With spring’s arrival, it’s time to start warming up our “nests.”
One of today’s emerging home design trends makes it particularly easy: Hawaiian style.
Up until 15 years ago, I considered Hawaii a virtual second home. At least once a year, my family would escape winter’s grasp and gather on the islands of Oahu or Maui to defrost in the sun. Back then, Hawaiian style had a kitsch factor that more easily lent itself to souvenir snow globes and coffee mugs than to serious home decor. Think Santa donning a Hawaiian shirt on a Christmas ornament instead of a chic, decorative throw pillow.
All that seems to have changed, however, with style-setters from Michael Kors to India Hicks proclaiming their love of island life and the associated aesthetic. So a few months ago, I paid the island of Maui a visit to explore this new trend.
This trip revealed that today’s Hawaiian style — from my rented digs at the elegant Coral Gardens in Makena to the uber chic stores and restaurants that proliferate the islands — is more sophisticated and usable. Retaining much of its original charm without losing its distinctive flavor, it’s now capable of integrating into a much wider assortment of decor styles.
Hawaiian style today still has a foundation in vibrant island color and the love of prints, but balances it out with calming, neutral tones and the use of chic, natural materials that ultimately makes it more timeless and livable.
So, leave winter’s dreariness behind and style a Hawaiian island retreat by following a few easy steps:
Embrace warm island color
From a vibrant palette of exotic flora and fauna to the turquoise-colored ocean and sky, Hawaii naturally bursts with a wide spectrum of rich hues. On my recent trip to research Hawaiian design, I could almost count rainbows by the dozen, with each turned corner revealing a bigger and better one.
After a winter season dominated by every gray shade imaginable, it’s understandable why this particular trend seems to be taking hold. Instead of subdued pastels, think bold, warm colors that command attention but are still easily found within nature’s palette.
From the warm yellow-orange tones of papayas and mangos to the vibrant orange-reds of hibiscus and coral, every shade of warm orange and red serves as a capable tool for injecting island life into your home.
Warm blues inspired by the turquoise Pacific waters make a natural companion for these colors, along with the myriad of warm greens found in fronds and the other abundant vegetation. To keep it timeless and sophisticated, limit these warm Hawaiian colors to easily changed-out pillows, throws, artwork and decorative accents.
Pair with mid- to light-toned neutrals and whites on walls, rugs and large upholstered pieces.
By the time the sweltering summer months arrive, you can easily change out your Hawaiian-inspired elements in case you start developing a case of island fever.
Employ nature-inspired prints
Although I’m a fanatic for clean and straight lines, Hawaiian style seems much more deeply rooted in the natural and organic lines of nature’s bounty. Home decor textiles sporting exotic flowers, free-form geometrics and dramatic palms have been enormously popular and are abundantly available to help easily transform your living room into an island lanai.
To really get it right, go for larger-scaled prints (in warm, vibrant tones, of course) to create a graphic statement that instantly lends character to your space. And limit these large-scaled prints to one or two locations to avoid a calamitous sensory overload. Not everything in a room should scream for your attention.
For these prints and colors to endure in your space, there needs to be a clear understanding of who the star player is and who is happily serving in the supporting (and very critical) roles.
Neutral upholstery offers a structured foundation to showcase your colorful, nature-inspired throws and throw pillows. Upholstered pieces can also offer island-inspired details, such as sea grass or rattan worked into the body of the frames, if you’re ready to fully embrace this casual, yet elegant trend.
Create a foundation of warm-hued textures
Warm visual texture is key to Hawaiian style and one of the reasons why it’s the perfect solution for instantly depressurizing a room. Honey-colored sisal rugs atop bamboo plank floors, caramel-toned grass cloth walls and warm-white linen drapery and bedding are all great ways to build a foundation for island-inspired relaxation.
Textured materials like these lend depth to a room through the shadows created via their naturally imperfect composition. Our eyes have become accustomed to seeing nature’s imperfections in our natural surroundings. Imbuing our homes with that same controlled irregularity creates a sense of both familiarity and ease for most of us.
The bumpy, wavy and irregular surfaces of these natural materials beg for us to take our shoes off, curl up and unwind, and also are the perfect backdrop to showcase those warm, tropical accent colors and bold, graphic nature-inspired prints that critically make up Hawaiian style.
A Hawaiian vacation may be nowhere in your foreseeable future, but treating yourself to an in-home island getaway is more attainable than you might have thought. A new sisal rug underfoot, linen throw pillows adorned with a coral motif behind your back and a warm, orange throw placed nearby may be all you need to set the mood. Add a pint of mango sorbet and say Aloha.
Vern Yip is an interior designer and star of “Bang for Your Buck” and “Live in Vern’s House” on HGTV.