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Bulletproof Decorating, Or How to Survive Living in the Tropics

Unfortunately there’s no way yet to create indestructible furniture and homes. However, there are steps we can take that will help them stand up to life with kids, pets & the jungle.

By Shelagh Duncan

Design WiseMy guess is that none of us came here to live a high maintenance lifestyle in high maintenance homes. We know that living here has its challenges, and keeping one step ahead of what life hands us is a constant battle.

So, when we purchase furniture and other things for our home we want them to last. Furniture is an investment and we take time to carefully select exactly what we want and plan on enjoying it for many years to come.Royal Palm Interiors

Tropical living roomHowever, living in the tropics has its share of surprises—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—porcelain tile and granite for example. But who wants to sit on a granite sofa?

If you want your furniture to last you have to do your homework. Bamboo, wicker, woven seagrass and many of the other natural materials used to create the ‘Tropical’ look in furniture sadly just don’t stand up well to the climate here. Rattan chairMore than once I have seen some of those lovely natural-woven chairs from San Jose dumped out by a garage and falling apart when the humidity, bugs and mold have taken their toll.

Good Quality Rattan

Rattan is good as long as the joints are properly leather-wrapped. Good quality rattan furniture may cost a bit more but is worth it. Thin rattan-peel wraps will quickly unravel and fail.

LR covered sofaLR

When you are looking for chairs and sofas of course you need to make sure they have good hardwood frames, and you should also be careful about 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 fabric samplesSunbrella Fabrics

When 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 are very durable.

Other synthetic fabrics that are also durable and practical are viscose, 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 also good for allergy sufferers as it does not generate any lint or dust, and regular vacuuming will keep it looking great.

Available in a variety of different qualities and thicknesses, some microfiber fabrics also have coloured patterns or are embossed to resemble reptile skins. Come and see our alligator ottoman!

You can even find leather-look microfibre fabric too. Opt for the distressed imitation leather if you have pets—it will save you many headaches!

About Leather

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, but there are also many bonded and inferior leathers out there labelled Genuine Leather!

The best quality is Full-Grain Leather, which is the entire thickness of the animal skin. Only the highest quality furniture, luggage and footwear will use this grade. It lasts very well (if cared for properly) 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. Not as breathable, but is it 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 impressed into the surface and then sprayed with stain or dye to give the fake grain a more natural appearance.

Torn bonded leatherBonded Leather! Down at the bottom of the pyramid is bonded leather, which uses leftover scraps of leather that are shredded to a pulp and bonded together chemically onto a sheet of some other fibre. This will definitely not last well here -and when the time comes to recover your sofa it will probably cost you more than you paid for it!

Your leather experience will depend as much on the quality of leather as much as where you live. Generally I do not recommend it, but I know people who have minimal problems and are not slaving all the time to keep the mold away. Good air flow through 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.

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

Castelle outdoor furnitureCastelle – Jakarta

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 out on your terrace. This furniture is constructed with powder-coated aluminum frames and will withstand bangs, scrapes and all kind of abuse. It is beautifully stylish and virtually indestructible. All cushions are upholstered in Sunbrella fabric and their collections include beautiful co-ordinating accent tables and storage cabinets. This is bullet-proof decorating taken to another level.

Shading your furniture from the sun, be it wood or upholstery will prolong the life of your furniture as well as prevent fading and cracking. Window coverings will also help keep your rooms cool, and what you choose for your windows is another area where some thought is required.

For example, bamboo roll-up blinds look good, but the cords especially will disintegrate with the sun, heat and humidity after a while. Look for synthetic fibres for blinds, shades and curtains which can withstand the climate here, as well as offer the protection and privacy you require. Keep the colours light—dark colours will 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 homeowners specific needs. They are specially treated and coated to withstand foot traffic, even in kitchens and other high-traffic areas. We have one at the store and it still looks amazing. Just mop it and it looks as good as new. Low maintenance—I love it! These rugs can pull a space together and add some personality and a splash of colour to a room—the Bulletproof Decorating way!

Until next time

Shelagh, Royal Palm Interiors
Round the corner from BCR in UVITA – 2743-8323
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