Color Around the World: Design Inspiration from India

Every year, my friends and I plan a trip to get away from the city, explore somewhere new, and spoil ourselves with delicious food and luxurious lodgings. Past trips have included Paris, Barbados, and Italy. At the beginning of this year, we had our sights set on Singapore. 

But… this was right around the time that COVID started spreading through the area. So we decided to skip Singapore and go a bit further east. We landed on an equally colorful and lively country: India.

Traveling in Style

I have always wanted to visit India. It’s so vibrant — from buildings to fabrics to food to the culture itself. This joyful, colorful feel is exactly what I look for in a new destination. (And how I like to design… say no to white walls!) 

Of course, whenever I travel, I LOVE being able to combine leisure with design work. From inspiration to picking up items, like small rugs, tea sets (I get one everywhere we go), and spice sets that will remind me of the place long after I’m back in the Bay.

Now, in general, we don’t always go the paid itinerary route, and we don’t always stay in 5-star hotels. (Remember this beautiful Airbnb in Morocco?) But since we booked the trip last minute, we decided to pull out all the stops. We let an agency handle all the details of the trip, and we traveled in luxury. 

Once borders closed a month or so later — and have stayed that way — I became extra grateful that we made such an effort. And it feels even more important to revisit this trip now to stay inspired and optimistic, or hell, just travel vicariously through beautiful photos...

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Love finding details in the smallest of places.

First Stop: Mughal Architecture in Agra

To tell you the truth, we flew from SFO to Delhi, so our first stop technically wasn’t Agra… but that’s where my photos begin, so play along with me here. 

In Agra, we stayed in the Oberoi Amarvilas Hotel. It was inspired by Mughal palace designs and it was stunning inside and out. (And the sheets were incredible. Remember when I talked about how to bring the luxury hotel experience home? THIS is the experience I’m referring to.)

agra oberoi amarvila hotel joy street design inspiration abroad india mughalo

I love how the stairs meld seamlessly into the landscape yet feel like art all on their own. Other characteristics of Mughal architecture? 

  • Domes
  • Round and pointed arches
  • Pillars
  • Minarets
  • Intricate details on nearly every surface

What’s also in Agra and composed in the Mughal style? You guessed it: the Taj Mahal.

The Taj Mahal

design inspiration taj mahal india joy street design color
The Taj Mahal in Agra, one of the Seven Wonders of the World

The Taj Mahal is actually a mausoleum and appropriately made from white marble. In Indian culture, white symbolizes death, mourning, peace and purity. It’s hard to imagine the sheer size of these structures from photos, but when you’re underneath them you understand why it’s called a “wonder.”

design inspiration taj mahal white marble colorful design exterior

You can’t see the details from a distance, but there are actually some elegant, colorful patterns threaded into the design. Fascinating!

Viet Itmad-ud-daulah Tomb (Baby Taj)

Did you know there’s a place called the “Baby Taj?” Me neither. And if you’re thinking it was modeled after the Taj Mahal, it’s actually the other way around.

design inspiration baby taj india colorful white marble patterns mughal architecture

Also a tomb, this site is believed to be the inspiration for the construction of the Taj Mahal. 

design inspiration baby taj india colorful white marble patterns mughal architecture closeup
design inspiration baby taj india colorful white marble patterns mughal architecture gate

I truly can’t get enough of patterns and color like this. There’s so much to see, but like any great design, the details stand on their own while contributing to the magnificence of the overall structure. The add, not detract. Simply incredible.

Fatehpur Sikri

Fatehpur Sikri (the city of Victory) is a small 16th century city to the west of Agra. The city is best known for its stunning red sandstone buildings. It also houses one of the largest mosques in India, the Jama Masjid.

fatehpur sikri red sandstone mosque design inspiration india
design inspiration color india red sandstone patterns arches layers of color

The Buland Darwaza Gate leads into the mosque and is considered the highest gate in the world! Would you check out those details? All in stone. Makes you wonder why we don’t still build architecture like this, right?

Chand Baori

At a glance, Chand Baori looks like a wall of staircases, but it’s actually quite a feat in architecture.

chand baori stepwell feat of architecture india design inspiration

At 13 stories (several of which are below ground-level) and with 3,500 steps, this structure serves as a “stepwell,” collecting and conserving rainwater in their dry climate. We were told that the temperature at the bottom of the stepwell is about 5-6 degrees cooler than at the surface, helping prevent evaporation. Genius.


Jaipur was exactly the colorful, magical, and lively city that I imagined it to be. And it may be more familiar than you think… have you seen this picture before?

design inspiration india rose gate clamshell shape patterns color soft joyful

This is the Rose Gate, one of four gates in the City Palace of Jaipur. Each gate is dedicated to one of the four seasons, and the Rose Gate was my favorite. The details, the clamshell-like shape, the pairing of warm gold and cool pastels… there is SO much to love. I could have honestly spent an hour here and not seen all the details working together to create this masterpiece.

I had actually come across pictures of this door (gate) in the past, but I never knew where it was — so happy to have the mystery solved now! You, too?

Unfortunately, we did not have too many hours to spare. Our tour guides led us to the bazaars, where spices and foods captured our senses and we even participated in a cooking class. So that I would know what to do with those spices I brought home…

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Don’t worry, there’s curry in there somewhere!

We’ve now reached the end of our trip, but I do have one more colorful design to share with you. I can’t remember where I took this picture, but it’s too beautiful not to share. (And if you recognize it from your own trip to India, please tell me where you saw it!)

colorful design inspiration india gate geometric patterns flowers joy street design bay area sf

It’s less opulent than the Taj Mahal or “Baby Taj,” but it has real presence, doesn’t it? Bold colors and soft ones. Angular shapes and organic ones. I know the true symbolism might be different in Indian culture than how I see it, but to me, this feels like a celebration of life. And I think we could all use a bit of that right now.

Well, that’s it for our tour around India. I hope you enjoyed this little journey, learned something new, and feel inspired to explore color in your own life, even if it’s just in the Bay Area. You could try an arboretum or botanical garden. A cultural exhibit or a museum. Or why not poke around our colorful design portfolio and see if there’s anything there that inspires you. ;)

And when you’re ready to create spaces that help you live more fully and joyfully at home, let’s talk.

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