British Colonial Style Tips
British Colonial style is rich with dark woods, light walls and sophisticated accessories. Learn where the look comes from and how to get it.
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British Colonial Meets Caribbean Style
Any time civilized people live in a very tropical climate, an interesting juxtaposition of styles arises — out of tradition and necessity. The British Colonial style during the Golden Age of Piracy of the 1600 and 1700s was no exception. China and silver among other refined items were imported from Britain, but that elegance was tempered with the realities of island life: the need to stay cool and the available local resources.
British colonists were in the Caribbean to harvest the rare woods of the area, primarily mahogany — and that rich dark wood in furniture and flooring became a signature of the style. Instead of the heavy trappings of a British home, draperies and bed linens were lighter and more flowing, and walls were kept in paler hues to reflect the light.
British Colonial Basics
- Use dark woods in your furnishings, either real mahogany or your own version created with stain or paint, and opt for dark floors to create the base for the look.
- Walls don't have to be white, but should be light — sea tones of pale green or blue look great against dark wood. A highly reflective color is best (in paint, reflective quality is measured in LRV, light reflectance value; go for 40 percent LRV or more).
- Add textural interest with woven elements, such as baskets or sisal rugs.
- Intersperse pieces of china, silver or crystal for a look of elegance.
- Get fresh with flowers (pop them in an antique china bowl) or add a tropical palm or fern. Greenery looks great against the dark woods and light linens.
Stain light wood darker to capture the richness of mahogany, a wood that was harvested in the Caribbean islands.
A three-panel screen can disguise an unsightly door. It was behind such screens that ladies of the day changed their tightly corseted clothes.
Create "island" touches with reeding (in the headboard and room divider) and wicker (in a night table).
Add faux leather to provide a touch of richness and Old World grace.
Incorporate Pirate Style
Bring a little pirate home without getting too kitschy. "I love the unusual, so this is right up my alley," designer Dawn Burns-Pratt, ASID says. "The goal with this kind of style is to not get too corny. Be fun and unique in a classy way."
- Consider ways to work rugged, weather-worn wood into your home. It could be in beams, a trunk or a rough-sawn piece on the patio.
- Take a cue from a pirate bandanas and work some colorful silks into your decor in pillows or lampshades.
- Shells add a touch of castaway chic to any home. Gather them on top of a dresser or find one large one as an accent.
- Be inventive with a glass canister or bowl with sand, a shell and a few gold coins.
- Go with a boat theme. You may not want a captain's wheel gracing your walls (although there are some beautiful antique ones), but a paddle or boat turned into a bookcase could give an island feel without going overboard.
- The sound of water from a burbling table fountain or outdoor pond brings the ocean inside.
- Arrange a collection of old glass bottles on a dresser or shelf.
- The glow from candles or a decorative lantern can help create a devil-may-care ambience.
A pared down Old World style transforms this white-walled master bedroom.
Charming cottage details remake this bland bedroom.
Find your home decorating style with these 10 tips from Designer Karen McAloon, host of Find Your Style.