British Colonial Style Tips

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Setting up the public areas of your home with an eye toward convention and circumspection may be a good idea. All that sensible styling can get a little boring, though, which is one great reason to go all out in your home.

If you're a budding explorer or love classic movies about big game hunting, jungle muscle men or lost cities of gold, a British Colonial themed home may be just the environment you need to stretch out and decompress after a long day in your generic work cubicle.

There are a surprising number of distinctive elements you can employ in the British Colonial style, even on a tight budget. Mix bold safari themed furnishings with classic, refined British flair as first seen in the late 19th century British Colonial decor that reflected African and other regional influences. This style has a long and respected history, so whether you're playing up its lighthearted side in a child's bedroom, or going for exotic drama in the boudoir, we have some foolproof suggestions that will help you tie everything together.

Choosing A Color Palette

The best decor starts with a strong concept and a few great colors. When choosing the color palette for your British Colonial themed home, borrow these tricks from nature:

  • Build on a neutral background. Review a few classic movies about Africa and you're bound to remember the rich beiges, khakis, and warm browns.
  • Choosing one or two of these shades for your walls, carpeting and bedding and dining linens is a great way to create a restful backdrop that will support the prints and textures you'll add later with accessories.
  • Conventional interior design wisdom supports the notion of choosing a neutral shade and two other shades that complement each other. Some good options are:
    • Khaki, chocolate and leaf green
    • Beige, black and red
    • Russet, forest green and amber
    • Tan, burnt umber and red ochre
    • Sand, taupe and marigold
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The interplay of light and shadow is important, too. In sun drenched lands, shadows help define the landscape. Choosing a color and using a slightly darker (or lighter) shade of the same color on doors, moldings and drapes will add depth and an integrated look to the space. This can be important because the elements of a typical African theme like animal prints, woven baskets, and wooden icons can sometimes appear busy when displayed together. When you include places for the eye to rest, you amplify the impact of accessory items while keeping them from overpowering the room.

  • The key to the British Colonial style is mixing these bold prints with more subdued, refined neutrals and rich wood pieces reflecting traditional British style, as seen when British explorers mixed pieces they owned with décor from the lands they visited.

Selecting British Colonial Furniture

The heavy wooden pieces, brass accents and fancifully carved details of British colonial furniture design common to the late 1800s are most associated with colonial themed decor. Reproduction furniture from this period is stunning, but it's not for everyone. Many of these furnishings are massive, and they can be quite expensive, too. One nice thing about this decor option is that a smart designer can create the look on a budget. Colorful animal prints and a few good accent pieces will draw the eye away from conventional furniture, while earth tones, nature scenes, woodcarvings and animal prints will do the rest.

Layering And Blending Prints

Half the fun of a British Colonial themed home is the opportunity to use exotic prints. Who wouldn't love a faux cheetah, zebra or giraffe skin throw to cover up with on a cold night? Synthetic fur and fabrics like silk and cotton printed in animal fur and even tribal designs have an allure that's organic, geometric and natural all at once -- quite an accomplishment, and one a savvy designer can take advantage of. Finding ways to layer them successfully is almost too much of a good thing. These tips will help:

  • Settle on a color or style - You might love zebra skin and the boxy shape of a giraffe pattern, but your home will look more organized if you choose prints with some characteristics in common: Try sticking with either similar background colors or similar patterns. You can also try using two small scale patterns with one large one, or two large patterns with a solid.
  • Add interest with accessories - You'll be surprised at how much kinetic energy your home will reflect with the use of well-chosen small accessory items. Instead of opting for tiger print curtains, go for a smaller tiger print area rug instead. Follow up with throw pillows in a small print design, like a cheetah print, and finish off with a chocolate brown comforter, throw blanket or linens.

It's easy to go overboard when blending prints. If you keep large pieces like drapes and bedspreads relatively neutral, you'll get the drama without the risk of overdoing the look. Remember, mix subdued British style with exotic African designs for the perfect British Colonial theme.

Last Updated: December 28, 2011
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About Sara Elliot Sara Elliott is a freelance copywriter and dedicated blogger. Her popular gardening, cooking and crafting blog, The Herb Gardener, was cited by The Wall Street Journal for its fun and frugal tips. Sara has a degree in English, and you can find her health, crafting, and lifestyle pieces on sites like,, and

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