Cast Off for South Seas Style

Sep - 18

Cast Off for South Seas Style

When many architects all over the world build houses that bring the outside in, from Tahiti it comes quite naturally. South Seas bungalows are, for the most part, constructed from materials plucked from inside a 20-mile radius. That’s by requirement in this tropical area which is located far from any significant shipping hub and depends on the great manufacturer and artisan known as Mother Nature.

On a recent trip to Tahiti, I watched some unbelievably cool South Seas bungalows and picked up some design tips that’ll change a room, which makes it feel like a castaway retreat.

Here is the outside of a beach bungalow on a tiny island in French Polynesia, at a hotel called Ninamu. Manager Chris O’Callaghan constructed every bungalow himself, using the resources of the island: driftwood staircases, woven pandanus leaf roofs, bamboo support beams. Some ceilings and walls are made of washed-up coral. Ninamu is a poster child for using natural materials. No tree has been cut down; no coral reef has been damaged.

Inside Ninamu I struck this room. There’s barely a smooth surface in sight. Bamboo joints, wooden boards and exotically woven tropical items are in very unexpected places, such as the walls, the roof and furniture inlays.

In more particular terms those woven items are coconut leaves (in local parlance, niau) and pandanus leaves. In the bungalows O’Callaghan has used iron timber, lychee timber, tamanu timber, coconut wood, kohu timber, and walnut. He says the timber was stained by massaging it in the ocean for three weeks.

Some suggestions gathered from getaways to deliver South Seas design home:

Utilize natural materials — lots of them. In InterContinental’s Le Moana Bora Bora the airiness of the tropics infuses the space. The walls have been woven niau, giving the rooms a warm, honey-colored tint.

Love thy bamboo. The furniture is weathered and weathered. Here, again at Ninamu, I saw it at a buffet made of bamboo, and it was a recurring motif from the bungalows.

Be liberal with whitened. This is a room in an overwater bungalow at Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort. The bed, the drapes and the daybed in white produce a breeziness (though, I confess, it could also be the breeze coming from the window in this photo).

The daybed also contains large round legs, such as tree trunks, for that raw, elemental just-ripped-out-of-nature feel. This type of furniture is common in Tahiti. It appears to shout, “Honey, I only chopped down a tree outside and made you that chaise. Feed me some calories so I will chop more wood.” You’ll also observe that elemental look in Ninamu’s room in the beginning of the ideabook.

Forget principle number 3. You don’t necessarily need white. There’s a colour palette. Unlike the Caribbean turquoises, South Seas design is pale yellows, almost honey-like (the forests reflect this), and greens, in addition to deep purples and reds of the Gauguin stroke.

This bedroom leads to an overwater bungalow at Sofitel Bora Bora Private Island.

Borrow Tahitian patterns. The bed frame (also found in the previous bedroom photo) is etched with Marquesan tattoo symbols. The bed throw has a hibiscus print. In Le Méridien Tahiti, I also saw fish etched into a glass panel at the restroom (not shown).

Bring the warrior out. In this kitchen at a villa at Sofitel Bora Bora Private Island is a tiki, an arrow-like sconce, disk-like wooden overhead fittings and pub stools which mimic rustic handmade guitars.

In Le Méridien Tahiti the form of the coffee table brings to mind a surfboard, but in addition, it feels battle-like.

Catherine Monaghan

South Seas–Style Products

Wallpapers, such as woven forests, can mimic organic materials. This home in California has organic wall coverings from Schumacher. The pebbles veer more Asian, but the contrast is nice.

Amy Lau Design

Sea grass cloth wallpaper has a subtler thatched look.

Woven Seagrass Pendant – $89

Sea grass is a superstar on the accessories front. Little touches such as this can make your room feel more open to nature and relaxed.

Pottery Barn

Sea Grass Chair – $199

These chairs have been woven from sea grass.

Louise Lakier

This home, aptly called the Bambu home, has bamboo deck furniture. The bamboo is not manufactured but in its raw condition. It’s got that “I simply foraged this from the jungle floor” vibe.

Gauguin Indoor-Outdoor Ceiling Fan With Light by Minka Aire, Beige – $409.95

I also watched a great deal of fans in Tahitian bungalows which appear light giant tropical foliage. This one is called the Gauguin ceiling fan, after the artist who painted and lived in Tahiti (and who’s buried there, rather than in his biography of France).

Colors of Light

Twig Chandelier, 6-Light, Small

Twigs and branches play a large role in South Seas decor. This intriguing chandelier would certainly offer a lot of feel into a dining room.

Graham and Green

Pink and Mother-of-Pearl Inlay Chest of Drawers – GBP 1,295

One of Tahiti’s greatest natural resources (later pandanus, bamboo and coconuts) is pearls. A buffet with a pearl inlay can decorate a space.

Caron’s Beach House

Elegant Mother-of-Pearl Shell Round Mirror – $1,179

Sofitel Bora Bora Private Island has a mother-of-pearl mirror from the bathroom very similar to the one.

More: Find your decorating design

See related