Plantation Style Defined

Get inspired by these plantation-style design ideas.

By Lisa Frederick

In the 1600s and 1700s, a stream of French and English settlers staked their claim to the islands of the West Indies. During their years of colonial rule, they presided over massive sugarcane farms, and this lifestyle—combined with native culture and their own old-world aesthetic—gave rise to the look we now know as "plantation." It remains a favorite for its escapist feel and balance of familiar classics and exotic new territory.

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The Basics

Elegant Traditional Living Room
Claudia Juestel

The plantation style is one of opposites. It walks the line between formal and casual, heavy and light, cultivated and wild. Although it has a certain gravitas, it never takes itself too seriously. Best of all, it has the power to whisk you away on a virtual vacation to a far-flung locale.

These designer rooms display plantation style:

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Louvre Wood Shutter
Smith + Noble

Exotic woods. Although European colonists brought their formal furniture traditions to their new island homes, they adapted them to suit local customs and indigenous resources such as teak, rosewood, and mahogany. Thus sprouted an offshoot style of furnishings that blended classic profiles with rich hardwoods and lushly carved embellishment—Continental elegance imbued with the soul of the tropics. Antiques in this style murmur of a colorful past, but reproductions or updated versions make worthy stand-ins. 

Shutters. One of the hallmark elements of plantation style, interior and exterior shutters convey a breezy sensibility and suggest sunshine even when there is none. Choose jalousie-style shutters for outdoor windows, classic plantation shutters in natural wood or cool white for inside. 

Double Caned Arm Chair
Scott Thomas

Botanical motifs. Mix and match textiles, art, and other materials that bear overscale floral and foliage patterns, such as plumeria or banana leaves. Don't forget to enrich the setting with a layer of live plants, too; likely choices include ponytail palms, aspidistra, philodendron, and ficus. If you live in a warm-weather climate, extend tropical plantings to the outdoor landscape.

Woven surfaces. It's all about texture with this style. Add it in the form of seagrass and sisal rugs, grass cloth wallcovering, rattan furniture, wicker and pandan accents, and more. Caned panels lighten the look of heavy wooden chairs, headboards, and case goods.

Worldly accents. Spark an air of adventure by displaying explorer-style paraphernalia: vintage globes, antique lanterns, and hand-carved walking sticks. Stack old leather or canvas suitcases together to form accent tables, and pile bookshelves with travel memoirs and journals. An old-fashioned cabinet of curiosities can showcase shells, stones, island crafts, and other treasures.


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