Shopkeeper, designer and world traveler Meg Van Lith volunteered her way into the family business.
By Jackie Dishner | Photography by Carl Schultz
Nearly 30 years ago, her parents were reimagining their Scottsdale furniture store—called Tierra Del Lagarto (Spanish for “land of the lizard”)—beyond its original Spanish colonial offerings and that meant buying trips abroad. Van Lith’s hand shot up when given the option to take the place of her father, Jerry, and travel with her mother, Linda, on an assignment. They visited Thailand and Indonesia, and the young protégé’s self-study into the world of interior design had begun.
“I loved being inspired by the people, their stories and the natural materials. I saw that there was so much more out there than the mass-produced,” she says. Van Lith became enamored with authentic, indigenous textiles, architectural artifacts, pottery and found objects, and soon she was incorporating them into interiors here in the Southwest.
Today, Tierra Del Lagarto offers an array of hand-picked furnishings, accessories, antiques and artisan-made items that reflect Van Lith’s travels to a multitude of international locales, including India, Morocco, Turkey and, soon, Guatemala. Plucked from her personal tool kit, she shares five tips on how to use global design to reshape your home into the destination of your dreams.
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GROUP OBJECTS THAT
SHARE A HISTORY
Something as simple as a collection of vintage print blocks from India, used to create patterns on fabric, can enhance space by adding depth to a wall or coffee table. “Authentic finds such as these from around the world have a past that can be used as conversation starters,” says Van Lith. Frame a set in a shadow box, display them upright on a coffee table (the handles can double as stands), or showcase them in a large bowl, dish or chest.
CREATE TEXTURE BY
MIXING AND MATCHING
“Try combining a variety of natural, exotic layers,” suggests Van Lith. She might start with a zellij tile, bone inlay or recycled wood table, place cowrie shell boxes and bleached sora (star) pods on top, and add a painted, carved buffalo skull from Bali. “I believe every room should have some kind of critter. It’s fun and whimsical, and it breaks up the monotony.”
TRANSFORM THE OLD INTO SOMETHING NEW OR FUNKY
“I believe your home should reflect where you’ve been,” says Van Lith, who is fascinated with architecture of faraway lands. In India, she says, old gates would be used in a utilitarian fashion “to keep dogs and cows out of living quarters.” Here, she uses the gates in courtyards, where they become focal-point doors or unexpected wall art. “I’ve also had old door surrounds from Indonesia made into bookshelves or used them to decorate the entry to a wine cellar or powder room. Likewise, I’ve repurposed giant carved teak wood beams into a sideboard so that they become a funky showpiece,” she says, “If you love it, you’ll find a place for it.”
COLOR YOUR WORLD WITH FAUX NATURE
The designer also recommends faux greenery—anything from fake palms to ferns to succulents—if you’re not around to care for live plants. “Green is a neutral color that goes with everything, and plants make the space feel livable,” Van Lith says.
Van Lith appreciates an array of textiles, including old Turkish kilim rugs and velvet ikat used to line the insides of coats; Malian indigo and mud cloth; kutch skirt panels, also known as mirrorcloth from India; and suzani blankets from Uzbekistan. She seeks out fabrics that can be cut and crafted into pillow shams or find new life as throws. “Textiles not only embellish a room with a variety of colors, patterns and textures but they also tell stories,” the designer says. “Some of these fabrics have such intricate embroidery. In some cultures, women do it to show their worth—for a dowry.” Stories like this, remind you “that the world is bigger and messier than you think it is.
Read more about Meg’s latest buying trip to India here.