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Friday, July 18, 2008

British Colonial Design

A reader recently requested a post on British Colonial Style and Decor. She is currently in the midst of redecorating her home, which was damaged by Katrina, and wanted a few ideas.

If you are a regular reader of my blog you're aware that I like to provide the history on how styles are created. British Colonial Style and Decor (BCSD) came about in the late 19th century. Under the reign of Queen Victoria the vast British Empire had reached parts of North and South America, Australia, Europe, Asia, and Africa.


Generally, British colonists and military members enjoyed the travel but often desired to bring the comforts of their homeland with them. They soon found that much of their furniture warped due to the soft wood being unable to withstand the humid tropical climates. Native craftsman began to recreate the British designs using local materials such as ebony, teak, mahogany, rattan, wicker, and animal hide. They would often add their own flourishes such as the carved pineapple. The melding of British, Asian, African and Indian motifs resulted in British Colonial Style and Decor.

This home above is located in Sri Lanka, once a British Colony famous for its production of tea. The home belongs to British designer George Cooper and still has 10 acres devoted to the cultivation of tea. The living room features a rattan sofa and chairs. You can see the Asian influences in the armoire and sculptures.

The bedroom features wide windows framed with shutters. While the ebony bed is draped in mosquito netting, an attractive feature, in this part of the world they are also quite functional. During the colonization period, fear of malaria was quite a valid concern. The club chairs are made of teak and you can see Turkish and Persian influences in the linens and rug.

High ceilings and fans with wide blades are commonplace in British Colonial decor. Their original purpose was to help keep the open and airy spaces cool. Notice the plantation chairs with their sloped backs and low seats. This design symbolizes West Indies style.

Flora and fauna were enjoyed both indoors and out. As botany was a popular hobby during the time of the Victorians, it stands to reason that enjoying their tropical surroundings would be quite a prevalent activity in many British Colonial households.


Above is the Montpelier Plantation Inn located on the island of Nevis, a former British colony near Antigua in the West Indies. It was built in the 18th century as a sugar plantation. The pineapple fabric is from Brunschwig & Fils. Sofa cushion fabrics from Verel de Belval.

Flowing drapery, made of a lightweight cotton, linen and occasionally silk, is a hallmark of BCSD, as are light colored walls.


This home in Singapore was originally built for senior officials in the British military in the 1940's. This style of home is aptly named a black and white bungalow. The word "bungalow" incidentally is a Hindu word. British Colonial homes often feature wide verandas and large shuttered windows. Homes were often built on a stilted or raised foundation in an effort to make it more difficult for the local wildlife (yes, snakes) to enter the home.

It is not uncommon for windows to have shutters as the only form of window dressing. A light palette of whites, beige's and browns was used in BCSD which was a sharp contrast to the dark, heavy colors favored back in England. The neutral colors provided a visually cooler appearance that paired well with the dark flooring and furnishings. Also, given the far off locations, various materials and dyes were not as readily available.

A much needed accessory in British Colonial homes were candles. Even after the installation of electricity, power could sometimes be intermittent. Homeowners enjoyed sharing their travel and education through the display of books, globes, telescopes, and framed maps. Decorative items from other cultures were collected and integrated into the decor. Bamboo blinds and sisal rugs worked well in the often harsh conditions.


This home in Mumbai has many elements of a British Colonial bungalow, but also has a Indian Plantation influence.

Once you have an understanding of the elements in British Colonial design you can then incorporate your own preferences ~ (break the rules). This room with its dark walls has a Moroccan influence, but you can also see touches of BCSD.

This home is located on the island of Mustique near Barbados, which was once part of the British Caribbean.

Although elements of British Colonial are evident, the pickled wood ceiling, flooring and furnishings provide somewhat of a Swedish feel.

Another angle of the room.

A take off from traditional mosquito netting.

Words are not necessary.
For additional information on BCSD I recommend "Island Life" by India Hicks and her partner, David Flint Wood. Ms. Hicks is the daughter of renowned designer David Hicks. This former bridesmaid of Lady Diana Spencer is also the maternal granddaughter of Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of the British Indian Empire. She truly possesses British Colonial design savvy.

Ms. Hicks home is located in the Bahamas.


Another great book is "The Romance of British Colonial Style" by Tricia Foley. It is currently out of print, but can be found in second hand shops as well as numerous online sources.

Does British Colonial Design speak to you?


amy said...

WOW! Lucky me! I'm emailing you now with my info...and I can't wait for this package to arrive!


Charli and me said...

What beautifully inspired homes and rooms. Please stop by my blog I have something for you.

Elizabeth said...

This is so interesting and informative as always! Have a great weekend!

Things That Inspire said...

This is a fascinating post! I love the house in Mustique. I always think about Princess Margaret (the Queen's late sister) when I think of Mustique.

I am linking to you in my new blog list (which is eventually going to replace the old blogroll).

Jeff and Amber said...

thank you for the prayers for my friend and for your interesting blog on decor I really enjoyed that. Happy early Birthday.

The Berry Patch said...

I'm liking the BC style more and more. I like the openness of the rooms and the outdoor living spaces. Great post!


