Monday, September 28, 2009

Polka Dots or Plain Vanilla.. ??

(Above: Boutet's 7-color and 12-color color circles from 1708, Courtesy Wikipedia)

Obsession with white

We have both been obsessed with the plain beauty of white ; white walls, white curtains, white upholstery and even white cushions with color introduced in the form of other objects (books, rugs, paintings, whatever..), and have been in love with the results for many years. It is difficult to get away from the serenity of white; meaning there is no bright red wall breaking the line of sight.
So then, why paint ?

After broaching the idea with a few friends, and some research, we discovered - not so surprisingly, that many homeowners (at least in the US) have a mental tug-of-war going on about painting walls. It goes something like this: "I really want a sunshine-yellow wall, but what if the potential buyers of my house -sometime in future-may not like it? Will it bring down the value of my house? And make potential buyers shy away?".
This dilemma results in many folks painting the universal color "beige"- or some neutral color- much to their heart's discontent- and living with it for many years.
We have nothing against "neutral", as long as its done for the right reason. The fact remains- that no matter what you or I like, the next person may like something totally different. So we figured, that there is no reason to burn the gray-matter in our heads and hold off on what we really like (unless of course there are imminent plans to sell the house).

Having said that, over the last couple of years many a thing has changed in our lives. We have added a little boy with whom came a whole new turn on decor and not to mention our growing collections of his "things" which add their own color and flavor. Is the white is beginning to look a little weary? We ponder...

For the lucky few who know exactly what they color they want, down to the perfect shade, our hats off. We join the millions of others, still baffled by that ever elusive shade, that will make tingles go down your spine. And ofcourse, we want multiple shades- all at once, in case the choice isn't complicated enough.
What if we select from the 3564 shades of paint available (across 10 paint manufacturers- who by the way- all claim to have the highest pigment composition), and narrow it down to the last two, with artful precision, and the restraint of a yogi?... And end up with just two colors- Vert de Terre and Pale Avocado...And finally, finally, decide to go for Pale Avocado...only to have that nagging thought always, at the back of our mind, whether we really, really should have gone for Vert de Terre instead?
We dread the very thought of it. Perhaps its best leaving that wall white, after all. As Scarlet Ohara says in Gone with the Wind. "I will think about it tomorrow..when I'm stronger".

So we search for some fundamental questions: Like a warm or cool palette?
A few hours of research reveals some tools (like the one below).
Benjamin Moore's Color Viewer is online tool that lets you play with a lot of Options. You can play around with almost all their colors and test drive in realtime (without messing you own walls). You can also experiment with different finishes/washes -Strie, Sponge-on, Rag-on, etc. to see what the texturing effect looks like. Not a bad place for a start, and it gives some instant-gratification too. :)
As Step#2, They also have a Personal Color viewer that one can download for $10.00. This enables us to import photos of our own rooms and use the color tool on it. There's a short video of it on how it works on Youtube. (By the way- BEHR ColorSmart lets you do this for Free)

Below: Some samples images we created in less that a minute.

Caution: This is a good software from a usability perspective- but NOT so accurate results. (As pointed out in some detailed Reviews). Again, the bottom line is that there is no software that can match a 100%, so dont sweat it. One can start with it as a guiding point to narrow down, and then use actual swatches to see what it looks like and get to that final shade.

Talking about swatches, many manufacturers now offer small "pots" -like the one below -of most colors that they offer, and is a very cost effective way for us to paint a small portion on our wall and compare the results side by side.
Tip: We learnt that since our walls look different at night, and noon and day- in different natural light conditions, it is very important to leave the swatches on, and compare during different times of day and make sure we like ALL the results- not just morning results, or night results.
(Below, Image Courtesy: Ralph Lauren Home)

Texture: Finishes & Techniques give another dimension to adding color.
So how do we achieve these finishes? We found some really nice "How-to Video" pages on the RL home website, that offers a variety of online short videos on different techniques including step-by-step instructions on how to create effects such as Candlelight, Antique Leather, Striping, etc.
(Below: Indigo Denim finish,Striping finish, Image Courtesy: RL Home)

A little about Color:
The Color Wheel: Wolfgang Goethe's Theory of Colors (1810) was one of the first studies in the Physiological effect of colors, and the fore-runner for the Color Wheels in use today.
You could purchase a modern version of this, like the one below from any paint or art supply store (including HomeDepot, Lowes and the like), or online from the Colorwheel Co. The color wheel shows colors, and their natural relationships with each other. (Which is why some colors we notice, go well with others, while some just dont!)
Monochromatic color Palette:
Using flavors of a single color- either in its pure form, or by adding white (tint), gray (tone), or black (shade) to the color. A Monochromatic room from the Palace in Wilanów, Warsaw.

Analogous color Palette:
Using a single color- and colors to the left and right of it on the color wheel.
I found this online to give an example of a room using an analogous palette.
(Image Courtesy:, Palette Icon Courtesy: DiamondVogel Paints)

Triad color Palette:
Using a color- and 2 colors that form a triangle with it on the Color wheel.
In this case, Yellow, Red and Blue.
All these colors can be used in different proportions to create different effects. e.g. Yellow paint on the walls, and Red and Blue upholstery and accents, or More of blue, by painting the wall blue, with other accents of yellow and red to reverse the effect. So the point is that ALL the color need not be on the wall itself ;-) to achieve our scientific quest for color harmony.
(And while we're still on the topic, Green, Orange & Violet would form another Triad combination)

(Image Courtesy:, Icon Courtesy: DiamondVogel Paints)

Here is another tool online from midwest paint maker DiamondVogel, that lets you select a particular color and gives some suggestions for analogous, complementary, triads and other paint combinations that go well with the primary color you selected.


