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Gilliam describes his design aesthetic as “approachable modern that’s more or less timeless.” Indigenous art hanging above the Room & Board sofa in his living room mixes with pieces like the midcentury modern coffee table, which came from the Chandler, Arizona, furniture store his grandparents once owned.
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Gilliam is mindful about accumulating pieces from his travels and makes the most of using walls and shelves to neatly display memorabilia, like in his bedroom. “My aunt [that’s her in a travel photo from the ’60s, hanging above the sconce] and uncle, who were world travelers, once told me to try and buy one really nice item on a trip—something you’ll value for years—versus a whole bunch of miscellaneous items,” he says.
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A wall of framed vacation photos collected over decades is a focal point near a Room & Board desk.
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Shawn Gilliam’s travels have spanned some 40-odd countries, as evidenced by his growing collection of guidebooks lining the bookshelves in his living room. These global trips also help inform Gilliam’s volunteering at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, where he has worked for the past six years giving weekend tours in the Americas and the Japan/Korea galleries.
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Home base is a 1,100-square-foot condo overlooking Loring Park, but when his windows aren’t open to the Sunday chimes of the Basilica bells or he’s not sitting on his terrace enjoying a glass of wine with friends, Shawn Gilliam is likely on a plane, jetting off to some far-flung destination. As well traveled as he is, Gilliam, who works at a Minneapolis marketing agency and is a former editor at Mpls.St.Paul Home & Design and Better Homes and Gardens, just as much enjoys being home among the collected objects he’s gathered during his trips.
You’ve been traveling for most of your life. How did that lifelong passion begin?
When I was growing up, my parents always believed more in experiences such as travel than in things like clothes or cars, so we traveled a lot as a family.
How often do you travel? And how do you decide where you want to go?
It really depends on the year. Some years I’ve been overseas three or four times; other years, not at all. I read most of the travel magazines [Gilliam started his career interning at Travel+Leisure in New York and is a contributing writer to Delta Sky] and enjoy comparing notes with fellow travelers. Plus, there are places I just love and keep returning to—like the Pacific Northwest, the UK, and Latin America.
How do you incorporate your trip finds at home?
Pretty much everything hanging on my walls ties back to a trip—maps from favorite cities, watercolors from street stands, even things like baskets and textiles.
What sorts of things do you buy and collect?
I love books, so I seem to pick up a lot of them on my trips. My other big focus is handmade and especially indigenous items—many times, right from the artisans who made them.
Are there specific places you like to check out, no matter where you’re visiting?
I love archaeology, art, and design museums—a few in Paris, Stockholm, and Berlin quickly come to mind. And I’ve also always loved the juxtaposition between old and new that’s so prevalent in Europe—modern buildings filled with ancient pieces and ancient buildings filled with modern pieces. You see it in museums, hotels, shops, restaurants, and homes. I love that personality and energy so much more than what you have when you stick with a single style.
“I love the juxtaposition between new and old that’s so prevalent in Europe.”
Tell me about your art collection.
I have a fair amount of indigenous art and handicrafts, which connects with my Arizona upbringing. My mom was a teacher on reservations near Phoenix and instilled in us a respect for native peoples and cultures. That interest has extended from the western U.S. to other parts of the U.S. and Canada, as well as to my travels in Latin America and Asia.
OK, so just how many SkyMiles have you racked up?
I have about 150,000 miles right now—I used a bunch for Colombia a couple of years ago. To this day, I think it would be fun to work for an airline, maybe even be a flight attendant and see the world, but I wonder if it would feel the same if it became work. And then I guess I wouldn’t be able to rack up those miles.