Carrie said...

Thank you for the fine overview of British colonial style and decor. It is very informative.

Connie said...

Again, your blog is a great refresher course. I love English design, but especially British Colonial...I'm more casual than the formal English designs.
Also, I've awarded you with a blog award. Stop by my site and check out what you have won.

Shimmy Mom said...

Thank you for the post. I found every example absolutely beautiful and the information fascinating. It's wonderful to know the reason behind things.
Happy Birthday soon!

Alkemie said...

What wonderful examples and inspirations you have here of British colonial tropical style. Beautiful rooms and books you've shared. Thanks for the inspiration.

Lynnie said...

Spectacular photography and design.
You will laugh! I live in a double-wide mobile home. I call it my "Floridian Bungalow." Needless to say, I have decorated it in the British Colonial style.
Some heavy antiques and oriental rugs come from Europe/Asia; some rattan pieces and animal prints from Florida, and other bits and bobs from England.
Needless to say your pics are an inspiration for me to add a couple of extra touches. Cheers!

Scott and Miki said...

We are thinking of building a British Colonial home after falling in love with them when we visited Singapore ... I'm especially interested in the black and white bungalow. Where might I find home plans for these type of homes?

Laura Ingalls Gunn said...

Hi Scott and Miki,

You don't have any contact info (IE attached email address or comments section) attached to your profile.
There are numerous house plans available for "bungalow" "Art and Crafts" and "British Colonial" styled houses. Based on your needs and desires you should easily find the home of your dreams. Many bungalow styled homes can be found in the older sections of Florida towns which also can provide inspiration. There is also a bungalow house plan magazine. Good Luck!

Loan Litigators said...

lovely...good for investment indeed

sean said...

What a delightful surprise! A great place to find for devotees of British Colonial style! I am in the process of doing an entire house "BritCol," and reading this was very confirming. I do academic or historical decorating, so it was especially nice to see details and explanations. Did you know that the "Colonials" used to keep their beds away from the wall (sometimes in the center of the room) for better air circulation and to make sure that creepy-crawlies could not climb a wall and transfer onto the bed? This is also why brass bowls of water were placed under the bed feet - a deterrant for insects. Thanks again,
Sean, Jupiter FL

Barbara said...

I just want to thank you so much for this beautiful and informative blog. I live in Vancouver British Columbia, in the heart of a rain forest, and am trying to make my study and adjacent washroom british colonial style. It's tricky as our weather could not be more unalike the tropics. However, I am inspired anew by your comments and pictures. Thank you so much. I must get that India Hicks book!

Thanks again.


Martha said...

Excellent post, so informative and inspiring. Gosh, just lovely. I have a Victorian meets Western Ranch theme going on here in suburbia with my centennial Chippendale dining set and leather worn couches and both primitive and Hudson River Valley art.
Visiting for Sits sharefest.

Jeannine said...

I love the British Colonial Style. Our home is decorated in somewhat of this style. All of our furnishings were purchased in Jordan, A former British Colony. Thanks for the lovely article.

Rachel said...

Thank you for this beautiful and informative post! I am buying my first home which is an American Craftsman style bungalow. I began researching the design this evening and it is fascinating - kept me up all night! The photos and comments you've included here are best I've seen so far. I learned tonight that the arts and crafts/craftsman bungalow style homes were originally brought to us by British colonial families. After reading your post I have definitely decided to incorporate a little colonial flare into my craftsman style home! I am curious about the history of the prairie windows? I thought Prairie was America's one claim to design origination but, aren't those Prairie windows I see them here in a 1940's British colonial home in India? Oh well, they're all gorgeous regardless!

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this information on BCSD. I am in the process of decorating my brand new home and decided on BCSD as my theme. I would like to have recommendations on websites or stores where items such as furniture, accessories, etc. can be purchased. I live in AZ.

Laura Ingalls Gunn said...

Oh Anonymous,
You must leave contact information!

Several furniture companies have B.C. inspired furniture lines: Ethan Allen~Thomasville, as well as Robb and Stucky. I often see pieces even at Home Goods. Keep your eyes open.

Anonymous said...

Well I agree but I contemplate the collection should acquire more info then it has.

Nicole said...

Hi! I just love your blog and I wanted you to know that I put a link to it in my interior design article here:
I hope you like it!

Passports: the Art DIversity Project said...

Two years behind most of you...I've found my style! BC made all my collections and African/Asian/Euro collections work! Thanks for the great photos!

S.L. Gabriel said...

I have just moved back to Singapore, and I am excited to start decorating my own place. Though I have but a meager teacher's salary, I have every intention of making my budget stretch to fit. Looking forward to incorporating some of these ideas.

Jasmin said...

Could you please tell me what color is on the walls in your picture of The "Mumbai"? I can't tell if it is blue or green or tealish??

Thanks so much for a reply on the blog!

Jasmin said...

Can you please advise me on what color is used in the living room of your picture titled "Mumbai has many elements of a British Colonial bungalow"
I can't tell if its blue or green or teal.

Any response would be GREATLY appreciated!!