Tropical décor is hot—'Queer Eye' star Bobby Berk tells us how to do it
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As island getaways continue to be on hold for most because of COVID, the best we can do is replace yesteryear’s packed suitcase with today’s at-home homage. Translation: tropical décor is as hot on the design scene as the Caribbean sun.
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Before you flock to design stores for all things flamingo, there are a few things to consider. This bold look can push the limits. With all the colorful commotion those lush islands impart on the senses, too much can definitely be too much when it’s contained in your home.
Beyond palm tree wallpaper or a splash of Sherwin Williams Coral Reef (both of which also do the trick), Berk’s expert tips elevate the tropical look and guarantee the paper umbrella in your at-home Mai-Tai isn’t the only thing causing a stir.
1. Focus on elements that bring you joy
Should you want to dip your toes in trend waters first, start small by limiting your island vibe in a powder room, sunroom, or extra bedroom. Berk’s own guest room in his California home is the wanderlust vacation escape we all wish we could take right now, with lush plants, natural textiles, and bare wood elements.
Just as the mere scent of coconut can bring thoughts to a sandy beach and skin slathered in SPF, there are certain details that conjure up island life. Swaying palm trees, crystal blue waters, birds posing pink and pretty—these are the elements of a tropical paradise. With a keen eye and a discerning taste, decide which elements bring you the most joy and work from there.
2. Play with natural fibers
An oasis of sun and sand is all about nature, so natural textures are clear go-tos.
Berk says, “Any natural woven material like bamboo, rattan, or palm is the perfect way to add island vibes.”
These along with raw wood, cane, sea grass, and jute are soothing in their neutral tones and act well to balance out any bright colors you plan to add. They can also easily be incorporated anywhere, from window treatments to rugs, dining room chairs to beds. Just don’t go overboard.
Berk warns, “Stick to one or two large pieces, like a rattan coffee table, bamboo blinds, or a woven palm mirror to avoid a space that looks just a little too much like a tiki bar.”
Against the natural hues is the perfect place to play with color, perhaps combining woven textures like rattan chairs or tables with fun fabrics in vibrant colors and patterns for a tropical pop.
3. Mix in plants
One of the main draws to paradise is its lush flora. Recreate a touch of that greenery by introducing a few key pieces of foliage to your home with palm trees and leaves. You can replant them into raffia baskets to double-up on the details. If you’re not in a climate that supports those plants, go faux.
“Adding a vase with faux palm fronds or a faux palm plant is an easy way to add a tropical touch that won't need watering,” Berk says, recommending the bathroom as a great locale. In truth, this simple accent really works almost anywhere. He also suggests sticking to three to five stems for a balanced arrangement within your tropical oasis.
Or, forgo the plants for a little pillow talk. He explains, “Pillows that feature fun foliage will make you feel like you're on an island escape.”
Stick to larger-scale patterns and prints that feature one or two colors to keep things from getting too busy.
“You can also include solid color pillows in sunset-inspired colors to help balance out the patterns,“ says Berk.
4. Set a tropical tone with lights
The tropical sun may be miles away, but you can still brighten up your décor with the right lighting fixtures.
For indoors, look for lamps or pendants made from natural elements, such as raffia or rattan, rope (warning: this can easily lean nautical), oyster shells or capiz shells, or go all out with lamps that mimic some of nature’s beautiful shapes.
"When you add lights or tiki torches outside your home, they immediately set a tone sure to encourage fun and lighthearted conversation," says Berk. “We love this accent outside or near a patio area for a summer ambiance we all crave.”
5. Fill up on fruit
Use your décor as an opportunity to not only inspire tropical vibes but to encourage healthy eating habits.
Berk says, “Big bowls [filled] with fruit can embody a tropical feel and island love.”
So get your creative juices flowing and pack the space with fruits beyond the obvious banana: Papayas, mangos, kiwis, even dragon fruit, create a feast for the eyes.
“All the bright, bold colors in a beautiful bowl in the center of your dining table can make for an easy tropical feel that functions as décor,” Berk says.
6. Reimagine your own tropical memories
Sometimes all it takes is a fun print to send you straight to the tropics.
Try adding a few pieces of art that depict tropical scenes or a seaside landscape. And, don’t forget your own personal beach snaps.
“Including places that you've traveled or feel inspired by will also make it more personal,” Berk adds. “It’s a great way to transport yourself without leaving home.”
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