While studying color it is almost impossible to ignore the strides made by Pantone- in defining it as a study ans science. For anyone in the color industry , from architects & designers to publishers & fashion designers, it has become the single authoritative source for color coding and standardization. It's worthwhile to check them out if you are looking for an exact match- and if you are pretty uncompromising on getting a 100% match with something you have in mind- or already have as a reference.

By the way, for all the iPhone enthusiasts , there is a (Free) application from Benjamin Moore -called BEN Color Capture, that lets you take any picture using your iphone camera, and present the corresponding paint colors from their palette on the iPhone. Again, great idea, not so accurate results- use it for the fun of it. If you want professional grade matching,
use a tool like the Pantone Color Cue (shown below) (approx $250USD) that lets you click on any surface and get the EXACT match to the Pantone color code.

(Image Courtesy: Pantone)

Nature as a guide: Mother nature has been juxtaposing hues long before man learnt about color. And her vast experience about chromatic configuration shows rather obviously. Consider the image below(not mine) from Napa Valley , and the colors on it that can be used to build a palette.

Or this shot of a windmill from one of our trips to Solvang, CA.
Tip: Use ColourLovers to easily create a palette FROM any image that you love- be it nature, Mona Lisa, or simply your favorite jewelry or scarf!
Well, the decision process, we find, is certainly getting interesting now.

Glazes: Various types of paint glazes are used on different areas of a home. Below are the main broad categories of paint finishes.
Flats- give a matte finish, helps hide surface imperfections, Normally used for ceilings and walls in areas not subjected to a lot of wear and tear, dining rooms, living rooms and bedrooms.
Satin /Eggshell- provides a soft luster sheen similar to that of an eggshell. Satin finish is more durable & stain resistant than a flat finish. Used in higher traffic areas-Kid's rooms, Hallways/stairways, etc.
Semi-gloss- very durable, easy to clean, and more stain resistant than satin.Best used on very heavy traffic areas/surfaces like kitchens and bathrooms. Also on wainscoting, wood trim,cabinets, etc.
Gloss Paint- Most durable, and stain resistant. Easiest to maintain. Note: Gloss makes surface imperfections more noticeable. Generally used in kitchens, bathrooms,furniture, cabinets, floors, stairs, handrails, etc.
Here's a link on with more details on basic paint glazes/finishes available for purchase.
For preparation,
tools (sand paper, rollers , brushes , drop-cloths), and Painting101, check out this link on Howstuffworks. We found that its pretty detailed, and easy to follow.

Whether to paint all sides , ceiling?
Another alternative is to start with one wall- instead of all 4 walls of a room, while still achieving a painted effect. This also called an accent wall/feature wall, and typically would be the wall facing you as you walk into a room. (e.g. the wall that serves as a backdrop for a sofa, or bed, etc)
Below: An accent wall.
(Image Courtesy: Ellen Kennon)

Painted ceiling?
We really didnt want to use Joe Nye's beautiful Beverely Hills apartment as an example, since its been quoted in pretty much every blog since it first came in House Beautiful magazine. However, we just couldnt resist, and the glossy ceiling reflecting the light says much more that we ever need to write here on how a painted ceiling can work.
Below are some of the sources of good paint in the US.
Farrow & Ball (UK-based, but has US retail)
Benjamin Moore
Ralph Lauren Home
Restoration Hardware

We cannot quote it here due to copyright violations, but a leading end-user study that we have subscribed to reports that after testing some of the less expensive ones like Behr, had a better performance rating in several categories than some of the pricier ones! That was a revelation.

How much paint do you need?

There are many simple Online Calculators which give you how much paint you need by inputting the dimensions of your walls. So no guessing, and minimum wastage. As a thumb rule, a gallon covers around 300-400 sq ft wall area.
View an Online Paint Calculator here (There are several others available as well)

Trial and error.
In the end- we learnt that there is no such thing as a back-seat painting. We learnt one has to get his feet wet and start by trial and error. There's simply no way to just browse and decide if your really want soul-satisfaction with painting.

So we started painting one of the walls on our garage-and were pretty happy with the results. The money& effort spent on primer (before painting), and sanding for smoothness, were well worth the effort. This wall will probably retain status as an experiment wall for future projects to come.

Topping it off:
After hours of deliberations, with tints, tones and shades, values, triads, tetrads, complimentary and split complementary, our heads are feeling somewhat heavy. The only color Joe can see right now, is the color of the bottle of Merlot sitting on the table :)

And then again, we see the sheer beauty of white in a magazine open in front of us (image below)....and the battle continues.

"To Paint or Not to Paint"... is the question of the day.
(Courtesy: Shakespeare & Co.)

Wishing you COlORful Days ahead !

Friday, July 3, 2009

High Tea by the bay

In my last post , Patricia's Tag, one of the questions was "What inspires you ?" and my answer was "Company of other inspired people, my friends and of course my two boys!". This post is about one such person who is my good friend and a constant source of inspiration:
My dear friend, Minnu.

She is an artist , and now a full-time mom. She is the girliest girl I know and my one-stop rescue point for design consultation, DIY emergencies, Quick n Easy recipes, hot-off-the-rack fashion trends and 90210 updates.

Last weekend was her daughter's 2nd birthday, and she had invited a couple of us friends over for tea. She had gone to great lengths setting the stage- which seemed so effortless at first look, but was carefully brought together. Here are some shots of the tablescape .

Below: Chunky Brownies & Pastries . I love the Pink spray-roses in the earthenware jar. They are so beautiful and I have tried to include them in every shot possible.
Below: Simple snacks liven up the table. Home-made Crispy Crust Pizza & Fish Puffs, Banana Muffins from a nearby bakery and of lots of seasonal fruits. Her collection of simple linens and white china lend a grace to the table, and make the food even more appetizing.

