Tropical designs aren’t all tiki huts and pink flamingos. In fact, the best tropical spaces take their cue from the natural world, with a focus on relaxation, comfort, and a dash of fun. While tropical style is more modern, its parent design dates back to the 1800s. This was British Colonial style, where globetrotting adventurers invited light into their homes and filled them with exotic decor, tropical plants, and large design motifs.
Today, we see the evolution of tropical style where designs evoking lush jungles and sun-dappled shorelines are never far away.
Bring on the Color
When you look at tropical design, the first thing you notice is the color. This style is all about welcoming in the lively tones of the tropics, where blues, greens, yellows, pinks, and reds mix with soft sandy beiges and cool forest-floor browns.
The beauty of tropical style is that it doesn’t have just one color palette. You can use jewel-like tones across upholstered furnishings, calling to mind turquoise tropical waters and a medley of floral blossoms. You can also keep things more subtle, with a neutral backdrop, furniture made from bamboo or sea grass, and decor with a few pops of tropical color.
Then again, you can go all-out with vibrant patterned wallpaper, robust large-leaf plants, and plenty of dark wood furniture from species like teak, cocobolo, canary wood, or rosewood.
Get Creative with Patterns
Another way to show off the tropical style is with an array of patterns. The tropics are full of rich flora patterns, from the vibrant banana leaf to the mottled dieffenbachia leaf to the wispy split-leaf philodendron. We love seeing these leaf patterns next to large flower prints, or interspersed with geometric or animal prints.
To find your pattern match, think about your decor preferences and ask yourself, are you a minimalist or a maximalist? If you tend toward minimalism, opt for smaller patterns on bedspreads, curtains, or throws. We recommend that you apply subtle patterned wallpaper to one wall for a hint of tropical splendor.
If you’re a maximalist at heart, go big on the patterns. You can celebrate the style with vibrant wallpaper featuring a gorgeous display of tropical leaves, rugs with cozy prints, and cushions patterned with animal shapes or foliage.
It’s true that bold wallpaper can become too overwhelming if applied to all walls of a large room. To keep a living room or bedroom looking tropical and chic, paper only the longest wall and use paint on the remainder. Small spaces like powder rooms are an exception, so get creative with that paper!
Refresh with Plants
We’re just going to come right out and say it: You can’t have tropical design style without plants. Decorating spaces with plants is one of the easiest ways to bring in tropical flair. Plants also give the room a living presence, helping to clean the air at the same time.
Many of the most common houseplants are actually tropical in origin, so you need only visit local stores to find the perfect plants. Here’s our tip: skip the garden center and head right to the indoor section. Here you will find tropical plants like date palms, rubber plants, philodendrons, anthuriums, bromeliads, and orchids.
You'll want to take note of the lighting and water requirements for each plant. Then, place potted plants around sofas and chairs, near windows, on coffee tables, and wherever they add to the tropical ambiance.
Accessorize with Art and Decor
Along with furnishings and plants, tropical style isn’t complete until you’ve added the perfect art and decor. To get started, we recommend hanging a mixture of botanical paintings, fun bird and animal pictures, and eclectic prints that evoke your interpretation of the tropics.
Decorative objects can range from glam to whimsical, from classic to Boho chic. You might like carved wooden bowls, clay pots, pineapple ornaments, or tropical-themed table lamps. Arrange them in odd-number groupings for the right balance—three is often the magic number.
Finally, play with natural light to open up a space and help it feel tropical. Don’t worry if your home doesn’t get as much late-afternoon sun! Work with what you have, and remember that tropical lighting is highly variable. For example, rainforest sunlight is often more dappled, while tropical shorelines are a bit more sun-drenched.
To lighten up your space, remove heavy window treatments and replace them with lightweight curtains or roll-up shades in natural materials. You want to frame the windows while allowing them to bathe the room in light.
Once you’ve upgraded your space, consider adding a sliding barn door like the Vertical Iron Plank Barn Door, the Brentwood Modern Barn Door, or the Westwood Modern Barn Door. These doors could be the perfect complement to your updated tropical space.