Anyone who’s ever visited the Caribbean on vacation dreams of taking a little part of it home with them. While a jar of sand or a few seashells might fit in your suitcase, they probably won’t go too far in replicating the bright, vibrant colors and styles that make the Caribbean such a tropical delight. Fortunately, you can recreate a little piece of paradise in your home by studying the characteristics of Caribbean design and utilizing it in your own home decor. We can’t guarantee the sun will be shining outside, but it’ll certainly be shining on the inside if you do.
The History of Caribbean Interior Design
Before you get started on creating your own little tropical retreat, a brief trek through the history of the Caribbean islands is needed, if for no other reason than to get you familiar with the different styles and influences that have gone into making the Caribbean style what it is today. The Caribbean is a melting pot of different cultures and peoples, with each contributing their own distinctive style and traditions to the island’s architecture and interior design. The British colonial powers of yesteryear bought a traditional, old-school European elegance heavily influenced by the design features of the Jacobean, Georgian, and Victorian eras. The Spanish and French, meanwhile, bought a fresher, more Mediterranean approach to the party, with an emphasis on natural fibers and a rustic, easygoing style that stood in stark contrast to the formality of their British’s counterparts. As Kreol magazine notes, the Africans and Creoles took the easy-going style of the French and the Spanish and multiplied it by 10, adding flamboyant, bright colors and heavy ornamentation into the mix.
Looking at Caribbean interior design today, we can see traces of English influence in the architecture, Spanish influence in the furniture, and African and Creole influences in the tropical, vibrant colors. Although the styles are historically distinct, they’ve come together to form a joyous style characterized by its rustic, beachy vibe and laid-back ethos. With its emphasis on sun-bleached white accents, light, airy fabrics, vibrant primary colors, and distressed wood furniture, a shot of Caribbean style can enliven even the drabbest of rooms.
All the Colors of The Rainbow
The modern take on interior design might encourage a neutral color scheme of white and creams, but if you want to inject some Caribbean style into your home, you’ll need to look at a different color palette entirely. The tropical colors integral to Caribbean interior design are reflective of the vibrant colors of the landscape of the islands: think turquoise blues to reflect the clear sea green waters, Canary yellows to reflect the bright sun, and lively greens to reflect the lush vegetation. How you introduce these colors is down to your own sense of style: if you prefer a more muted color scheme, keep it simple with a few accents in complementary tones. If you want a full-bodied Caribbean vibe, go for the full range of colors- the old adage of “blue and green must never be seen” might make you shy away from combining the two in the one room, but in a Caribbean inspired décor, the combination does a wonderful job of evoking the endless blue skies and plentiful greenery of the islands. Turquoise is the most prominent color in Caribbean interior design and should be the center point for all other colors to revolve around. Greens, corals, and tangerines all play well against a turquoise backdrop and will help conjure up the colors and sights of the exotic waters of the Caribbean Sea.
A Sense of Motion
Imagine lying on a Caribbean beach in a hammock, with a cool breeze rustling softly through the sands. This sense of gentle motion is integral to Caribbean interior design and is something you’ll need to inject into your own home if you want to conjure up a true sense of island style. One or two hanging elements made of hand-blown glass will add the desired vibe, or you could even add an interior hammock made from natural woven rope: not only will it give that sense of motion, but it’ll also add a unique talking point to the room (and a great place to relax!)
Rattan and Wicker
When it comes to furniture, the buzzwords are simplicity, comfort, and freshness. Avoid overly ornate, heavy furniture and opt instead for light, practical pieces made in light, distressed wood that replicate the look, texture, and colors of a piece of driftwood cast ashore. As with the style’s color scheme, Caribbean inspired furniture should seem to bring a sense of the outdoors to the indoors, so look for pieces that would look as well outside as they do inside. Rattan and wicker are both particularly popular options and have the added bonus of looking great against the vibrant colors of the Caribbean color palette.
A Play on the Light
Rooms need to be bright, so avoid any heavy drapes or curtains that block out the sunshine. A sheer gauzy panel will add privacy while still allowing in plenty of sunlight, while a glass pendant light will give the illusion of moonlight in the evening. As Decoist suggests, hanging the light from a fisherman’s rope will help bring some of that unique Caribbean style into your home.
Favor the Old over the New
Brand new, box fresh furniture might be the order of the day in most American homes, but the Caribbean inspired interior favors the distressed and the old over the shiny and the new. Furniture should look as though it’s been weathered by the elements: seek out your furnishings from flea markets and thrift shops, or check out the shabby chic offerings of department stores to replicate the look.
