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Carleton Varney: Bring a 'Florida' look to your Florida home

Posted on June 03 2022

Carleton Varney Special to the Palm Beach Daily News

Many of us who are fortunate to have homes in Palm Beach first fell in love with the town as visitors. In fact, I often meet residents who spent many years staying in the island’s lovely hotels before they rented or bought their first home here. 

Palm Beach’s charms are legendary: Who doesn’t love the sunshine, the sea and the resort life in general, especially those who are tired of dealing with harsh winter weather up north? 

And once people invest in a home in South Florida, they often look to decorate in a style different from the ones they incorporate into their homes elsewhere. I certainly did that when I bought my Palm Beach home. 

I find the look people enjoy here often is more open with less clutter. They also tend to prefer more colorful rooms and a lighter look in furnishings. 

Over the years, I’ve met so many Floridians — native born and transplants — who have an affinity for rattan, be it white, natural or painted. I’ve also noted a decorating preference for printed fabrics, perhaps with seashells or bamboo-fretwork designs. Or how about white-and-skipper-blue stripes or multicolored hibiscus flowers on an aquamarine background? 

There also is no place on the U.S. coasts where one finds so many tropical-green fabrics, ranging from fern-plant and banana-leaf patterns to motifs of green Schefflera leaves and palms. 

To create a look that says “Florida” in your living room or sunroom, consider this decorating scheme. Paint all the walls soft Key lime green. You may recall that's one my favorite colors, a subtle, yellowish hue that natives associate with authentic Key lime pie. 

All the room’s wood trim, meanwhile, should be white — and I mean crisp, bright white. Install white plantation shutters at your windows and sliding doors in the same true white. 

And do not carpet your floor. That’s such an important design statement in a Florida room — no wall-to-wall carpeting. Your floor should be a hard surface — perhaps covered in terra-cotta or white tiles. Or you might choose swimming-pool-blue turquoise tiles with a white border. 

For seating, find a pair of white-rattan sofas with toss cushion seats — and make sure they’re comfortable. All the cushions should be upholstered in a striped canvas or linen of palm-leaf green and white, piped with welting of the same palm-leaf green. 

Accent your sofas with toss pillows covered in rich bougainvillea fuchsia and the brilliant orange you can see right now blooming on flamboyant trees, also known as royal poincianas, across South Florida. Those trees are such a visual treat when they bloom. 

If you find — in an antiques or consignment store — a fanciful high-backed chair and ottoman, upholster both in the hibiscus fuchsia color. It’s a terrific way to bring a reminder of the flowers of Florida indoors. 

For the finish on your game table and end tables, choose white. And for coffee tables, I suggest drum-shaped Asian-style garden benches of white porcelain. These benches can also be used for seating if needed. 

I also would suggest mirrored-base lamps for your end tables. And be sure to scatter about the room clay pots planted with lots of Florida plants and palms. 

When you come home each day, pour yourself a glass of mango juice and pretend you are on vacation, if you’re not already. 

South Florida offers its residents so much to enjoy, even if there's some humidity in the warmer months. Fortunately, we can always crank up the ceiling fans and enjoy a dip in the swimming pool to cool off. 



  • Roberta Lyon: June 10, 2022

    Mr. Varney
    So inspired by all your suggestions for colorful interiors. While I live in Charlotte and my home is very formal, I have chosen your ideas to incorporate bright green leaf print linens for patio dining. Outdoor furniture is black wrought iron baroque (one of a kind I was told.). Cushions are large black white damask design print by Sunbrella. The French design green leaf print tablecloth will look wonderful. Thinking of adding bright pink napkins and large green water goblets, pink wine glasses. Bright yellow and pink flowers for tables. Dishes are white. What fun.
    Thank you.
    Thank you.

  • melissa : June 10, 2022

    I always love your attention to detail when suggesting ways to transform a room, Carleton! I can see it with my mind’s eye, such a delight!

  • Lynn Taylor: June 10, 2022

    Carlton, Your suggestions today are precisely how I fell into the charms of you and Palm Beach 22 years ago. It’s been a process of colorful changes and upgrading and I’m now in complete Palm Beach bliss…THANK YOU!

  • Deirdre Burton: June 10, 2022

    Great message. I see homes that are for sale down here with dark cabinets and all of their dark furniture from up North. It just sends a negative vibe. You hit all the right notes in your note to us. Always loved your designs and color combos.

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