Tuesday, March 1, 2011

11 Elements of British Colonial Decor in India

Reading A Passage to India, which is set in India in the 1920s, reminded me of my love for British Colonial decor.   The British colonies and trading posts around the world were first established in the 16th and 17th centuries and reached their peak in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  At its largest, the British Empire covered approximately one-quarter of the world.  It truly was the empire on which the sun never set.  As British subjects were sent around the world to the colonies to govern, do business, and protect the home country's interests, they brought with them the traditional decor from home which they intermingled with local materials and styles and adapted them to suit the practical needs of climate and landscape. They produced a unique and beautiful blended colonial style.   


Glenburn Tea Estate in Darjeeling, India


In doing some reading about British Colonial decor, I've come up with eleven hallmarks of the style.  I've tried to focus on this design style as it evolved and adapted to life in colonial India.  So let's have a look at what features describe the Anglo-Indian design style:


1) Dark wood furniture and floors - Ebony, teak, and mahogany are all wood that is readily available in India and is often used, along with other native woods, to build furniture and houses.  Frequently the furniture found in British Colonial rooms is traditionally British in style, but embellished with Indian design.  


The following three photographs are from a working tea estate and now a hotel built in 1859 by the Scottish Tea Company in Darjeeling, India.  The bedrooms are decorated throughout with antique dark wood furniture, some of which have the addition of Indian designs.  


Glenburn Tea Estate, Darjeeling, India





2) Light walls (white or pale colours) - The walls are often painted with light coloured reflective paint, providing a lovely contrast to the dark wood floors and furniture.  The pale colours help make the rooms seem light and airy which is important, at least psychologically, to counteract the oppressive heat.   


Inside Ronny's house on the set of A Passage to India (Source)


Old Harbour Hotel, Kerala, India


3) High ceilings - Since heat rises, high ceilings help to keep the rooms cool.





4) Deep verandahs - These provide a cool place to retire to out of the sun.


Heritage North East India



Raheem Residency, India


5) Tall, rounded windows or garden doors - An elegant touch often found in British colonial decor.


Raheem Residency
The club from A Passage to India



6) Fine accessories such as china, silver, or crystal - Traditionally, some of the elegant accessories would have been brought from England to provide a reminder of home far away and to help maintain a sense of keeping a proper English house.   The sparkle of silver and crystal and the refinement of china lend a lovely contrast with some of the more rustic elements of wood and wicker found in British Colonial decorating.



Dining room from A Passage to India


7) Woven elements - Floors are often covered with woven sisal or reed mats, baskets are used for storage, and caning is used in chairs and furniture. The natural colour of the woven elements provides a nice contrast with the dark furniture and floors.  


Colonial-style safari camp near Pench National Park in India (Architectural Digest)

8) Uniquely Indian elements - Many of the accessories used to decorate are from local artisans. For example, the addition of carved elephants and ornately woven cushions are typical of the Anglo-Indian style.  


Heritage North East India


9) Flowers or greenery - Potted plants, ferns, and palms are placed around the verandas and used to decorate the interior of homes.


Heritage North East India


10) Ceiling fans or Punkahs (large swinging screen-like fans hung from the ceiling and swung by servants or machinery) - Some method of moving the air around was a necessity in the heat of India.  Traditionally they used punkahs. But with the advent of electricity, ceiling fans came into use. Both methods evoke the Anglo-Indian decor style.  

Architectural Digest


Punkahs on the verandah at Brunton Boatyard, India


11)  Hundi Bell Jar Lanterns - These are popular ceiling lights in British colonial homes.   


Brunton Boatyard, India 

Glenburn Tea Estate, Darjeeling, India

****

I also found a few historic photographs that illustrate the decor.  Notice in every photo there is a punkah hanging from the ceiling.


Times of India (source: Bombay Photo Images)
Wealthy merchant's home, India, 1880 (source: Bombay Photo Images)


British Colonial decorating is a look I love!  Any other fans of this decorating style?   


Linked to Inspiration Journey Linky Party at Modern Country Style

29 comments:

  1. Having been born in colonized Kenya, I recognise a lot of these influences from my grandparents and parents homes...I find it a very exciting style.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I absolutely love British Colonial style!! It is one of my all time favourites!! Victoria magazine used to showcase this style alot.

    I 've been wondering about you all day today its funny you should post! I was going to email you today!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Oh I forgot to add that Darjeeling tea is my favourite and I cannot find it anywhere on the island!! When my cousin came out to visit she brought me 4 boxes of the stuff!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks for this post. I too admire this period. As a follow up to your current reading you might enjoy East of the Sun by Julia Gregson. Also if you want to dink into another long read I highly recommend A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth and A Jewell in the Crown by Paul Scott.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Sorry bad typing. I meant SINK into a long book

    ReplyDelete
  6. i've read that book years ago! it's wonderful! so full of exotic details that take you right to that space and time! very comparable to Out of Africa on the general feel!
    loved the images! and the decor! that verandas are wonderful!!!!!!!!!!!
    gorgeous photos!
    happy day!
    Rosa

    ReplyDelete
  7. I think that British Colonial decor is beautiful. I love the Hundi bell jar lanterns, and I would have never guessed that they were British Colonial in origin.