High Tea or Afternoon Tea is a light meal including Tea (or sometimes Coffee, to accommodate regional priorities) typically eaten between 3 pm and 5 pm. The custom of drinking tea originated in England when Catherine of Braganza (of Portugal) married Charles II in 1661 and brought the practice of drinking tea in the afternoon, with her from Portugal. (Source: Wikipedia).
Note: Technically- the general term "High Tea" which we use for drinking tea with snacks in the afternoon is a misnomer. High Tea or "meat tea" originated in France and England and was typically heavier food with tea at around 5:00-7:00 in the evening (Not Afternoon), with dinner following much later in the evening. You can read the whole history of High Tea here.

I take a short break from the snacks to find a cup of coffee in the kitchen-nook with an inviting bay-window, and a old cane settee riddled with blue and white pillows to snuggle in.

Above: A mickey-mouse cake for the 2 year old and her friends. The kids had a lot of fun digging into it after the official cake-cutting .
We all had a great time at the party.. Well, who wouldn't when surrounded by such pretty things and good friends?

Below: Minnu is re-orienting herself with her artist's tools after a rather long break. On one of the previous evenings we had met up, she made this sketch of me. I was modeling for first time and it was one of those spur-of-the-moment thoughts to sit for a portrait. I kept fidgeting the entire time , kept changing my expressions and had to offer-up my comments every now and then. Nevertheless, she did an impressive job for a midnight , right-under-the-lamp portrait of me :)

Below: Home-made Strawberry Jam from Minnu's Kitchen. This is a gift she had given me a while back and I thought this would be good time to share it with you. Often we overlook the possibility of giving our friends, home-made gifts like these, which are relatively inexpensive but absolutely delights the receiver!! The next time before I run to the store to pick up an off-the-shelf-gift , I would definitely reconsider . Would you ?

Here is to friendship and friends !!


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Patricia's Tag.. and a domestic update

Couple of weeks back Patricia of ColoursDekor passed on a Tag, and "now ", I feel, would be the best time for me to take it up. I am not too good at writing ..let alone writing about myself. So this more me talking than writing :)

Before I get to the Tag, a Big Hi!! to everyone out there and a quick update on the Blue household. Lil Blu's school closed for summer vacation almost a month back. So the tornado is at home full-time and wreaking havoc around here. A good part of my days are spent shuttling between parks , play-dates, malls, the tub ( which he refers to as his personal swimming pool) and my car ( where he pretend-drives for hours on end) . Cooking, Cleaning, Home-projects and all other domestic activities have been put on a temporary hold..and all we do are sing ABC's, race Hotwheels, make freezer-pops and build fortresses out of sofa-cushions.

So now you know why I said NOW would be a good time to take up the Tag. I am badly in need of some grown-up time and some caffeine . And, here you go !

June 24, 5 pm
1. What is your current obsession ?
The organic milk chocolate bars from Equal-Exchange , they are out-of-this-world!
2.What is your weirdest obsession ?
Well, I have been told by many that I have a mild degree of OCD. I am constantly in the quest of Order. I am sure most of my friends would testify to it ..I have offered to several of them to re-organize their spaces ( that is, as soon as I am done with mine ) ;-)

3.What are you wearing today?
White shirt and denim.

4.What is for dinner?
Chicken Cutlets, Bread, Boiled corn and fruits for dessert.

5.What is the last thing you bought?
A white canister ( for coffee )

6.What are you listening to right now ?
CNN .. and Blu trying to spell out the headlines

7.What do you think about the person who tagged you?
Patricia-Very friendly , Spirited , Adventurous and Thoughtful. I would love to have her for a friend :)

8.If you could have a house totally paid for, fully furnished anywhere in the world, where would you like it to be ?
India; Trivandrum to be specific

9.What are your must have pieces for summer ?
Linen pants, sun glasses and a good pair of sneakers

10.If you could go anywhere in the world for the next one hour where would you go ?
Hmmm , just an hour ??!! I would rather take a nap :)

11.Which language would you like to learn ?

12.What is your favourite quote?
When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us. -Helen Keller

13.Who do you want to meet right now ?
Joe, my husband. He left for work before I woke up in the morning.

14.Whats your favorite color ?
Don't you know already ?? It is Blue !

15.Whats your favorite piece of clothing in your closet ?
Denim by Gap

16.What is your dream job ?
A pastry chef ... you said dream-job right ??

17.What is your favorite magazine ?
None really !! I occasionally flip through Country Living, Real Simple and Better Homes and Gardens . But I dont subscribe any .

18.If you had a $100 now , what would you spend it on ?
A Vintage train-set for the boy.

19.What do you consider a fashion faux pas?
Anytime you try to be trendy forgetting to check if you actually look good in it .

20.Who are your style icons ?
Shabana Azmi, Michelle Obama

21.Describe your personal style ?
Depends, sometimes athletic, sometime relaxed .. ( it is not in my style to be dressy .. comfort rules !!)

22. What are you going to do after this ?
Take Blu out for a walk .

23.What are your favourite movies ? Beautiful Mind, Scent of a Woman,Pursuit of Happiness, Amistad, Bharatham( Malayalam), Mounaragam (Tamil) are some of them... and most of the Mohanlal movies in the 80's and early 90's .

24. What are your three cosmetic/ makeup/ perfume products you cant live without ?
Moisturizer , lip balm and deodorant.

25.What inspires you ?
Company of other inspired people , my friends and of course my two boys !

26.Give us 3 styling tips that always work for you ? In terms of home decor (1) Fresh flowers (2) No rules; anything long as YOU like what you see (3) If you "cant see the room"...Edit, Edit, Re-Edit !!

