Design WiseShelagh Duncan


Living in the jungle is an experience like no other, waking to the sounds of monkeys and exotic birds, surrounded by plush green jungle. But there are also some challenges living in a tropical environment. There’s no such thing as indestructible furniture, but there are steps to help your home and everything in it stand up to life in the jungle.

Design wise logoLiving room overlooking pool and oceanBy Shelagh Duncan

My guess is that none of us came to Costa Rica to live a high maintenance lifestyle in high maintenance homes. We’ve come here to slow down and smell the ylang-ylang in a relaxing, beautiful location. We want to enjoy our surroundings, including our tropical home and everything in it. Furniture, just like our home is an investment, and we carefully select exactly what we want and plan to enjoy it for many years to come.

However, living in the tropics has its challenges, and keeping one step ahead of what life and Mother Nature hands us is a constant battle. Furniture disintegration being one of them! It’s not even just furniture actually, almost everything here falls apart way sooner than it would back home.

Some products are very durable—steel, porcelain tile and granite for example. But who wants to sit on a granite sofa?
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Rattan chairIf you want your furniture to last you have to do your homework. Although bamboo, wicker, woven seagrass and many of the other natural materials are perfect for creating the ‘tropical’ look, some however don’t stand up well to our tropical climate. It is usually better to opt for the synthetic versions, or buy good quality leather bound rattan furniture for the look and the durability. Good quality rattan furniture may cost a bit more than the bamboo and wicker but is worth it.

When you are looking for chairs and sofas of course you need to make sure they have solid kiln-dried hardwood frames, and you should also be mindful of the upholstery fabrics you select to cover them. The engineered fabrics of today come in a wonderful variety of colours, patterns and textures and will stand up to the rigours of kids, pets and renters much better than any cottons or other natural fabrics.

Sunbrella fabricsWhen it comes to indoor-outdoor fabrics, Sunbrella is the undisputed leader in this field. Many of their fabrics are just as suitable for the living room as they are for the patio. Available in a huge variety of fashionable colours and patterns, they are soft to the touch and very durable. They are even bleach cleanable!

Other synthetic fabrics that are also durable and practical are viscose, olefin, polyester and microfibre. The latter is perhaps one of the most popular—but not only because of its price. It is much denser than many other upholstery fabrics and that makes it resilient and strong. It is also water and stain resistant and easily cleans up with a little spot cleaning. It is good for allergy sufferers as well because it does not generate any lint or dust. A regular vacuuming will maintain its look.

Microfiber fabric is available in a variety of different qualities, colours and thicknesses some also have coloured patterns or are embossed to resemble reptile skins. We love our polished microfiber faux alligator ottoman!

You can find leather-look microfiber fabric as well. Opt for the distressed imitation leather if you have pets—it will save you many headaches with cleaning and wear and tear.

If you love leather and absolutely have to have it—beware. Make sure you are buying real leather. The price will give you a clue, because there are many bonded and inferior leathers out there labelled as Genuine Leather!

The best quality is Full-Grain Leather, which is the entire thickness of the animal hide. Only the highest quality furniture, luggage and footwear will use this grade. It can last very well (if properly cared for) and acquires an attractive patina over time.

Top Grain Leather is the second highest quality, and is a split layer of leather with the imperfections removed to make it more attractive and workable. This is probably the most common grade used. It’s not as breathable, but is more stain resistant than full-grain leather.

Corrected Genuine Leather has had an artificial grain applied to its surface. A layer is split off from the hide and a leather-like pattern is embossed onto the surface and then sprayed with stain or dye to give the fake grain a more natural appearance.

Torn Bonded leatherDown at the bottom of the list is bonded leather, which uses leftover scraps of leather that are shredded to a pulp and bonded together chemically onto a sheet of synthetic fibre. This material will not last in our environment! Plus, when the time comes to recover your sofa, it will probably cost you more than you paid for it due to weak base materials used in the construction.

Your leather experience will depend as much on the quality of leather as where you live. Generally, I do not recommend it, but I know people who have minimal problems and are not slaving away fighting the mold. Good air flow throughout the house is critical, but think twice if you are close to rivers and the jungle without A/C.

Even the most durable of fabrics will still break down if you don’t maintain them. Spot clean as soon as you see a problem, and vacuum once a month. Dirt on the surface of any fabric combined with the friction of people moving back and forth will wear out the material faster than anything else.

Sofa and chairPatterned fabrics will be much more forgiving than plain ones and even tone-on-tone or textured fabric will keep your furniture looking better longer. Remember also to flip and rotate your seat and back cushions after vacuuming to enjoy a longer life for your chairs and sofas.

If indoor-outdoor fabrics can be used inside—why not outdoor furniture too! Castelle brand is a luxury line of outdoor furniture that would look as much at home in your living room as on your terrace. This furniture is constructed with powder-coated aluminum frames and will withstand bangs, scrapes and all kinds of abuse. It is beautifully stylish and virtually indestructible. All cushions are upholstered in Sunbrella fabric and their collections include beautiful coordinating accent tables and storage cabinets. This is bulletproof decorating taken to another level.

Inside the home, protecting your furniture from direct sunlight will greatly prolong its life be it wood or upholstery. It will help prevent fabric from fading and wood finishes cracking. Window coverings will do this for you, and will also help keep your rooms cool. This is another area where some thought is required.

Many types of window shadings are available these days, from simple blinds to elaborate drapery treatments. Most of us aim for simplicity, practicality, and a topical look. For example, bamboo roll-up blinds look good and they’re tropical, but they use all-natural materials so the cords may start to disintegrate with the sun, heat and humidity after a while. Look for synthetic fibres for blinds, window shades and curtains. Textiles that are cleanable, can withstand the climate as well as offer the protection and privacy you require. Keep the colours light: dark colours will always absorb more heat.

Hand painted rugArea rugs are great to use to define a space, but can be really difficult to keep clean and mold free. So, consider a hand-painted rug. This, like many high-end rugs, is similar to a work of art on your floor, but these are not woven. They are individually designed and then painted by hand. Available in many colours and designs they can even be designed for the homeowner’s specific needs. They are specially treated and coated to withstand foot traffic, even in kitchens and other high-traffic areas. This is another one of our favourites. Just mop it and it looks as good as new. Super low maintenance—I love it!

Specialty Indoor-Outdoor rugs are available too and there are many beautiful patterns and colours to choose from—even imitation sisal if you like the natural look! These collections are great and are often reversible. Sisal, with a fraction of the maintenance and truck-load more durability!

These rugs can pull a space together and add some personality and a splash of colour to a room—another way to help you survive living in the topics.

Until next time…

Royal Palm Interiors – Uvita  – 2743-8323
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