    Super neat post :D

    ReplyDelete
  8. I love love love these photos! I am with Ricki Jill,I really love this decor..so warm and inviting.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Hey Grace...I LOVE the 2 bedrooms you showed at the beginning of this post. Although I don't have British Colonial decor, I do have a lot of dark wood furniture and sometimes I don't know how to make a room look light and airy. I wish I could just copy one of those bedrooms! I'd love to have a few punkahs...~Ann

    ReplyDelete
  10. The warmness and cozy feeling of each room leaves me breathless. Furnitures are simple yet exuding extreme elegance I love it. Amazing, thinking I should watch A Passage to India. Love the decors.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I found this one here also you will get modular office furniture like tables,chairs,workstations located in banagalore. see the different types of products here
    http://www.ascfurniture.com/index.html

    ReplyDelete
  12. I do like this style~especially the bell jar lanterns, woven furniture and greenery.

    Great post!

    ReplyDelete
  13. This is all very beautiful. Although I have seen beautiful homes in India, I have not seen a colonial home.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Fab, love, love it, love it all!! You are spot on Grace and now I know which movie I am going to watch this weekend. Thank you!!

    Jeanne xx

    ReplyDelete
  15. I love it too! What a beautiful and informative post! I wrote a post recently about African Design, which was also so often influenced by a colonial presence. Take a look if you'd like!
    http://bjdhausdesign.blogspot.com/2010/12/african-design.html

    ReplyDelete
  16. I have always been inspired by British Colonial style too! You really have some beautiful pictures on your post. I am so glad I came across your blog from Modern Country Style.

    ReplyDelete
  17. You have a beautiful blog. I am your newest follower. Hope to see you at My Dream Canvas:-)

    ReplyDelete
  18. I love this style, but find it hard to discover more decor blogs on this topic. It seems they are all either more skewed toward country/shabby chic and ultra feminine (which won't work in a home filled with boys and just one mama) or super clean and modern. Any suggestions of other blogs tackling this style (especially in DIY)?

    ReplyDelete
  19. I love these pictures. I am building a big house in Hyderabad, India with high ceilings and deep varandahs and with a lot of wood. I want to furnish the house with colonial furniture, but have diffifulty finding a place where I can get good quality colonial stuff. Any recommendations either in Hyderabad or anywhere in the country.

    thanks

    ReplyDelete
  20. Grace -The 12th elememnt would be botanical prints .Wall decor of the raj India had flora or fauna botanical prints.I love the post!!

    ReplyDelete
  21. Grace your page brought tears to my eyes. I didn't even know the pictures in my mind were a classified style of interior design until I came across your page after surfing for the word 'almaira'. My mother used to call a wardrobe 'almaira' when she described her grandfather's homes in Ceylon - roof gardens, long columned porticos, window ledges so wide that you could lounge on them, marble top tables, high ceilings 'made of squares', huge almairas, wooden staircases with shining banisters, polished concrete floors (sigh) etc etc. I imagined these pieces/places when she spoke and your pages have taken me back there. Now I want to go live in Queensland (I'm from Melbourne, Australia - bbrrrr!) just so that I can decorate in that style and have the breeze flowing through light-filled warm rooms, fluttering white, airy curtains, creating wavy dust walls that settle on the woodrose reflected in a unbelievably polished rosewood table (another sigh). Thank goodness I can afford to imagine! Fiona Foster

    ReplyDelete
  22. Bhawna - so true about the botanical prints being another element.

    Fiona - thank you so much for sharing the lovely images in your head and the word 'almaira' (it's new to me so I'm off to Google it and learn some more).

    ReplyDelete
  23. I love the British colonial style.Their architectural designs never go out of style. By the way I love your blog and I am really impressed. I will surely visit again. Keep up the good work.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Glad that I found this post. I was explore all the ideas about the colonial style for my villa in Koh Samui island Thailand. We never been colonized but I can see the influence in our neighbor's country Laos for instance. Thanks you for sharing this..

    ReplyDelete
  25. I enjoy reading an article that will make men and women think. Also, thank you for allowing for me to comment!

    ReplyDelete
  26. LOVED this post. Just read "The Sandalwood Tree" and was interested in exploring British colonial style. Thanks for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
  27. I loved this post and found it at just the right time.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Thanks for putting all those elements together. I live in the countryside of Thailand and due to practicality have found the British Colonial Style is still very fitting for westerners in the hot climate. Over the years, I have incorporated many of the elements and from a realistic point of view I must add one more element. A house like this must have a bevy of servants! The openess of the house lets the breeze and incorporates nature into the house - nice. But when nature starts meaning wasps making nests under the table, little lizards on the wall eating the bugs, frogs sneeking in and the constant danger of snakes (not to mention constant dust in the summer and mold in the rainy season) , I realize that the only reason those houses of yesteryear worked so nicely was because so many people were working full time to keep them looking nice. I still love the style.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Our house in India is one of the colonial ones, we are currently in the process of refurbishing it and want to maintain its beauty, people please contribute pictures so I can use the ideas to beautify my house

    ReplyDelete