Six Steps to Island Style

In a Bermuda villa overlooking the sea, designer Meg Braff creates an island look that’s classic and family-friendly—in six easy steps.

Tropical Dining Room

Photographer Tria Giovan

Decorating Challenge

Every design project comes with challenges, and designer Meg Braff’s assignment—to decorate a villa on Bermuda in a manner that suits the architecture and accommodates the everyday needs of a young family—was no exception. Meg let comfort guide her choices, outfitting each room with a classic palette and traditional English antiques while keeping the decor youthful, thanks to a mix of upholstered furniture, layers of natural texture, unexpected exotic pieces, and a few sleek accessories. Here are her six essentials for getting a timeless yet durable take on tradition.

Tropical Entryway

Photographer Tria Giovan

1. Patterned rugs.

Meg paired polished antiques with geometric and striped flat-weave rugs made of cotton, jute, or sea grass to give each room a casual foundation. “I wanted the floors to feel good—and be forgiving under bare feet after a day on the beach,” says Meg. Antique Persian rugs, which can’t be hosed down or shaken out, would have shifted the style factor too far toward formal.

Tropical Porch

Photographer Tria Giovan

2. Batik pillows.

Sofas can feel incomplete without throw pillows, but instead of piling on classic stripes, checks, and florals, Meg chose multiples of a custom hand-printed batik pattern. Originally made in Indonesia, the print has a throw-caution-to-the-wind feel. “These pillows aren’t stuffy or pretentious,” says Meg, “and they make antique furniture feel more modern.”

Tropical Living Room

Photographer Tria Giovan

3. Chippendale chic.

For a modern variation on this iconic style, Meg updated Chippendale pieces with casual materials and bright, bold fabrics. In the living room, a console and coffee table are made of rattan, not mahogany—a more beach-appropriate interpretation of the motif. In the dining room, Meg covered the seats of Chippendale chairs with a large-scale green ikat print to infuse the space with youthful energy.

Tropical Sitting Room

Photographer Tria Giovan

4.  Nautical artwork.

It wouldn’t be a house on the coast without a few paintings of sailboats and ships braving the sea. But just because they’re de rigueur doesn’t mean they have to be predictable. The contemporary, monochromatic palette and simple frame on the piece above the sitting room mantel is an unexpected choice. Offbeat nautical accessories can create a similar effect; comb through flea markets to find vintage marine instruments.

Tropical Furniture

Photographer Tria Giovan

5. Plush upholstery.

Call it feminine or call it traditional—but nothing says, “come curl up” like super-comfy, cushy upholstered sofas, club chairs, and headboards. From the sofas’ rolled arms to the club chairs’ cushioned backs to the headboards’ gracious curves, Meg chose pieces with English-inspired lines and generous proportions to suit the house’s architectural style. A colorful slipcover with contrasting white piping gives a formal chaise a more relaxed feel.

Tropical Bedroom

Photographer Tria Giovan

6. Painted furniture.

Having too many dark furnishings can make a light, airy room feel dated, staid, and cramped. The solution? Incorporating a few painted pieces, such as the distressed cream nightstand (near left) and chest (top). “Mixing Swedish and French painted pieces with English furniture offers a nice contrast and keeps the mood light and bright,” says Meg. Look for furniture that won’t be devalued by being painted and choose pieces that don’t already have a naturally beautiful finish. The end result will be perfect for absorbing and reflecting beautiful seaside light.

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