27.What do you do when you have "nothing to wear" , even when your closet is packed ?
I usually grab a T-shirt from Joe's side.. and on rare occasions , I have gone rightaway to shop for something new

28.Coffee or tea ?
Strictly Coffee :)

*The rules are: Respond and rework – answer the questions on your own blog, replace one question that you dislike with a question of your own invention, and add one more question of your own.

So ,That's me !!
I am taking a rain check on passing the tag.

Happy summer to you all

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Postage Stamp Basket : Quilting

In one of my previous posts I had mentioned how I started on a rather ambitious project right after a weekend class on Quilting. This is how it turned out.

A short recap.. In 2004 fall, I had taken this weekend class on Quilting to make a gift for a dear friend. In the class , the instructor taught us how to make a crib-size quilt , and the basic techniques of measuring , cutting the fabric, piecing (i.e. joining the bits of fabric together to make a fabric-"block") , quilting stitches ( i.e. stitches that hold together the 3 layers of a quilt- the top layer of fabric, the cotton batting in between, and the bottom layer of fabric), and finally binding ( i.e. finishing the edges after the layers are stitched together) .

I cant tell you how liberating an experience it was. I was always so envious of Joe, for being so passionate about the things he liked to do : cars, drawing, designing , reading and his list goes on ... and for me I could never figure out that "one thing" which would grip my heart 'n soul...but finally it looked like quilting was that evasive "answer" I was looking for!

At the time one of the fabric stores in our neighborhood was having a Christmas Sale and we decided to take a look. We got back home with pieces of at-least 25 different designs. The next thing that followed was a book called "Quilts! Quilts !! Quilts !!!"- by Diana McClun . For the next few days we made countless trips to the nearby craft-store for other supplies and gadgets and of course....for more fabric. The season also got me one of the best surprises ever, a sewing machine - a very thoughtful gift from my husband .

My inspiration was the Postage Stamp Basket quilt in Ms.McClun's book. The block- construction looked fairly simple and though the possible design layouts were endless , I decided to stick to the basic layout and color scheme from the book (though we had to change the scale).

Below: Joe made this image on MS Word , scaling it down to the size that we had wanted at the time. This was the starting point.

All those specks of color on the white background looked so cheerful and I was sure it would make the perfect accessory to brighten up any room, any day. The blocks were laid out in such a manner that 'same color patches' made a diagonal line, creating a lot of visual interest. It might sound like I was on an easy course , since I had decided to follow the layout and color instructions from the book, but getting the different patches of fabric to create that diagonal-line was tough. I had to get just the right shade of yellow or red, otherwise it would stick out and completely wreck the picture I had in mind.

By the first week of January 2005 I had started working on it , averaging an hour a day. I remember the instructor in my class saying that she preferred to do at-least some part of the process by hand (like the quilting stitches , or the binding ) rather than by machine .. that's what adds the personal touch. I particularly enjoyed the "stitching by hand" part and decided to use the sewing-machine only for piecing and to do the quilting and binding by hand.

It took me a long 6 months to get it to what you are seeing now, "almost finished" ( well, it is still not complete according to my original plan.. nevertheless by finished, I mean , usable and presentable) and it made the perfect gift for Joe on his birthday that year ! He was thrilled.

In case I have managed to pique your interest in quilts by now , here is some more information and specs on it. The finished quilt measures 82" X 96 " . There are 120 finished blocks on it and each block is finished with 8 pieces of fabric ( 2 squares, 3 big half-square triangles, 2 small half-square triangles and the handle applique ) . A finished block measures 6"X6". Here is a close-up of one of the blocks (below). You can also see the quilting stitches on the white background fabric.

Happy Quilts to you all !!
~ Aswathy

Saturday, May 30, 2009

British Colonial Style/ Plantation Style

If the charms and grandeur of colonial-era design fascinate you, you will find some hidden gems in this post. While I have tried to be true to what "Colonial", and "Plantation" design mean to me, this is by no means an authoritative journal on the historical accuracy of these periods, ethics of colonization, or the styles of that period.

If nothing else, the intention of the post is to simply set you thinking, and find your own inspiration and to plant some seeds for innovation and ingenuity. The images are intended to be a kaleidoscope and hopefully will provide some cohesive imagery that brings the Colonial/Plantation style together.

I have tried to provide references and links as far as possible, crediting the authors/websites from where I have sourced information, and so that the readers can themselves explore more on the respective websites.

While many references are to British Architecture and Design from the late 1800's and early 1900's, you will even find references and images here from Colonial United States to British colonies in India and Singapore, and even some vintage French Louis Vuitton trunks. (In short, the specifics of the style described here, exist more as a figment of my imagination. And the only rule that's applied in gelling all this together is: If it appeals to the ("colonial") eye, it stays there. :-) Happy Reading.

Exception: If you are looking for Island Style-this post does NOT cover it (I've seen some folks classify that under Colonial style). It's just my personal preference to classify it as a different style on its own.

A little bit of background: The British Empire and the spread of the Colonial style The British were forerunners of the Colonial/Plantation style, and left influences in many of their colonies spanning the ends of the earth in every literal sense- from the Colleges in Fort William (now part of Calcutta) to Williamsburg , Virginia, to the Governmental mansions in Singapore- all testaments to a bygone era. (It's noteworthy, that the Dutch, Portuguese, French and Spanish were all great ocean-trotters and had their own colonies and unique styles)

Above: Mr. Mackays Bungalow, from Colonial days in Serampore, Calcutta.

(Photo Courtesy: Kanad Sanyal)
The Colonial era poured in enormous amount of wealth into the hands of a few who built mansions such that this one in Calcutta. Lets us not get into a discussion of "right money" versus "wrong money", since many of these were amassed by Zamindars favouring the British East India Company, both exploiting the local workers and resources. However, strictly from an Architectural perspective, these are simply elements of timeless beauty, though its a shame that many have fallen to ruins because of lack of Government funding for these, or the sheer amount of resources needed to maintain these which often became a burden for the private inheritors of these properties.

