Wednesday 21 March 2018

Totally tropical taste - creating an interior jungle theme

Keeping a balance between patterns and accessories is essential to pulling off the jungle theme

A flamingo lamp as part of a tropical interior from Debenhams.
A flamingo lamp as part of a tropical interior from Debenhams.
Pineapple wallpaper
Statement lamps from Debenhams.
Monkey lamp from Dust
Little touches from Penneys add to a tropical look.

A British dinner party of the 1920s was not considered a truly grand affair without the presence of "both a pineapple and Lady Curzon". That's according to Francesca Beauman, author of The Pineapple: King Of Fruits.

Lady Curzon is no longer a dinner party option, but the pineapple is here to stay. The exotic and shapely fruit has been an interior design motif since the 18th century and it's still going strong.

You'll find pineapples on wallpaper, upholstery and cushions, and in the shape of storage jars, candle-holders and tea lights. This summer, it's hard to find an interior design outlet without them.

Tropical-themed interiors are hot this summer and the pineapple is part of the trend. You'll also find that ferns, flamingos, palm trees, and parrots are widely available, both as patterns and accessories. But the jungle-themed interior is not for the faint-hearted. "It's quite a loud look with large-scale prints and really full-on colour," says interior designer Jackie Carton. "Interiors can take themselves too seriously and this is a bit of fun."

Tropical interiors are meant to be over the top, but it's a trend that calls for a bit of jungle management. Big leafy patterns and quirky accessories need to be balanced with quiet space or you'll end up with a room that would give Tarzan a headache.

"The people who like the trend tend to be very adventurous and sometimes they get carried away. The trick is to get the balance right, especially if you're combining patterns," Carton advises.

Companies like House of Hackney use the same jungle prints throughout their ranges. Their Palmeral print, for example, comes in wallpaper (€210 per roll), cotton linen fabric (€110 per metre) and velvet (€145 per metre). Cleverly combined, these can create a very sophisticated look. Throw them together injudiciously and the patterns will diminish each other. Plus your room will look like you just bought everything in the same shop. Strong patterns, Carton suggests, stand out best when used against a block of plain colour.

If combining patterns is one of the main challenges of the tropical trend, you also have to negotiate a careful balance between patterns and accessories. Matthew Williamson's Turquoise Flamingo Club wallpaper (€115 per roll) is wreathed in palms, orchids, and flamingos that look like they've just rolled out of a 1970s nightclub. It's deliberately treading a delicate line between camp and kitsch.

Flamingos, I admit, are the business. And there are lovely flamingo accessories in all the shops. But a room can only take so many long-legged pink birds. Combine the wallpaper with tempting flamingo accessories and you're liable to ruin the look.

"Too many tropical patterns and the room will look like a zoo," says Carton. "Too many accessories and it'll look like you're having a children's party."

On the other hand, turning your living room into a full-on tropical jungle is the perfect antidote to the mind-numbing blandness of white walls and beige carpets. "Tropical is a maximalist trend," says Sarah Drumm of Dust, an interior design shop in Dublin. "The underlying theme is that it's fun. So who cares - give it a go! See how it turns out. If you're sick of it in five years' time, you can always paint over the wallpaper."

If you're still feeling shy, she suggests you test-drive the look in the downstairs bathroom. "It's nice to have an element of surprise in there and you can bring it to another level by using the wallpaper on the ceiling as well as the walls."

But even Drumm admits that not everyone is going to want to rock the 1970s Palm Springs look. "It's nice to pare it back too - it's not like we're living in the tropics and there are ways of creating the look that aren't too overwhelming."

One of these is to embrace pattern, but go easy on the colour. Barneby Gates Pineapple Wallpaper (€145 per roll) comes in charcoal, a restful colourway with pale pineapples against a dark grey background.

"It's not too in your face. It might make an impact when you walk into a room but it wouldn't take over the space," says Drumm. There's a more extrovert version of the same pattern in pink on white.

Another way of creating a tropical flavour without having to change the underlying décor, is by using indoor plants in combination with exotic bird and animal accessories. These range from the high-camp statement lamps by Abigail Ahern for Debenhams (a flocked turquoise toucan with a velvet lampshade sprouting from its head costs €120) to a life-like cockatoo from Dust. The cockatoo has wired feet so it can perch on a plant or a shelf and a free-standing flamingo in the same range costs €45.

Little touches could include a cactus candle (€2) and flower lights (€4) from Penneys. When it comes to animal accessories, my personal favourite is the expressive range of monkey lamps by the Italian design company, Seletti (€205 to €275 from Dust). They're white, made in cast resin and very finely detailed.

In the table lamp version, the monkey sits on a flat surface, a bare light bulb in its hand, looking a bit depressed. There's also a standing version (he's looking up at the light) and another where the monkey swings from a bracket on the wall, the flex hanging down like a tropical vine. It's an impactful piece and the monochrome surface makes it look abstract, despite the naturalistic texture. It would look great against jungle-print wallpaper.

Jackie Carton agrees: "I must have lost my marbles altogether, but I just have to have one of those monkeys."


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