At the height of its colonial glory the British Empire spanned several continents. The British subjects of Queen Victoria were sent to do business, govern and protect colonial areas like India, East Africa and the West Indies. They brought the more traditional styles of home along and intermingled them with the practical yet sometimes whimsical local designs.
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British colonial furniture is a blend of traditional British with island and Asian accents. A mahogany canopy bed with intricately designed posts and cane panels in head and foot boards would express the period. A heavy wood table and chairs would be suitable in the dining room. Use faux leather accents on the backrests. Living room accent tables and chair legs carved with motifs reflecting the region and upholstery in light or exotic prints are an example of British colonial design. You will find cane and shuttered panels on many of the furniture pieces throughout the home.
British colonial design uses dark, strong woods--mahogany, teak and ebony--since these woods were available in the colonies. You can stain the wood you have these darker colours. Floors should be wood as well and also in darker colours.
Wall paints are light in colour and reflective. Earth tones and blues and greens of the sea are typical of this style. Paints today come with a reflective number; this style requires at least a 40.
Carpet was not used. The wood floors were covered with rugs and mats. These were made from local materials, so they were often sisal or reed. The natural colours look good against the dark woods. Some of the import stores would carry these. Also look for hand-woven, light-coloured rugs in prints that blend with your room colour scheme.
Draperies and Linens
Draperies and linens were chosen as a response to the heat of the colonies. Draperies should be light and flowing in neutral colours or exotic prints where appropriate. Linens needed to be cool and light. Consider pastels that blend with the room. Bed hangings of mosquito netting and light silks were common to the period. Inside shutters were added to windows to keep out the sun and make the room cooler.
Accessories were key to making this period such a blend of cultures. Use potted plants, ferns or palms in large Asian vases. Wicker side tables in the bedroom with a three-panel screen gives the right look. Women would change behind these screens, so every bedroom had one. Trunk-style tables also express this period. Porcelain and wood candlesticks and figurines placed on tables express the period, along with hurricane lamps.
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