Influenced by the tropical climate as well as the multi-nationals settling in the islands, West Indies décor style is all about staying cool. While British, French, and Dutch settlers brought some home décor and furniture, they quickly learned from the locals how to design homes. This meant learning which woods and other materials were best for the humid climate. The result was a blended colonial style that is distinctively known as West Indies.
Two Décor Essentials
Two necessities are required in creating every West Indies décor scheme to ensure the home owners enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. Life without ceiling fans and mosquito netting would be unbearable.
A few other features that made life more comfortable in the tropics included ceiling fans turned by a hand-crank and made from bamboo, woven wicker from sea grasses, or strips of woven rattan.
Mosquito netting is a must for any comfortable night's sleep. This is draped over a canopy or four poster bed. If you don't have either style of bed, you can create this look with a netting that attaches to the ceiling and is suspended from a small circular frame.
Materials Used in West Indies Décor
The trade routes were well established before the Colonial Period. West Indies furnishings reflected this eclectic blending of influences from other cultures, such as China, India, Africa, Southeast Asia and of course, the Caribbean.
Local Woods for Houses and Furnishings
Due to the high humidity of the climate, the West Indies style relies heavily on the local woods found on the islands, such as mango, mahogany and teak. These woods absorb the moisture and allow the woods to expand and contract accordingly. Craftsmen were employed to create furniture using European design styles.
For example, incorporate these woods and the West Indies style in a kitchen cabinet design.
Use of Grasses, Reeds, Bamboo, and Plants
Sisal, rattan, and various grasses, such as seagrass, were mainstays in the building of homes and furnishings. For example:
- Sisal mats covered mahogany, teak, and bamboo floors.
- Rattan furniture and woven seagrass baskets were everyday items in a West Indies home.
- The ancient Egyptian design using reeds to create wicker furniture was greatly appreciated in the West Indies.
Grasses were often blended with the wood furniture to create unique designs.
- These are very popular West Indies choices for headboards and other pieces of furniture.
- Woven baskets were a valuable commodity for carrying all many of crops and household linens as well as serving as needed storage.
- The grasses were also used in the furniture as caning for chair seats and backs.
Colors, Fabrics, and Window Treatments
To recreate an authentic West Indies décor, you need to include the right combination of colors, fabric, and window treatments. All three of these played vital roles in not just aesthetics but creature comforts for this very warm and humid environment.
Colors of the West Indies
The West Indies homes were often painted white, off-white or pale colors, such as green, yellow, and blue. Pale colors conveyed a sense of openness, light and airiness and painted over stucco walls nicely. The light colors were vital to a feeling of coolness in a very hot climate.
These light hues also served to off-set the darker wood tones of floors and furniture. This contrast between light and dark created a sharp and pleasing style that shouts West Indies décor. If your home doesn't have stucco wall, you can create faux stucco walls with various paint products.
Patterns and Fabrics That Breathe
The local use of coral and cobalt colors were also embraced and highlighted with equally brilliant and colorful fabrics. Choices ranging from fine silk and chintz to cotton and linen are popular. Floral patterns and exotic tropical plant prints were especially popular choices for furniture, draperies, throws, pillows, and bedding.
These two retailers might have choices that fit your particular tastes:
- Home Decorating Company: Find tropical curtains and valances as well as bedding that's colorful and stylish.
- Paul's Home Fashions: Tropical and coastal patterns are showcased with several colorful designs ideal for West Indies bedroom styles, along with some decorative bathroom collections.
Plantation homes had verandas or porches to help block the sun and cool the home. The windows are simple in design and the rooms had very high-pitched ceilings to trap the heat and prevent the house from becoming overheated.
Wooden louvered shutters were used on the outside and hinged at the top to provide an angle that allowed the wind to flow in through the open windows while keeping the hot tropical sun out. Plantation shutters were also used for interior window treatments, as are bamboo shades that are designed to provide additional sun blocking when needed.
Furniture Choices for a West Indies Look
There are furniture choices for every room in your home that will give a West Indies look. A few furniture manufacturers give this style its due with stunning styles.
Tommy Bahama - One of the foremost furniture manufacturers of island and tropic furniture styles, Tommy Bahama gives the West Indies its due with the Island Estate and Landara collections.
Sligh Furniture - The Bal Harbour collection includes furniture for a home office, game table, chairs, and a media console.
West Indies Home Collection - West Indies Home Collection (located in Naples, Florida) features tropical furniture styles. Aside from bamboo, rattan, and other wood furniture, the store also offers upholstered furniture and West Indies pillows from colorful prints in Thai silk and embroidered cotton and linen fabrics. Contact the company to get more information on pieces and order.
Capris Furniture - Capris Furniture features Seagrass, Abaca and 695 Collections of tropical furniture styles. The woven furniture frames showcase the colorful fabric cushions and pillows.
Individual Furniture Pieces
There are several ways to furnish your rooms. You aren't limited to purchasing furniture collections. Mix it up with individual pieces of furniture to create greater interest.
- Seagrass headboard
- Dark stained bamboo detailed chest
Incorporating West Indies Features into All Rooms
It's easy to incorporate the look of West Indies into any room as long as you adhere to the décor basics of textures for woods, grasses, fabrics, window treatments, and most importantly, color. Add personal touches with objects and accessories to make this style truly your own.