Lessons in Design

Hawaiian decor doesn't mean kitsch. We asked Honolulu-based interior designer Marion Philpotts of Philpotts & Associates how she creates sophisticated Hawaiian interiors and how you can bring aloha style into your home.

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Marion Philpotts

Jean Allsopp

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How did you achieve your home's classic Hawaiian style? 
I believe that every home is a reflection of the people who live there, so my own family's plantation cottage implements Hawaiian style in a fresh, youthful way. I've taken traditional elements-like a table from my grandmother-and put objects on it that are fun and playful. Hawaiian style is all about a melding of new and old.

 What are some of your favorite colors? 
I really think choosing colors for your home depends on where you live. If someone lives in a rain forest, I would use a wet palette of rich forest colors such as banana-leaf greens and red-torched gingers. Then I would contrast those with lighter colors and textures. If you live near the ocean, I would choose sandy, beach hues and ocean blues and grays. Take a nod from what you see from the space. If there's a tree outside the window, pay attention to its color, and don't be afraid to use that color in your home.

 What are your favorite accessories for creating Hawaiian style? 
Tropical plants and arrangements are great accessories for the home. Anything that reflects the culture also makes a good home accessory. I like to use tribal elements that reflect the Hawaiian culture, such as ukuleles, drums, and gongs. It's important to let home accessories speak the language of the culture.

 What are your core design principles? 
Less is more. Pay attention to the impact of each element as it relates to other elements. Don't decorate piece by piece; there's harmony in how pieces go together. And don't be afraid of color! Color is your friend. It's a relatively easy and accessible way to define a space. It defines your home's mood and personality.

 How do you achieve Hawaiian flair without going overboard? 
Fill the room with innuendo; don't hit the whole room with a particular style. Remember to use elements of Hawaiian or island style sparingly. For example, instead of doing a nice, woven wall covering, do a woven window treatment. You'll still have a rich texture. Focus, too, on individual pieces, such as pillow shams, icons, or accessories. Choose tropical colors and patterns for those smaller items.

 What is the number-one problem homeowners run into when decorating with Hawaiian elements? 
I think the challenge is having a sense of place. Your home should reflect where you're living. It wouldn't make sense to have a ski lodge filled with tropical elements. Use your own life as a reference; your home should be meaningful-even nostalgic.

 What are subtle ways to get island style? 
During the summertime, probably the least expensive thing would be to head over to a store like Crate & Barrel and pick up items such as mosquito nets, grass skirts, and little icons. Then layer those smaller items into your home. For example, if you live on the coast, fill a glass cylinder with seashells.

Visit Marion online at philpotts.net.

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