Above: The colonial icon of Singapore- Raffles Hotel, named after Sir Stamford Raffles (widely known as the architect of Singapore), and built in 1887.
Below: A lithograph depicting a view of Old Colonial Calcutta. So what do we need to do to create colonial-design style?

DESIGN ELEMENTS: Coming back to the core topic of this post-"DESIGN", lets now take a look into the 'design elements' that would be needed to conjure up this style, if we were to emulate this style in the current era.

The Portico:
The portico/porch treatment is perhaps what defines the grand scale of Colonial Architecture edifice to begin with. Again, many elements have been borrowed from the Greco-Roman days, and sets the stage before you even step into one of these buildings.

Note the fluted Doric columns flanking the background in the picture below. (Note: The Columns ofcourse havent changed much in style since the Greeks and Romans. Mankind is yet to find a more classic column design in a long time. The colonial style simply borrows, and immortalizes these old Greco-Roman column designs- Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, or an amalgam of these.)
Below: The Maharajah's and their love affair with the colonial style. The British Architecture had deep influence on the Indian nobles as well. Many Indian nobles' palaces and mansions in the 1700-1800's were British Colonialism influenced.
(Image Courtesy- Sepia
Note: By the way, the picture above is Maharani Gayatri Devi of Jaipur beside her ride. (You cant really have a discussion of the Colonial ages without the Maharajah's and their Rolls Royces. :-) Here's an article if you're really interested in reading more on the topic. Fact: The Maharajah of Alwar ordered 7 Rolls Royces in Mayfair, and had them ALL used to collect Municipal waste (you read right), because he was snubbed by a snooty Rolls-salesman.
Below: The Red-Oxide glazed floor of Vanilla County, a B&B in Southern India, and Pillars that flank the portico- in my opinion, great elements of the Colonial Style. Interestingly, the British left several timeless summer-homes and retreats in many corners in India from Ooty to Shimla. (Note: From the looks of it, this one certainly seems like one of those as well, but I am still in the process of verifying it with the owner.)

Below: An interior view of the Raffles Hotel in Singapore. Note the similarity in tones and palette to the one above.
Wall Treatment:
Below: A Paul Montgomery hand-painted wall-paper
creates an aged look, with a trompe l'oeil effect and adds depth and period, to an otherwise blank room or wall. (Check their website out for some really aged, handpainted wall paper. Really sets the mood for a room.)
Furniture Below: A plantation style chair from Ralph Lauren (Cape Lodge Collection). Mahogany and Teak suit this style best.

Below: An antique chair from Williams Sonoma British Collection.
Below: OK, this one's purely for inspirational purposes. It's a museum piece- currently in the Victoria & Albert Museum, and shows what Classic British taste combined with Indian artisan's dexterity can conjure! (BTW, the material is carved Ivory, partly gilded, with caned seat)
Below: An Antique English Rosewood table, 19th century. Some of these are available from antique dealers in the US & UK. I remember my late paternal grandfather had one (now inherited by one of my cousins) that looks much the same at our ancestral home. The one featured above is from a NY dealer called Center44. (Courtesy:, and has been listed at $12,000. (An estate Sale or eBay might reveal similar treasures at much lesser cost if youre willing to spend some time hunting.)

Settees: Note the "Rising Sun" back splash of this two seater that I found on British Regency, a US-based colonial furniture reproducer/manufacturer. (probably symbolizing the now outdated ;-) phrase- "the Sun never sets on the British empire")

The Bedroom: Below: There's nothing like a classic teak Four-poster bed to adorn any colonial bedroom. This is one from an old resort somewhere in Ceylon (I forget which one), but similar four poster beds can also be found in British Classic collection of retailers like Ethan Allen. (Warning!: I must say here that I am not really a big fan of the "modern versions" of these, and your best choice would be to find something salvaged, or from an antiques dealer). The new ones have that sheen, and lack of age that might just take away that aged look that you are trying so hard to create. My fundamental rule for this style would be- "As far as possible, avoid anything that's new, shiny and looks like it just came off the shelf". Stick with all that shows the age, and looks like it has a story to tell. A good piece of old furniture will speak to you- just dream it up and experiment till you get it right.

The below floor mirror is from Bombay Co (closed its operations in the US, but still has a presence in Canada) is in the Colonial Style and would be a great accessory that can double as a dresser mirror, or an entryway mirror. Again-if you can find an old piece that has similar lines- use it, else substitute with a replica like the one below. The Study, Library:
A well stocked library /study is a critical component in Colonial design. The below desk, and Library steps, both in English Cherry are from Elijah Slocum, a fine maker of English furniture in the US. I have featured some more pieces from this maker in the Dining Section below.
Colonial Accessories (Steamer Trunks, etc)
Travels to the corners of the earth was the essence of colonialism (among the other obvious motives which I wont cover here). Essentially, there evolved fine transportation modularities that are rare to come by in the current age. I doubt if the below Louis Vuitton Steamer trunk can actually be linked directly to Colonial baggage (I dont have any proof). Nevertheless, LV trunks were in use since 1854, and the stlyle, I personally feel, fits in if you are trying to put togther a colonial decor inspired room.

Below: And what's colonial style without a Campaign desk? Again-one of the antiques I found online from a dealer called Perry & Thomas, listed at Center44. (Image Courtesy: This is a very beautiful piece that can accent a Study, Hallway or bedroom, whichever way you chose to improvise.

