The new year is about resolutions and hopefully some new inspiration — and as I love to point out, sometimes the most surprising ones come from travels.

My family spent the holidays in Japan, where I’m sure many of you have been. Yes, I loved the beautiful sights, architecture and landscape, all of which I expected. But I never thought I would find decorating ideas in the two photos here.

The first is from a famous street in Kyoto where you can see geisha strolling to evening appointments. On one corner was a fabulous illustrated sign. The “no smoking” and “no loitering” messages are universal. But do you see the one that means, “Don’t bother the geisha!” Or how about the one with the long stick: “No selfies!”


Darrell, Nicki and I were rolling around laughing. The Japanese have raised cartoon illustrations to an art form! The graphics are simple and unmistakable. Instantly I knew I could use this. Someday I’ll have graphical art made for a client’s house — an illustration that will be personalized for their family, and just as funny and meaningful to them.

The second photo is from Tokyo. Near Yurakucho station, as many of you know, is a warren of little alleyways with tiny restaurants under the train tracks. We stumbled upon this one. Frankie Valli songs were blasting out the door, 20-somethings were inside smoking cigarettes, and the walls were covered with old, peeling mid-century posters for Coca-Cola and samurai movies.

I don’t know if the posters were authentic vintage or just made to look old. I didn’t care. Something about the bold red Japanese titles and washed colors grabbed me. We ended up stopping in for some tonkatsu that was really good, and I left with a completely unexpected new idea.


For the Japanese, American is ethnic. That inspires me to someday create the feel of Bollywood, retro Chinese or even vintage Japanese — funky and cool and modern at the same time. Will this be for a room? A piece of art? A commercial project? I don’t know yet. But the idea is percolating.

So remember: You can find inspiration anywhere — even under some railroad tracks! Let 2016 be your year to totally think outside the box.

Akemashite omedetoo gozaimasu!


Cathy Lee is a home style expert, speaker, president and designer of Cathy Lee Style. Her redesigns have been featured in local and national publications and on HGTV. Visit And keep up with Cathy’s dream home makeover at her photo blog, Homefront.