British Colonial Kitchen Design

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You can bring the British colonial look into your kitchen with the colors and accessories that make this such a popular decorating theme. It’s a particularly wonderful look if you love travel, dream of visiting the tropics, or just like to seek out adventure.

The History Of British Colonial Style

The British once colonized India, the West Indies, Australia, Africa and many other tropical locales. The colonists brought their decorating tastes and British-style furnishings with them, but the tropical influence soon crept into their décor. British colonial style is the delightful result of that fusion.

Colonists loved the animals, plants, fabrics and native designs of their new homes, and soon incorporated those themes into their decorating, leaving behind the dark colors, heavy fabrics and stuffy clutter that was typical of Victorian homes back in Britain.

The Look Defined

British colonial kitchens manage to be elegant, casual and whimsical all at the same time. Common elements include:

  • Mahogany or other dark wood
  • Wicker and rattan
  • Asian or Indian patterns and designs
  • Leather trim
  • Tropical prints
  • Ceiling fans with wide blades
  • Animal prints
  • Whimsical designs with monkeys or palm trees
  • Cotton and linen fabrics
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British Colonial Cabinets, Floors and Walls

A typical British colonial home would have a palette of neutral, light colors on the walls. White, cream, pale blue or green paint all work to bring the cool, airy feel to your kitchen that was so popular in the hot tropical environment. Light colored walls were a change from the darker colors used back home in Britain, and helped to create the casual, breezy look that shows tropical influence.

Your kitchen cabinets should be in a dark wood. Mahogany was the wood of choice in British colonial homes, but if that is out of your price range, you can stain less expensive wood with a deep, rich color. Look for simple designs without ornate carvings or details. A raised, braided trim around the cabinet doors is enough to give the tropical feel without being fussy.

Kitchen floors in a dark wood will be most authentic, but if too much dark wood makes your kitchen feel gloomy, stick with a midtone brown. If you have tile or linoleum floors, neutral colors with subdued patterns will complement the cabinets without clashing.

British Colonial Furniture

Have fun with your kitchen table and chairs. A rattan frame table with wicker chairs brings a taste of tropical flair to the room. A gently curved shape with relaxed lines is unfussy and relaxed. Use wicker in its natural color, not painted or stained.

If wicker and rattan is a bit too casual for your liking, you can capture the British colonial style with a dark wood dining set, but stay with the relaxed, unfussy design. Scrolled arms, a low, sloped back and low seat are West Indies influences that found their way into typical furniture found in a British colonial home.

If you have a breakfast bar, choose stools made of rattan, or wood with leather seats. Pull them up to a granite countertop, and enjoy breakfast served on bright dishes or bowls.

Chair cushions should definitely reflect the tropics. British colonials enjoyed the bright, tropical colors and designs of their adopted lands, and used these to provide a light, open look in their homes.

Look for chair cushions that:

  • Have animal prints
  • Feature seashell motifs
  • Show tropical palm trees or flowers
  • Are patterned with an Indian or Asian influenced design
  • Use monkeys, tigers or other tropical animals in the design

If you have a small hutch or cabinet in your kitchen dining area, coordinate it with the table in style, though it does not have to be from the same collection. Use your hutch to display a small collection of antique teacups, pewter or silver mugs or candlesticks, or a set of porcelain animal figurines.

British Colonial Accessories

Your choice of accessories is where you can really let the British Colonial style shine through your kitchen and eating area. Small touches add up to create big impact, so don’t go overboard. A kitchen needs to be functional, and too many accessories can create clutter.

Use some of the following to bring the British Colonial theme to your kitchen area.

  • An area rug with an Oriental or Indian print, or for a more casual look, sisal or sea grass mats.
  • A ceiling fan with broad blades, carved to look like palm fronds or inlaid with wicker.
  • Wooden blinds over your windows.
  • A potted fern or palm, or delicate orchid.
  • Tableware decorated with tropical botanicals, monkeys, or animal prints.
  • Cloth napkins with bright, tropical prints.
  • Wicker baskets to hold napkins or other table linens.
  • A collection of whimsical canisters for holding tea, coffee and sugar. Look for tropical animal designs, palm trees or other tropical accents.
  • Decorate the wall with a framed antique map or botanical print.

The British colonial style manages to combine elements that at first glance don’t seem like they should work together, yet somehow mix whimsy, elegance and casual comfort in a way that will make you feel at ease. Decorating your kitchen in this theme will bring a touch of the tropics to your home no matter where you live, and add a spark of adventure to your style.

Last Updated: February 28, 2012
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About Michelle Ullman Michelle Ullman has lived and gardened in Southern California since childhood. A freelance writer, she covers topics ranging from gardening to home improvement to health issues. She also has experience as a catalog copywriter and poet. Michelle has trained and worked as a respiratory therapist and surgical technologist, but prefers to spend her time gardening, and walking with her dog. Michelle holds a Bachelor's Degree from Redlands University in Business Management. 

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