Storage: As I mentioned above in the Bedroom Section, some retailers like Ethan Allen and William's Sonoma, do provide a range of furniture that adhere's to this style. Though personally I would not pick all of these and club it under the Plantation Style, these are also a great source for off-the shelf elements that make these products more accessible- as compared to authentic ones which would require countless time hunting them down and would be much more expensive.
Below: An armoire from Ethan Allen's British Classics
Dining: Lets move into the dining space. The following pieces are a lighter tone from some of the above. I just wanted to bring in the tonal variance to show the different type of woods that could be used with this style.
Mostly, Mahogany, Rosewood and Teak were used in British Colonial design.The corner cupboard shown below is English Oak, from Elijah Slocum, a great reference and source of English style furniture.

The four pieces below- Cupboard, Queen Anne Mahogany Pedestal Dining Table, and Queen Anne Chairs are all from Elijah Slocum.

Standalone pieces:
The chair below blends both Chippendale and Queen Anne styles, and is piece from my own collection, that I restored. It's estimated around the 1800-1850's (perhaps earlier). Standalone pieces like this can be used in corners, entryways, hallways, or just about anywhere you have space to throw a chair. Fine British furniture manufacturers like Sheraton, Chippendale and Hepplewhite all manufactured "portable" furniture for the Colonial officers of the British army. These pieces had to be easy to transport, be able to be knocked down and assembled back easily, and often "collapsible"- leading to an entirely new approach in furniture design.

Plantation Shutters: These add a definitive character to the Colonial/Plantation Style, and are obviously named so for the same reason-they were used in plantations (though actual their origins can perhaps be traced back to Greece). Again, the key is to preserve or bring out an aged look, so source reclaimed ones whereever possible, if not go for one that has a distressed look (even if its new) to get the best 'period effect'. You could improvise with these as well. The shutter's need not necessarily go on a window- if you find an old pair, they could adorn your wall as well as a non-functional decortaive element. Tip!: Watch out for low quality ones with staples attached to louvers- they will sag/fall out. Pick ones with metal/brass secures that attach the louvers to central tilt-bar). Fabric: Again, my personal preference is that its best NOT to dilute the 'colonial' effect with a too much color, and white/pale linen shades do the most justice for curtains, tableware, furniture fabric including sofa's and cushions.
Again, no hard rule here. Experiment and find what works best once you have the rest of the main elements in the framework together. Colourful fabrics can be used in a restrained manner, with a tasteful eye, while keeping a check on not going overboard.
Some makers of fine fabrics include Sanderson,RalphLauren,Vervain &Yves Delorme to name a few. (The below samples are from Ralph Lauren, Vervain)

Animal & Botanical Prints: Flora/fauna prints also go well with this design, reminiscent of the various hunting endevours of the colonial period. Though trade of most animal skins are banned in current times (as opposed to colonial times), technically you can still evoke the same 'canvas' by using prints from the same fabric providers mentioned above for cushions, upholstery, curtains, and the like - again the key is to use in "restrained quantities" against the bulk of a generally white (or sober) palette of fabric. It would be hard to classify a room full of zebra prints as colonial design.

Curtains & Window Treatments:
Simple linen shades of neutral colour are preferred, but one could use raw silk as well for more sophisticated treatments. However, the fact remains that curtains are not a necessity in Colonial design. You could just leave the windows bare with just the beauty (and protection) of the plantation shutters being the only window element- pretty powerful on its own.

Image Courtesy: Tuscan Style 2009, Meredith Publications. Featuring designer Jenny Peter's home in Biscayne Bay, Florida. Note the pale palette, with only the Persian-looking rug making a contrast. The dark woods of the Sri-Lankan four poster bed, Cane-settee, and door make a stricking contrast against the different shades of whites in linen, sofas walls, and curtains. Note the antique 4-poster Sri-Lankan bed (remember that Sri-Lanka was a British colony too)
Wood Paneling, Trimwork & Wainscoting: Note the sophistication that dark wood wainscoting and paneling brings in below. Again, not overly done- but just enough. Elaborate scrollwork and intricate designs in trimwork would tend towards the more sophisticated french style. The British colonial style simply classicizes the straight lines.
Below: The game room from the Kusumvilas Palace in Gujarat which was designed for Indian royalty in Colonial days. Above: OK. I'm going to use my creative license to bend the rules here a bit. The above is technically neither Colonial nor British, but from Archduke Franz Ferdinand d’Este's Chateau in Prague. The image and the colour-scape resonates with what I had in mind, so I'm throwing that in here. Note the tall ceilings, dark wood wainscoting against the white walls, and contrasting green floor-like that of a Gentleman's Billiards table. You get the picture. :-)

Light & Fixtures:
Ceiling Fan:
Vintage ceiling fans can add a lot of character if you have enough room height to provide one. I found quite a few including 1918 Diehl, and a 1910 Western Electric fan on a site called ! Check it out.Lighting: Below are some examples of Colonial style lighting. I've covered lantern style, and a chandelier, both from The Federalist (one of my favorites). (Note: The Fedaralist is a source for American Colonial accessories, but overall their lighting styles fits in just as well).

Note: I wanted to include a table lamp as well, but I really couldnt find anything perfect that either excited me, or came close to a fuzzy image that I had in mind. So I'll leave it for a later update on this same post.

