Hands down, the favorite vacation in our large family was the memorable trip to Grand Cayman Island where we stayed at a perfect beach house, Kirk Cove at Rum Point, owned and rented out by Anna Rose Bodden Washburn, interior designer and WCAA CWTC, who also owns Markson’s Furniture on Grand Cayman. I recommend this real-life island experience heartily. Kirk Cove (wash firstname.lastname@example.org) will soon be available for rent again after repairs are complete, made necessary by Hurricane Ivan.
It seems to me that when I close my eyes, I’m still there on
that north shore—nearly alone—mesmerized as I gaze out
over the magical blue-green Caribbean Sea. We built a giant sand
castle, played with the sting rays, snorkeled through coral gardens
and watched a giant moray eel gobble tidbits from the captain of
the snorkel boat. We took a submarine ride (I recommend this at
night), and those who were certified enjoyed some great dives.
Ah, Cayman—clean, pristine waters, sparkling white beaches,
privacy and a short drive to tourist destinations of shopping and
great dining at the port where once we counted six cruise ships
in the bay. Because we were there near Christmas, we enjoyed the
lighted boat parade and even did some yuletide caroling at a care
center. I also remember that one time, as I snorkeled, I experienced
the sudden realization that all my shoulder stress had disappeared.
I was transported into a state of perfect relaxation that I didn’t
even know existed! Since then, about every other day, at least one
Nielson will ask, “When can we go back to Cayman?”
Now I admit, a vacation like a week staying in a delightful beach
house on an island paradise may not happen very often for most of
us. Yet the island atmosphere is one that beckons homeowners from
Bangor to Seattle and all points south. Yes, do take me there—if
not literally, then bring the island to me.
CREATING THE ISLAND THEME
For homes and even nonresidential interiors that are walking distance
to a beach, an island theme is a natural, and perhaps even expected.
Yet an island escape can be created anywhere as a get-away interior—perhaps
in just one room in the house or even an office suite. When the
interior is done well, it may become the preferred room. It can
be a place to relax, to unwind from the pressure of the workaday
world and to drift away into a place where we might wish we could
stay forever. Creating an island theme wherever it is desirable
is not difficult because there are so many venues from which to
There are islands all around the world, each with its own particular
look. Tropical islands will have a different look from those of
the rocky North Pacific coast, for example. Here we will focus on
islands with a tropical theme. Tropic locales have some similarities
and some differences. For example, the islands of the South Pacific
feature thatched hut architecture; Southeast Asian island homes
are built up off the ground for protection from typhoon flooding.
Throughout the Caribbean, however, there is a British Colonial charm
in stucco houses with shutters and some classical details trimmed
in clean white.
MAKE MINE GREEN
Inside an island-themed interior, the first color of choice is often
a deep jungle green. It envelops and encircles the occupant with
lushness. Remember the important rule, however, that light colors
at the window complement dark walls, but dark colors at the window
are rarely successful. Light control at the window will be an important
issue in interiors with a beach theme, so be certain to assure privacy,
control the light and still keep the colors at the window on the
In the first island-inspired interior featured in the accompanying
photographs, light colored durable vinyl vertical blinds are framed
with soft yellow draperies on faux-bamboo poles. These contrast
handsomely with the jungle green walls and dark wicker furniture.
Light colors as cushions also are in keeping with the escape-to-the
This concept of light and dark contrast is very island-like—brilliant
sun and deep shadow. And don’t forget the pineapple. It has
been an East Coast symbol of hospitality since the Early Georgian
era (1695 to 1750). Here the tropical fruit invites the viewer to
participate in a refreshing experience whether or not this interior
is located anywhere near an island.
BIRDS OF PARADISE
Jungle flowers also are a first choice for island themes. The colors
seen in birds and flowers as bright glimpses in a deep green jungle
have inspired the creation of countless brilliantly colored interiors.
Pure yellow, for example, is a color that is cheerful and optimistic,
clear and communicative. People talk more, and often happily, in
This sets the stage for a relaxed and rejuvenating atmosphere. Coupled
with the intensity of bright orange-red bird-of-paradise flowers,
both real and printed onto wall covering border and fabric, this
color scheme duo is dynamite. Yellow is a natural vacation color.
Cares seem to evaporate in yellow, and on walls where yellow is
textural, the effect is effectively beach-like—just roll out
In the photo featuring wall coverings from York, a steamer chair
next to white French doors invites the viewer to believe the destination
island is just outside the room, hence the feeling of euphoric anticipation
Not all island design need be mature! There is an element of fun
in island decorating. An example of “life’s a beach”
thematic décor is seen in a huge mural of an enticing breaking
wave and a beach-style bedroom filled with surfboard motifs. And
if you need a good chuckle, check out www.flipflopstyle.com/ flhode.html
and click on “home décor” for flip-flop-all-the-time
beach type designed products—items ranging from hula Santas
(‘tis the season!) to tropical fish cookie jars and salt-and-pepper
shakers to flip-flop welcome mats. The sea’s the limit on this
venue. Choose a theme, relax and hang 10!
Of course, the oceanfront themes may include the ever-popular seashell
motifs, lighthouse designs, boats and ship flags. More unique ideas
include Hawaiian prints used for creative applications, or even
a luau/little grass hut theme can be a get-away interior guaranteed
to make somebody smile.
UPSCALE ISLAND PATIO
Many discriminating customers want an escape-to-the-islands look
created for them in their own backyards. Decorative themes range
from deep-in-the-rain-forest to archaeological-ruins-in-India. Floral
or geometric fabric designs are almost always light and lively,
yet sophisticated in application.
The root of these designs was 19th-century British world conquest,
where British society preferred Victorian florals and tended toward
formality, even when relaxing on the veranda. Typically these sunlight-resistant
textiles are used for upholstery cushions. Patio furniture may include
wicker, a perennial favorite, or the more contemporary wrought iron
furniture set on stone flagging.
However, a tad of upscale application is indulging in an artistic,
if not unnecessary splash of textile pattern and color. One example
seen here is the outdoor fabric-pergola effect of a striped faux-ceiling.
This pseudo-tent shelters some lively, fresh textiles used in a
coordinated and humorous combination. It’s indulging at its
It has been said that once sand gets into your shoes, you are destined
to return to the island again and again. It certainly is true that
once you experience a real destination island it is hard to settle
for less than an authentic beach house just a few paces away from
warm, inviting waters and lovely ocean breezes. However, ideal relaxed
island living usually cannot be a daily fare for most people. Hence,
island decorating is perfect for the wannabe occupant of an isolated
When our family returned to the lower 48, we brought back home some
of the island. With permission from the authorities in Cayman, I
bagged a few samples of the stages of sand development, from larger
seashells to smaller ones and finally to that sensuous white sand.
These educational touch-smell-and-see samples have made very fine
in-class presentations for several children. You, too, can bring
the island back through skillful and creative decorating. But beware,
a bit of sand in your shoes may turn your thoughts to the real thing—and
I do recommend Grand Cayman Island or your favorite island for any
holiday you choose. You’ll come back refreshed and ready to
personalize that style for yourself and anyone who needs a little
J. Nielson, Allied ASID, WCAA, is assistant professor of design at
Brigham Young University. She has authored several books including
Window Treatments, Understanding Fabrics and Interiors: An Introduction,
3rd Ed. Nielson is a regular
correspondent for Draperies & Window Coverings addressing the areas of fashion,
education and merchandising.