By Jess McBride, Houzz
Ever since Westerners caught wind of Captain Cook’s adventures in the South Pacific and then, a century later, laid eyes on Paul Gauguin’s colorful symbolist paintings of Tahitian life, they’ve had a fascination with the idyllic paradises on the other side of the Earth. Travelers to the region ship home souvenirs of Polynesia’s rich wood-carving tradition and dreamers who’ve never been long for their own slice of these far-flung fantasylands. Tropical hardwoods and hand-carved tikis are hard to come by in the States, but there are plenty of other ways to infuse your home with tiki style, on any budget.
Though forever associated with the South Pacific, tiki culture is largely a figment of one Hollywood man’s imagination. In the late 1930s, a movie set consultant who called himself Donn Beach opened a popular tiki-themed Hollywood nightclub that became popular with the Marx Brothers, Charlie Chaplin and Orson Welles, among others. Culturally accurate or not, his mai tai cocktails were a hit, and a new style obsession was born. The thatch hut is probably the most recognizable element of tiki style and is a brilliant addition to an outdoor living area.
Thatch roofs are beautiful and unique as outdoor canopy toppers, but be warned that they don’t last forever, even in tropical locales. You can expect to get three to five years out of a natural thatch roof. Synthetic alternatives exist and are usually warrantied for closer to 20 years.
Bamboo tiki torches may have originated in Polynesia, but, like most items we associate with tiki style, they’ve been appropriated and reinterpreted by Western consumers. Today you’ll find tiki torches, which have retained their cachet as a favorite lighting source for backyard barbecues, in the aisles of big-box home improvement stores.
For a more conventional and less thematic approach to incorporating the tiki look, opt for bamboo and exotic hardwoods. Bamboo counters and cabinets live harmoniously alongside the sleeker elements of this kitchen. Indeed, the earthy material is a fantastic way to reconcile a laid-back tropical vibe with a more staid city-slicker sensibility.
While tiki culture as we know it is as authentic as Velveeta, tiki totems are the real deal. Indigenous islanders, including the large Maori population of New Zealand, carved elaborate humanoid features in cylindrical posts, commonly to immortalize an ancestor or mark a burial site.
If your vision of tiki style includes lots of wood and decorative touches from Asia or Oceania, woven woods will surely be your window treatment of choice. They can be customized to fit just about any window, with the exception of arches, and on larger expanses they offer the same effect as a bamboo screen enclosing a patio. Most of all, they offer one more way to blur the boundaries between home and nature, as so many South Pacific homes do.
Growing up, I always coveted my best friend’s grass bedskirt. It looked like something a hula dancer would wear, and the flower leis on the bedposts only added to the effect.
While you’re at it, go ahead and add a grass skirt as a valance. Or use it as a sink skirt in a bohemian kitchen. bath or laundry room.
Hardwoods will give you a beautiful, tropical look, but be aware that they also present an ecological dilemma as they’re less easily renewable than bamboo and exporting them creates a significant carbon footprint. Even teak, which is one of the relatively fast-growing hardwoods, takes 20 years to mature.
Everybody knows that all the best tiki bars serve their concoctions in coconut shells. It follows that furniture and accessories made of coconut would be a fitting accoutrement to any tropical room.