Electrical Switches: One can never underestimate the charm of the old bakelite switches. Thankfully there are a handful of manufacturers that still make these beautiful electrical compositions. This is one place where I make an exception- try and find a new bakelite switch-just in terms of safety. The old ones may have worn out wiring, and unless you have a certified electrican guaranteeing the product, its simply safer to use a remade version- some of these are as good as the orginal ones. I found some great pieces on Accessories: Naval accessories, especially good quality reproductions can evoke the conquests of the early campaigners and explorers. Below is a model of U.S.S. Constitution. One must go for the best quality, and detail that one's budget can afford. These are indeed timeless. Above: The San Felipe, from

My personal preference would be just WHITE walls- whatever shade that suits you- as long as its a shade of white. Nothing compliments this style as best as dark furniture juxtaposed against white walls, and terracotta floors. But if you need to deviate a little but, a general guideline would be to stick with a neutral palette from a paint maker with high pigment percentage- like Farrow & Ball (again, a British paint maker since 1930's) that has been known to excel in this space. Personally I like RL shades as well (Note: Try and stick to the neutral ones, as Colonial is a usually a neutral palette.) The RL site also lists an array of useful videos on "How to" techniques.
However, If you're not afraid of experimenting with more bolder colors such as RL's Tapestry Green, go for it. Let no one dictate any hard and fast rules. There arent any! :-)

Red Oxide, Reclaimed wood, Terracota, Tiles are all good options. (Most of them are on this post if you look at flooring in the various images on this page- in case you need some visuals)
Personally, I would have two choices- reclaimed wood, or red-oxide. Both work well in my opinion. I found the below from a reclaimed wooden floor provider in the US. It's crucial to select the right tone of colour, and right "age". We neither want a "Too new" look not "Too light" colour. A dark, well worn look would be just right! Rugs: Sisal or Persian? One could go both ways. Each lending it's own charming, and effect to the room. Two distinct flavors. If you want a richer look, go with a nice persian silk or wool carpet. Else the simple look of a sisal rug has a right in itself and would look absolutely in place in Colonial design. Above: A sisal rug from Natural RugStore. You can check it out for different varieties, but Sisal rugs are available from many leading retailers worldwide. (In the US including Pottery Barn and Crate & Barrel)

Below: The other side of the equation- Wool/Silk rugs. It is interesting to note that smaller woolen/silk rugs can be used on top of the sisal rugs to define specific areas- (see below). So you can get the best of both worlds. (I've tried it and it works for me). If you take a close look at the cover of one the books I've put in the reference section below, you will find a Persian rug sitting on a canvas covered of a campaign tent. Rugs were often acquired on travels and campaigns and the British officers held used these memorabilia to tone-up their modest outdoor spaces.

Image Courtesy: Carpet Museum of Iran (it's one of the finest sources of rug-images on the web- sorry none for sale, but can give you plenty of ideas before you go carpet shopping)

Below: As mentioned in the above paragraph, I've made a collage out of a Sisal rug, and a Kilim just to make the point that one could have the best of both worlds by simply overlaying. (The Kilim rug I have shown here is the Malatya rug featured on
Wall Art: Classic Botanicals like the below, from Ebanista would complement the 'Colonial walls', especially if you want to "tone it down" a bit, avoid an overly masculine overtures. You could also order botanicals from sites like and frame them yourself for a more wallet-friendly approach. Art / Lithographs: like the one shown below (J.F Herring's Fox Hunting Scenes- I happened to find one of these myself)Realism, Oriental or early Impressionist (or similar) oil paintings would add great depth as well. Below:"Robert Clive and his family with an Indian maid", painted by Joshua Reynolds, 1765. (Source Wikipedia)

Maps, Nautical Instruments, Guns: Since all these are relevant to the colonial period, adding them would generally enhance the overall "colonization" factor to your design, as well as add the period-tone in the details. I'll just cover the maps element below for sake of brevity. (There is plenty of stuff out there for collectors on the other 2 items on the web, including on ebay)
Maps: Maps make a great addition to wall decor in this style. Campaigns were charted with old maps and old copies, or good replicas would bring in the conquests without a word spoken. Typically wooden frames go best with maps. Use the same woods (refer General Woods section in this post) - Mahogany,Teak, Rosewood- or similar finishes if you have other types of woods- a more cost effective option.
The map below serves a double-purpose in this post. It's also the a map showing the vast expanse of the British empire in the 18th-19th centuries. (Marked in Red)- Click on the map and check it out!
Historical Fact:
The tiny island kingdom of Great Britain,of just 94,000 sq miles (244,000 sq km) by 1920, had by conquests, expanded into the British Empire and held sway over a population of about 458 million people, i.e. one-quarter of the world's population, and covered more than 13,000,000 square miles (33,670,000 km²) i.e., approximately a quarter of Earth's total land area! Talk about Colonization. (Source: Wikipedia)

Tip: If you want to see a frame for your map/picture, you can upload your own image at Frames sites like and see for yourself before you order (I've used it to create the 3rd image of the framed map above) . It's disappointing, that even at the time of writing this article in 2009, framing shops in the US like Michaels and Aaron Brothers, do NOT have any imaging solution where you can see a full visualization of your complete framed picture anywhere before you see it delivered! (Pretty unbelievable to me in this digital age).
Coat/Hat Racks &
Umbrella Stands: Creating a Gentleman's corner. This umbrella/coat/hat stand on RubyLane (a great source of period furniture) is a good example of building up the design right from the entryway. Much lighter pieces are available in the $800-$1500 range, if "heavy" puts you off. The one below goes for about $3600, and in my opinion a fine piece of woodwork with brass trim. Other Details:
It's all in the details. Down to the last one. If you think you've covered it all- revisit. Because some items out of place can simply spoil the whole picture. For e.g. An ultra-modern light switch or door-knob would look totally out of place. I've added some below to give an outline of what to look for, but this list is by no means comprehensive.
Escutcheon: A keyhole protector/enhancer Window Latches/Cabinet Pulls, etc.: These can be used on existing cabinetry, or for ones that you may be refurbishing.
Coat Hooks: Pretty self explanatory.

