indian Florals

Many wonder how Indian crafts, especially Indian floral motifs have retained their popularity over the centuries but a deep dive into the history of these motifs indicates why their relevance all over the world remains as strong as ever. Owing to shared cultural roots and intermingling of influences which peaked during the Mughal and British rule, Indian florals evolved to represent a confluence of eastern and western tastes.

Above: (Images via Pinterest ) From Paisley to Mughal inspired motifs, an adaptation of Indian Florals adapted for modern homes across the world

In more recent times, the Paisley motif was a landmark of the 60s and 70s psychedelics fuelled the hippie movement, with popular artists like Janis Joplin and The Beatles embracing this shape through their fashion and art choices. This made the Paisley motif reminiscent of all things bohemian, so much so that home decor of the time period began to feature the Indian Paisley or buta on carpets, wall tapestry and more. Indian Florals have an effortless way of fitting into most styles of home decor and the resurgence of nostalgia driven trends like 80s Shabby Chic, French Countryside and 2021’s Cottage Core affirm that Indian Floral motifs have been an inherent part of Western lifestyle and will always remain an intrinsic part of home decor as long as we keep looking into the past to define trends of future.

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