Unlike the weathered, distressed look of the furniture it favors, Caribbean interior design embraces the crisp, clean, and cheerful when it comes to soft furnishings. Fabrics are often pure white, or white with a hand-sewn embroidery in a tropical hue. For a true sense of the Caribbean, try partnering a white fabric with another in a more vibrant color: the contrast will create a striking look that evokes a wonderful sense of the islands. Avoid heavy or thick fabrics and keep things light and floaty: a sheer mosquito net hanging over a bed of white linen accented by a silky turquoise throw perfectly encapsulates the look, as will draping a gauzy white fabric around the bedposts to create a resort-style vibe.
The Importance of Wood
Wood is an important element of Caribbean design and can help create a rich contrast to all those tropical colors. As we’ve already mentioned, rattan is a popular and widely used option, but bamboo is an equally great choice for adding texture and plenty of Caribbean flavors. Wooden accents needn’t be new – in fact, it helps if they’re not. The ideal is to have pieces that seem to tell a story and add a sense of history to your space. Antique pieces provide great richness and depth to a room, along with a timeless elegance that newer pieces struggle to match.
Wooden accents can be mixed and matched – don’t feel obligated to pick one type of wood and stick to that for all your pieces. The Caribbean style is a hotchpotch of different influences, and this should be reflected in your design choices- a weather-beaten oak dresser can look great next to a distressed pine bed and will really help introduce some of the joyous Caribbean flair into your home.
The Role of Greenery
Don’t underestimate the important role of greenery in Caribbean interior design. Remember, one of the key characteristics of the Caribbean style is bringing the feeling of being outdoors, indoors. What better way to achieve this than by introducing some tropical vegetation? Greenery can add a splash of color and bring that freshness and sense of the great outdoors to your interior. Even if your home doesn’t have enough natural light to support potted plants, you can easily replace them with some artfully placed cut greenery, which is available year-round and is a great cost-effective alternative. As much as possible, go big and bold- the role of plants in the home isn’t limited to replicating a sense of the outdoors, it’s also a great way of making a statement. Ceiling-high potted palms, foot wide ferns and tall, single stem flowered plants can make a great focal point and introduce that Caribbean flair like nothing else.
When it comes to flooring, Caribbean interior design offers several possibilities. A tropical dark mahogany wooden floor is a popular choice, as is untreated coral stone. Both options contrast against the tropical color scheme of the Caribbean interior to add a sense of warmth and richness. Another choice (albeit a slightly more expensive one), is Italian mosaics or marble tiles: depending on your budget, these can either be laid throughout the whole house or restricted to smaller areas such as the kitchen and bathroom.
Decorations and Art
When it comes to decorative items, Caribbean interior design tends to keep things simple, while continuing the rustic, nature-inspired theme that can be seen throughout its interiors. A seagrass rug, a woven pendant lamp, and a few oversized, tropical floral paintings can add a great personal touch to your interior and really help cement the Caribbean influence. Pottery is a big trend in Caribbean interiors- a scattering of pots will help give a tropical vibe and prove a handy home for all those plants you’ll be bringing in. The pots can either be painted in one of the cheerful hues of the Caribbean color palette or left untreated for the plain beauty of the terracotta to shine through.
If you want your home to feel like a Caribbean retreat, you’ll need to put away the plastic and learn to embrace all-natural materials. Caribbean style is about authenticity and this extends to the materials that go into its furnishings. Think local, hand-carved stone, rich woods, gleaming bronzes, glowing coppers, Mediterraneanesque terracotta, and durable fibers like sisal, seagrass, grass cloth, and rattan.
As Beach Bliss Living notes, walls and wall decorations are an important feature in Caribbean interior design. While some choose to keep their walls plain, simple and white (with the tropical flavor coming from color-saturated linens, decorations, and furniture), many others choose to make their walls a focal point. Some will keep their walls one color but overlay it with a decorative (usually floral) pattern, while others choose to go one step further by introducing two distinct and contrasting colors- a canary yellow on the top, for example, and a turquoise blue on the bottom. Wallpaper is also a big trend, with florals used widely to introduce that all-important feeling of the natural world.
It may sound somewhat offbeat, but as The Spruce notes one of the growing trends in Caribbean interior design is neon. With the style’s emphasis on all things bright, tropical and vibrant, it’s perhaps a natural progression for it to start dabbling in the glowing world of neon. That said, the buzzword here is low key – few spaces can get away with a full-on neon effect, so use it as an accent only. A side table in a bright neon blue topped with a bunch of tropical flowers can look spectacular, as can a couple of neon yellow cushions scattered across an otherwise muted sofa. If you want to go all- out with the neon effect, a great place to do it is in a child’s bedroom, where you can go full throttle with neon comforters, neon headboards, neon tables and more besides. The end result will be a bright, fun interpretation of the tropics that kids can’t help but love.