The warmth of rich mahogany light and airy furniture pieces that evoke a sense of Caribbean elegancecarefree styling that combines Victorian clutter with African design influences If you're looking to create rooms that are "almost paradise," design influences from the tropics may be just the thing you're looking for.
For those who favor casually elegant, more tailored traditional styling, a taste of paradise can be found in rooms that are inspired by a Hawaiian plantation, a villa on the Caribbean island of Mustique, or a cottage in Key West, Florida.
This easier traditionalism creates classic styles with a modern interpretation: rooms rooted in tradition, but designed with today's lifestyle in mind. The style is successful because it combines "classic tastes with modern life."
This sliver of traditionalism evokes the feeling of the tropics a look that has proven popular as it calls to mind images of life under an island moon.
Over the past five years, furniture styles have been introduced that are reminiscent of lives lived in island paradises by designers who understand how much we all enjoy the freedom of cool summer nights in far-off destinations. Examples of this include Ernest Hemingway furniture by Thomasville, Tommy Bahamas furniture by Lexington, Nautica furniture by Lexington and British Khaki furniture four collections demonstrating this refreshing new view of Traditional styling.
I first appreciated this Traditional style in the early 1990s while visiting Roxanne and David Okazaki of Lifestyle Kitchens in Hawaii, when I had an opportunity to enjoy the Sheraton Mauna Surfrider Hotel built in 1901 and considered the "First Lady of Waikiki" a hostelry built at the turn-of-the-century in the exuberant plantation style of Victorian elegance. This year, I once again saw the style presented in the Plato Woodwork display at the 2003 Kitchen/Bath Industry Show, a colorful Caribbean version by Rutt HandCrafted Cabinetry, and an intriguing master bath setting designed by the Wood-Mode team.
Just what is the "essence" or "signature" of this style? The answer lies in the style's history. In the Caribbean, Spain, England, Denmark, Holland and France alternatively gained control of the islands. With its agricultural abundance, trades soon developed: So followed the demand for gracious living.
Similarly, while missionaries first arrived in the Hawaiian Islands, they were soon also followed by merchants eyeing the riches possible by controlling the sugar cane export business.
These Europeans in the Caribbean, as well as the North American businessmen in the Hawaiian Islands, soon became wealthy plantation owners who initially imported fine European and North American furniture to their island homes. The heat, humidity and ravenous termites quickly destroyed these softwood pieces. In response, the wealthy then turned to local craftsmen to duplicate these imported pieces using the islands' indigenous woods, such as Koa in Hawaii and mahogany in the Caribbean.
As time went on, the locally crafted imitations became progressively less exact and increasingly more interpretive, leading to an island style with a distinctive flair. Hawaiian styling stayed true to Victorian opulent woodworking but transitioned away from the dark, drab tones of the time to airy pastels and crisp white contrasted against the dark wood accents. In the Caribbean, much more colorful interiors emerged featuring bolder, more primary colors.
In the late 19th Century, very staid Georgian styles gave way to the exuberance of Victoriana. Such classical detailing, as well as over-done Victorian decorations, was well suited to the wood carving talents of the local island artisans and natives.
Working with lustrous tropical hardwoods, they created pieces distinguished by carved sunbursts, pineapples, serpentine motifs and stylized carved palm fronds. Lath turnings presented in elaborate rope twists, vase shapes, bobbin and melon motifs were used as furniture legs and sideboard cabinet details. Furniture feet, shaped open baseboard details and open fretwork were details repeatedly seen.