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Sing a song of the islands, decorating style

Posted on June 11 2021

By Carleton Varney Special to the Palm Beach Daily News

Over the years, my staff and I have been fortunate enough to create interiors for hotel resorts on many islands, including Oahu and Maui in Hawaii, as well as the Caribbean’s St. Thomas, St. John, St. Croix, Dominica, Anguilla and St. Martin. 

And I have to admit, I love island decorating — and I love those faraway places. Just the mention of St. Tropez, for instance, gets me dreaming about places with sandy names such as Tetiaroa, the late Marlon Brando’s island sanctuary.   

As a child, I remember going to the Paramount Theatre in Lynn, Massachusetts, with my sister, Vivian, to see Betty Grable and Victor Mature in the 20th Century Fox film “Song of the Islands.” And of course, who could forget Dorothy Lamour in her sarongs for the “Road to …” films with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, which always fascinated me with their exotic settings far across the seas.

I have just returned from assignment in the U.S. Virgin Islands on St. Croix, which is on its way to recovering after being slammed by Hurricane Maria in 2017. New restaurants seem to be everywhere, but my favorite remains Duggan’s Reef on the east end, which is keeping the locals and the tourists happy with lobster and other seafood specialties. Frank Duggan has been operating the eater for a decade — or maybe two.

I spent time with my friend Julie Logan and her attorney husband, Hunter, at their longtime home in Christiansted — the largest town on the island — overlooking the brilliant Caribbean. What a treat!

I also hunkered down in a villa named Papaya Court, enjoying time with my friend and client of many years Francie Whittenburg, a Texan with an eye for lovely island colors. Hibiscus pink, yellow, coral and white all seem to call out: Love me, love me! Francie and I certainly do. 

Visiting an island represented a new wave of freedom for me after the past year of relative isolation because of the coronavirus crisis. Being far away from daily life in a spot that seems unreachable always helps slow down the stress of the everyday.   

To bring such tranquility into your life, wherever you may be, think of redecorating a room or two in island décor inspired by St. Croix; think fan-back chairs, rattan rugs, woven fans, Crucian style and clean-lined Danish furniture, which gives a nod to the time when the island was a Danish colony. 

Embrace the charms of magical Caribbean blue walls and coral pink fabrics, perhaps for your master bedroom. Or, for your living room, choose a background of sun-drenched oranges and yellows to keep the mood bright and happy.

There are so many tropical-theme fabrics available. And shell-based lamps and mirror frames never go out of style. 

Speaking of shells, I’m sure many longtime Palm Beachers remember the glamorous shell brooches, ear clips and pins that the late jewelry designer Marguerite Stix fashioned from her home on St. John — high chic back in the 1960s. Marguerite’s designs sell for many thousands of dollars when they are auctioned. Shells are timeless, indeed. 

When decorating island style, think of a Caribbean holiday — and maybe a visit there should be on your itinerary. Who couldn’t use an island getaway these days?

 

1 comment

  • Wendy: June 15, 2021

    Coming from Hawaii I’m a huge fan of all the hibiscus colors and your decorating ideas are fabulous ! Can just picture it- thank you for another great article !

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