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Welcome to the jungle

Disney’s remake of its 1967 movie The Jungle Book is set to debut in mid-April. But the cinema screen isn’t the only place awash with tropical foliage. You might have noticed that lush palms and banana leafs have taken hold in interior décor.

Tropical-themed designs aren’t the new kid on the block. Like the movie, the bold leafy pattern is enjoying its second round in the spotlight.  Don Loper introduced his chic “Martinique” wallpaper pattern in 1942 at the Beverly Hills Hotel, and shortly after, Dorothy Draper designed her own take, “Brazilliance“, in her 1948 makeover of the Greenbrier Hotel in West Virginia.

Do you like the jungle look, but are worried about it looking hokey in your home? Here are five ways to make a tropical theme work without going overboard.

1. Limit use of tropical wallpaper

via Mr. Mitchell

Unfortunately, too much of a good thing can be too much.  If you’re smitten with one of the gorgeous tropical leaf wallpapers on the market, don’t plan on papering all four walls of your living room, unless you want your family to go bananas. Instead, limit its use to a single feature wall, like this example shown above.

via Katherine Shenaman Interiors

Or, confine your lovely leaf print to a small space, like this powder room. Consider scale of the wallpaper pattern in relation to the size of the room. This example is balanced, but a huge print in a small powder room may look cartoonish.

2. Pair leafy prints with geometric pattern

Tropical foliage like this big and curvaceous leafy wallpaper needs some hard-lined linear pattern for contrast. Otherwise, too much becomes overbearing for the eye.

Smaller and medium-scale lattice designs, like on these throw pillows, provide enough intricacy for balance.

via Ana Antunes Homestyling

Larger-scale zig-zags also work well, like on this rug from Doris Leslie Blau. Here, the zig-zag pattern could be construed as a subtle, abstract reference to zebra stripes to continue the theme.

Zig zag rug N11319
Contemporary wool and silk rug #N11319 from Doris Leslie Blau

3. Use a bit of bamboo

Bamboo has many attributes. It’s flexible and can be bent like shown on this gorgeous armchair. While it’s casual, it’s also elegant. Bamboo is extremely sturdy, but also lightweight.

Try to limit your use of bamboo to one or two bamboo pieces in a room. The pieces will remain a focal point and won’t make your space look like a tiki hut.

via Charmean Neithart Interiors

Accessories, like this pair of mirrors, are a subtle way to include bamboo in a room scheme. A metal or leaf finish dresses it up even more.

via Beth Webb Interiors

Bamboo flooring gets a lot of attention, but what about a bamboo rug showing off the beauty of the plant itself? Made custom by Doris Leslie Blau, this bamboo patterned rug is a luxurious blend of silk and wool.

Custom Tibetan Bamboo Beige Botanical #N10987 from Doris Leslie Blau

4. Pair tropical patterns with natural wood for a traditional, British Colonial vibe.

Combining tropical prints with wood — particularly dark wood — is an easy look to pull off if your decor is more traditional. Grasscloth wallcovering and furniture with turned legs or caned inserts will help complete the look.

via Graham & Brown UK

 5. Let go of green

Green is the conventional go-to color for a tropical look, but it’s not the answer for every scheme. This striking entryway uses high-contrasting black and white wallpaper for a livelier vibe instead.

Likewise, the pattern in this rug from Doris Leslie Blau mimics the form of a palm frond from a Washingtonia palm tree. Delightfully abstract, and subtly tropical, there’s no hint of green here!
Contemporary Custom Rug #N11263 from Doris Leslie Blau


Karen Egly-Thompson is a former interior designer turned interiors writer. She writes regularly for Houzz and her work has appeared in publications such as Commercial Interior Design and Middle East Architect. Her blog Design Salad focuses on traditional design in contemporary context. A seeker of ideal coastal weather, Karen calls both Dubai and Maine home.