Espagnolette: Adds a touch of class to tall doors. You can read more here. You can chose the level of detail that works for you. If this is overkill for you leave it out (these can be expensive as well). If the minutest details give you the sparks..go for it. :-) General purpose Wood: If you need to acquire or build custom pieces, Mahogany, Rosewood, Teak would be some of the best options, though others like English Cherry can be used as well. (Note: For a more economical approach, you could use other woods as well and then use wood- stainers to attain the finishes of the woods mentioned above.)

Phones: Restored phones like this go in the range of $400-$1500. A working model with that nostalgic ring is worth it, but ofcourse you may still need your modern phone as a "hidden" back-up for wireless, voicemail and all the new features we have become so used to ;-)
Investing in non-working model may be an economical way as well- to add the charm. You find one online like this one I found at Oldphoneworks. Good alternatives would include the black bakelite phone which some of us may still remember from childhood days. (No push buttons please- stick to the rotary dial)
Silverware: Nothing adds class like some antique silver-ware. You could get some pieces like this one- or an assorted amalgam from authentic dealers of british antique silverware like this old London store, or substitute with similar pieces which you maybe able to get for a steal off ebay-if you keep looking.
Clocks: Good working condition grand-father clocks can be expensive, but do make a statement- like they've always been sitting there..for a hundred years. BrianLoomes of North Yorkshire, England is a good source. The images below are from their website.

Trophies &
Hunting Memorabilia: Evoke the memories of old hunting campaigns with trophies. If youre lucky, you may have some of these still left in your family. Please NOTE: Trading of Tiger skins is illegal and punishable, but again if you have one that you inherited (grandfather clause), you can use that as well. (Animal rights activists, please excuse. fyi- I neither support the killing of animals or skinning thereafter- the intention of this post is NOT a debate on the above topic)
As I mentioned towards the beginning of this post, Colonial influence had a prominent effect on the Indian royalty (and vice-versa), and the design influence combined with the skills of Indian "royal-artisans" spread to many of the Indian palaces built in the 17th-19th centuries. As a corollary, many of the pieces that the British claim today as 'spoils of war' sitting in British museums are fine blends of indian craftsmanship. (See the ivory and cane chair displayed on this post).
Below: The image below is from the Ranjit Vilas Palace in Wankaner, Gujarat. Image Courtesy: Corbis,
(© Lindsay Hebberd/CORBIS). Note the school of tiger-heads in the backdrop. Unfortunately, I cannot say "no tigers were hurt in the making of this design".
Space and Volume: We may not always have the luxury or choice of picking the best building structures, and may have to live with what options we have. But vertical space is a very important concept in Colonial design. It's best not attempted in very small spaces, where other design styles may best optimize the space. Colonial design calls for invoking a certain level of understated grandeur (not opulent, but at the same time a hidden tone of elegance in design). The point I am trying to make here is- this design is best attempted in spaces that have reasonably good volume. 12-15 foot ceilings or even higher brings out it's own character.
Again, no hard rule here. Try for yourself and see what works best. Moderate spaces, cleverly worked out in planning may be able to pull it off too.
Image Courtesy: Associated Content, British Colonial Design Style, by Sandy Mitchell

Once you get the bones in place, you could expiriment with variants to suit your own convenience and functionality. By now, we already know know some of the striking elements that say "British Colonial".
For example, you could even bring in a Canvas Canopy element to your ceiling, or walls for an added effect. (Remember, most of the British Campaigns from South Africa to Asia were launched in tents, and some of the finest furniture we regard today in this style were used to make classic decor under a modest canopy. (And hence Nicholas Brawers's aptly titled book- "Elegance under Canvas"- see below under Books/References)
More Inspiration:
Movies: You could draw plenty of inspiration from Hollywood as well. Movies like Lawrence of Arabia has plenty of scenes where British Officers, and old Consulates are featured.
Books: Also, I couldn't pass this book that i chanced upon, on Amazon- (I don't have a copy of the book yet but do intend to get it once it becomes available again)-Furniture from British India and Ceylon- by Amin Jaffer And the most authoritative book on the subject- mostly furniture related. British Campaign Furniture: Elegance Under Canvas, 1740-1914 (Hardcover), by Nicholas A. Brawer. An absolute gem, in fact is out of print. The book's original price was $45, but now the only copies available from used-book sellers are in the $350-$400 range! You can get a sneak preview of some of the inside pages on Amazon. (This is the ONLY book I could find that was a 100% true to the subject).
On the money: "OK, so now what? Is this going to take a million (or few) bucks to do? This could all add up, you know?"
My personal opinion is, that it well could certainly add up to that (should you chose so), and you could do it without it as well. The second option is the much more painfully slow way, of collecting piece by piece, over the years, salvaging the non-working condition treasures for much less and restoring them. Substituting originals with whatever comes close. DIY-ing wherever you can. Patience, a good eye, and some creativity can get you there as well with a much lesser spend . That's my belief. In the end, it's my personal conviction that one's design should emanate Class and Elegance, not Opulence. Aristocracy, not Snobbery. Which is why you will find references here to pieces that cost a hundred thousand dollars, and others which are absolutely low cost alternatives costing just a few dollars.

Tying it all in:

A design is never fully done. The worst thing anyone can do to space is to be completely done with it, and move on. I believe every space should be evolving- always. And the space should look like it's still falling in place. Never too complete. Never too bookish. And never never too 'hotel'-ey. So take time, and create your space-piece by piece. Its the process that will give you much pleasure, even more so, than the end result itself!

However, to someone "walking in new", if youre able to create a feeling that nothing there has been moved in a century- that "time standing still look"- you've got it!

A final note: I hope you liked reading this post..I have had much fun putting it together with many many months of research going into it. Please do leave your comments and feedback. I wish you happy hunting, great finds and many blissful colonial design moments to come!

- joe

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