The 9 holiday home buys best left abroad

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  • You bargained hard in the souk, yet somehow those holiday home buys never quite look as good when you get them home...

    We’ve all been there. Found ourselves abroad stolling aimlessly through the souk, ambling about the open-air market, or stopping roadside to admire a few trinkets laid out on a blanket by friendly locals. For a handful of coins, it’s pretty easy to be tempted into splashing out and lugging back your holiday home buys. Wouldn’t that hand-carved piece of soapstone be just the thing to bring a bit of personality to your bland mantelpiece? Hey, I know, add an ethnic throw to your lacklustre sofa and see how it lifts the room! And why not lug back a set of brass trays from the Medina? After that hour you spend haggling with Asif, sipping his generously proffered mint tea, surely it would be rude not to?

    Stop right there. In the same way that cheap holiday wine doesn’t taste quite as good on your dank patio as it did on that sunny Aegean terrace, holiday interiors buys are generally a mistake on home shores. Okay you can style them, you can frame them, you can hang them on the wall in clever ways but, newsflash, it ain’t going to disguise the fact that they’re just cheap tourist tut. Don’t fall for it.

    So, wherever you’re heading for your summer break, here’s our round up of the traps to avoid. You have been warned.

    1. A Moroccan tea service

    A set of dainty tisane glasses we’ll allow you. But a set of dainty tisane glasses, a tinny “silver”
    Moroccan teapot and an engraved tray so flimsy it might as well be made of Bacofoil? Of course they seemed like a good idea at the time. You were hot, you were thirsty, you were high on the excitement of this, your first ever trip to Marrakech. Procuring a set just like the one in the riad you are staying in becomes a matter of pressing need. Youssef, your overly friendly guide, reliably informs you he can get one from his cousin’s wife’s aunt’s best friend and is dispatched with a fistful of dirhams. In no time at all you’ll be back home in Horsham, dressed in your new djellaba (another mistake), sipping a mint infusion
    (a bit syrupy, but you’ll get used to it, right?) and wondering what the back wall of the garage might look like painted Majorelle blue… Hmmm. The first inkling that maybe the whole enterprise hasn’t been so brilliantly conceived comes on the last day of the holiday when you stare down at your purchases and suddenly remember Easyjet’s stingey baggage policy. For a week or two you dutifully take tea on your decking, then the novelty wears off. A bit like the
    “silver” off the plate. Then you offload the blessed thing on Oxfam, calling in at Waitrose for a box of mint Tea Pigs on the way home.

    2. Sari fabric

    Ah, the colours! The textures! Who can resist the iconic sari fabrics of Indian sub continent? They’re beautiful, romantic and so light, you can easily pack an armload into your handheld. What’s more they come in the perfect width and length for curtains! Hem one end, loop over a broomstick where you had those manky floorlength nets, and hey presto, it’s just like being back in Varanasi. Except jewel colours tend to look best in lands flooded with sunshine. And mauve, lime and hot pink are great to wear but ain’t so flattering around the house. Just like a fortnight spent eating nothing but spicy food, in no time you’ll be longing for something plain.

    3. The local plonk*

    Can we just point out that ouzo bottles have an uncanny knack of smashing, no matter how well you’ve wrapped them with dirty swimwear, coating everything else in your suitcase with a sticky film that no amount of washing will ever shift? Also, while we’re at it, anything Mexican with a worm suspended in the bottle does not easy drinking make. Trust us. You’d be safer imbibing industrial ethanol or household bleach. (For the over-literal, we are joking by the way.) That said, the night will inevitably come when an alcoholic friend, having drunk your house dry, will demolish the best part of a bottle.
    And end up in A&E.

    *We are prepared to make an exception here for the Italian aperitif Aperol, which is both delectable and, right now, rather retro-chic.

    4. A set of Matryoshka dolls

    Buy them as a gift for a little girl or enlightened boy, if you must.
    But please on no account bring them back home for yourself. Sorry to be so bossy, but we guarantee that one day you’ll thank us for it.

    5. An Indian bedspread

    Cast your minds back to your first year at university and freshers’ week. Remember the “alternative fair”, with the stalls selling ponchos and embroidered rucksacks for all those students who wanted to look as though they’d been on a gap yah, even if they hadn’t? You will recall another stall selling Indian bedspreads, block-printed or appliqué, possibly with tiny mirrors embroidered thereon. Anyone who fancied themselves as vaguely arty hung one on their walls next to a Raoul Duffy print. Yes, those! Markets all over Goa still flog them to busloads of holidaymakers. There is a reason they look good there, blowing in the gentle breeze off Anjuna beach. It’s called the light. Back home in a north-facing back bedroom the colours die a miserable death. One day the bedspread will be demoted to the loft and then a charity shop, where some poor soul will buy it, thinking it might just do to disguise an ugly sofa.

    6. Buddha heads

    Not going to give you spiritual succor or bring you style nirvana. Unless you really are a buddhist…

    7. Ethnic cushions

    You are in a chichi boutique in the De Waterkant district of Cape Town when your eyes alight on a some gorgeous bolts of fabric, the likes of which you’ve never seen in John Lewis. It’s been hand painted by a tribal women’s collective, or so the languid-looking shop owner tells you. (Yeah, right, and we’re Jacob Zuma.) You decide that they are just the thing to jazz up your Farrow & Ball’ed home. What’s more, they will proclaim to the world that you are 1) a traveller rather than a tourist and 2) possessed of the most discerning taste.
    A week later, killing time before your flight home from Cape Town International, just after you’ve paid the excess baggage and booked a seamstress to kickstart your new cushion empire, you wander dolefully into a souvenir shop where you spot a shelf full of the self-same “rare tribal” cushions, ready made. They’re just along from a pile of stuffed toy lions and some painted ostrich eggs. You sob.

    8. Baskets, of any size, shape or description

    You know what? You can have too many baskets and bowls in your life.

    9. A dreamcatcher

    Nightmare, more like. Just walk away…

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