British Colonial Style is a favourite of mine as it is a reminder of a gentler age without technology where you are invited to sit in a comfy chair and while away the afternoon. After reading this article though you will see how it is related to current decorating styles and also find out my top 7 tips on how to re-create this look for your home.
At its height in the 19th and 20th centuries, the British Empire spanned the globe and the romance of exotic travel was an exciting reality for the lucky few. Those who established trading posts and tea and coffee plantations in far flung places like India, the Caribbean, Africa and the Far East brought with them traditional styles from Britain that were translated and successfully adapted locally. The merging of these varied styles created a look that is still emulated today and evokes a bygone era that was genteel and elegant while at the same time appearing relaxed and comfortable.
This is known as British Colonial Style and following are my 7 steps to achieve this look.
1) One of the main inspirations behind the style were the beautifully aged and well-travelled rich nut brown and tan leather trunks with brass buckles and clasps, which are still used today in decorating schemes to evoke this look. Fabulous for storage and/or side tables in small houses they are a mainstay of this scheme.
2) The soft tonal variation of light rattan and the neutral warm brown of local teak furniture is a classic combination which gives the plantation style chair its unique appeal. Day beds in the plantation style are also popular and a great place to while away the afternoon. You don’t really have a classic British Colonial Style scheme without one of these.
3) Traditional soft chintz designs from England gave way to textiles printed with far more exotic patterns depicting local scenes, flora and fauna. These were very contemporary at the time and have enjoyed a renaissance recently with the botanical trend taking hold. Animal prints too are in vogue and just small elements help to evoke this look.
4) Included in the very natural colour palette of browns from leathers, timber, rattan and bamboo were injections of rich dark greens from the large graceful indoor palms that graced the rooms. Again this is another element that has enjoyed a revival and is really integral to the British Colonial Style.
5) Soft whites from plastered walls, dark timber panelling and flowing drapes partnered with rich dark brown shutters created great tonal variation.
6) 4 poster beds were a hallmark of this style. Not in the old traditional English style but in a more paired back and contemporary (for the era) adaptation.
7) Oversized comfortable sofas and large rattan chairs with rattan and timber side tables complement the look.
Look closely at this style though and you will see that it is also the basis for so many more modern styles. For example, the Hamptons and Caribbean style of decorating has its roots in classic British Colonial Style. Many of the elements are the same but the look has been lightened. In place of the rich mahogany and nut brown finishes are fresh whites and soft greys. Where green plays a large role in the British Colonial Style of decorating, beautiful blue to evoke the ocean takes its place for the Hamptons style of decorating.
Elements like gentle overhead fans, rattan and leather trunks and cases, panelled joinery finishes for walls, occasional chairs in rattan and simple four poster beds are all the same. Just change the colour palette and update slightly and there you have the Caribbean style.
It is no surprise that the Caribbean style is similar as of course these islands were colonized by the British, so this is no surprise. One of the main elements that I see the same are the beautiful bamboo tables and chairs and the beauty with Caribbean style too is that you have the influences of French decorating. This is certainly a winning combination.
I also see so many elements of this style in contemporary decorating. The greenery trend which is so popular at the moment and the finishing touches in modern design that are based on the Botanical trend with cushions and artworks all relate back to this original look. And of course our love affair with plantation shutters continues to be very strong.
So if you want to recreate British Colonial Style in its entirety you really need all of the elements in my list, particularly the darker colour palette and a beautiful plantation chair or daybed is a must. However you can pick and choose some of the styling elements and create a lovely Hamptons, Caribbean, Tropical or contemporary style. Remember, there are very few new ideas but updated versions or elements used from earlier styles are just as effective as this modern adaptation of British Colonial Style shows.
I’m off to Singapore soon so will call in to Raffles Hotel to get my injection of British Colonial Style and grab a Singapore Sling or two while sitting in a comfortable rattan chair and being kept cool by an overhead fan – bliss!
If you love elements of this style you will enjoy the inspiration on my Pinterest boards and I would love to hear from you if you have used any of these decorating elements in your recent projects or have plans to – just leave me a comment below.