Souvenirs, whether high-end decorative items or low-priced tchotchkes, can be the bane of a traveler’s existence. Everyone wants more than a photo to remember their travels by, but knowing what to buy, and how to arrange it once back home is another story altogether.
Interior designer Jessica Been and artist Ken Wallin and his wife, Judy, are international travelers. Been’s career takes her to Turkey quite frequently to buy rugs for her store, Wired Collaborative, in Retreat Plaza. Wired Collaborative also carries lighting by Hudson Valley, hence the name.
When Been began selling oriental textiles, she started offering them on consignment. They did well, so these days, her trips to Turkey are justified, which is where the majority of her rugs originate.
From Anatolian ushaks, which are more muted in their colors, to Konya sivases, Been has a good selection. A new trend is for Turkish rug weavers to repurpose old rugs by taking them apart and reweaving them.
“They use traditional designs with contemporary colors,” she said. “It brings the handicraft up-to-date.”
When she’s not buying rug, Been’s favorite place to visit is Cappadocia, also in Turkey.
“Its whimsical rock formations and countryside offer a place for relaxation and regrouping,” she said. “Rug scouting is a dirty, physical business.”
Been said oftentimes, she travels from town to town, meeting with rug collectors and their families to flip through their finds.
“We look at tons and tons of rugs,” she said. “Between navigating these remote areas, and sometimes standing in a goat pen in the hot sun, Cappadocia is a welcome break; it is a must-do while in Turkey.”
Been is also aware of the traps tourists can fall into during their travelers, one of which is returning home with items that simply don’t “fit” their decor. In fact, she’s also guilty of this transgression.
“I have lots of accents and art from abroad that doesn’t necessarily meet that perfectly curated feel with my home,” she said. “I think it is all in the eye of the beholder at the time.
“Design, especially with textiles, always comes in cycles. So just because a space might now work with what you have going on, save it if you like it. You can introduce your travel find as you update and tweak your space.”
Been has advice for travelers who like to pre-plan their purchases.
“If you know you are seeking larger, more obscure finds, look into shipping and freight options,” she said, adding that simply because a specific shipper is preferred by an artisan doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the most reliable, efficient or cost-effective. “Also, double-check the fine print – customs fees and tariffs. A customs agent or an international receiving company can answer all of these questions.”
Now dyed-in-the-wool travelers, Judy and Ken Wallin took their first trip abroad many years ago – to England and Scotland, including the Ortney Islands.
“We have almost no agenda; we wing it,” said Judy. “We fly into an area, stay there a couple of nights and then we wander.”
The Wallins frequently travel to France because it’s a wonderful place for Ken to paint. He recently did a month-long residency in the Loire Valley. Another residency was spent in the Champagne region of France, which is close to the German border. Artists from all over the world attended.
They truly become a part of the community when they travel. Ken bikes to and from his workshops, and generally does what an artist does.
“What do artists do?” he asked rhetorically. “They wander around and look at stuff.”
The south of France, Provence, especially, Italy and Greece, are also favorite destinations of the Wallins. They also love Africa.
“Africa is the most spectacular trip you’ll ever take,” said Ken.
He also enjoys the flower markets in Aix-en-Provence, in France, which has was Ken refers to as the “most spectacular flower market” he’s ever seen.
“The light was fantastic, and if you stick to a routine, you miss that,” he said.
Ken talks of olive groves near Arles, where Van Gogh painted, and the famous area around Avignon, which many artists have favored for centuries.
One of the keys to successful international travel is not expecting it be just like home, wherever home my be.
“We try to visit and not expect anything American there,” Ken said.
Even with the advent of digital photography and high quality cellphones that take photos of near-perfect quality, Ken also takes his sketchbook, paints, a portable easel and small canvasses.
Judy is the curator of the couple’s home collection.
“Our travel experiences have been enhanced so much by experiencing them through an artist’s eyes,” she said, adding that their home is filled with paintings and other art from earlier trips.
Determining what to collect from their travels was initially difficult for Judy, because she couldn’t decide. That has gotten much easier over the years. And, having Ken’s painted memories around doesn’t hurt either. The couple has had the same paintings hanging in their dining room for 30 years.
“The important thing is not quantity,” she said. “Pick out those very special things. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but it should bring memories of your travel.”
“Curate things from each trip together – Murano glass from Venice, for example.”
Ken said, however, not to just buy any painting.
“Painting is about emotion,” he said. “It has to evoke the emotion of the viewer.”
Judy said buying items on return trips gets a bit easier, but it’s not as thrilling as the initial purchases made on one’s first trip somewhere.
“It’s the most fun when doing something for the first time,” she said.