How to Create an Island Retreat in the Bedroom

Shari transforms a teen's plain bedroom into a tropical paradise.

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Doesn't a Hawaiian vacation sound wonderful? Tropical breezes, luaus, snorkeling. Or maybe just relaxing on the beach. Whatever the diversion, a trip to Hawaii seems like a retreat to paradise to more of us.

Don't have time for an extended vacation? Unfortunately, neither does my decorating partner, Matt Fox, or, for that matter, me.

Time wasn't the issue, however, for a teen whose bedroom we recently decorated. The issue instead was money--her parents' money. Since their budget didn't allow for a family vacation to Hawaii, our teen had to settle for a Hawaiian retreat in her bedroom instead.

To create a real island feeling, Matt and I decided to use a textural wall covering--grass cloth. Just like it sounds, grass cloth is wallpaper woven from long pieces of grass bonded to a backing.

Grass cloth seems to bring a bit of nature indoors. It absorbs noise and adds texture to a room. And it is available in a variety of colors, but we decided to use a natural tone. If you'd like to create your own island retreat, here's what you'll need:

grass cloth
measuring tape
wallpaper paste
wallpaper-paste brush
bucket
large level
scissors
seam roller
rags
molding
hammer
nails

In order to hang grass cloth, your walls should be in good repair. For rough walls, sand the surface with 150-grit sandpaper until smooth.

Remove the dust and use a broad-blade putty knife to apply spackling compound to fill any nail holes. Once the spackling is dry, apply a latex primer to seal and protect the drywall.

Instead of taking the grass cloth from floor to ceiling, Matt and I decided to create a diamond pattern along the top edge of the walls. One full pattern surrounded by two half patterns made up a 25-inch band.

We had to plan our design carefully, choosing the least conspicuous corner for the diamond patterns to meet because it is unlikely the patterns will match when they butt.

To make the pattern stand out, we banded the border with molding along the top and bottom edges.

When creating create the diamonds, cut the grass cloth in half lengthwise to be as frugal with the paper as possible. Then measure the halves to see how wide they are, and then use that same dimension to mark and cut out squares in the other direction.

Once there are about a dozen squares, cut a portion of them in half diagonally (always cut the squares on the same diagonal).

To figure out the direction of the grass cloth on the full diamond, lay a couple of the half diamonds in position on a table, and notice the direction of the grass cloth. The full diamond will need to be placed on the wall with the grass cloth going in the opposite direction.

Find the center of the wall using a measuring tape, and then use a long level to draw a straight and level vertical line.

Use the wallpaper adhesive recommended for grass cloth to apply the adhesive to the back of one of the full diamonds.

Take it to the center of the wall and line up opposite diagonal points on the vertical pencil line, with the top point just touching the ceiling. Make sure the grass is going in the correct direction, and press it into place. Gently wipe off any glue on the edges.

Use a seam roller to press the edges down without disturbing the delicate grasses. Add four half diamonds all around the center one, butting the edges and checking that the grass is going in the opposite direction as the center diamond.

Once the diamond band is complete around the top of the walls, it's time to begin hanging the vertical strips of grass cloth. Center a full panel of grass cloth on the main wall. Continue the rest of the way around the room to complete the wallpapering process. Once the grass cloth has dried, cover the horizontal seams with molding.

The grass cloth-covered walls were beautiful. With the addition of a matchstick headboard, some island linens, a few palms, and a grass-skirt dust ruffle, our Hawaiian retreat was nearly complete. We thought Hawaiian shirts were the perfect wall art for our tropical bedroom retreat.

When the room was finished, Matt and I were very pleased with the tropical retreat we had created. The grass cloth helped to add a natural, serene feeling to our tropical decor. Looking around, we could almost imagine we were on vacation.

(Matt Fox and Shari Hiller alternate writing this column. They also are authors of Real Decorating for Real People and co-hosts of the Home & Garden Television show Room By Room.)

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