With Channel 4’s popular drama, Indian Summers, hotting up with scandal, murders and illicit affairs aplenty, here’s how to re-create the classic combination of Downton elegance and exotic style
Do you enjoy heading to Simla each week to discover what those naughty ex-pats are up to? Are you waiting for Mr Dalal to declare his devotion to Alice or for Madelaine to realize that the eligible Ralph has a shady past? While it’s the compelling characters that have drawn viewers to the drama set in the dying days of the British Raj, the other reason to switch onto this brilliant series is its stunning colonial interiors.
The drama is set in Simla – the one-time summer capital of British India in the foothills of the Himalayas where ex-pats headed to escape the city heat – but filming actually took place on the island of Penang in Malaysia. Having searched numerous tropical locations, the program-makers struck gold when they found two derelict buildings surrounded by Malaysian jungle that were perfect for the show’s two principal buildings – The Royal Simla Club and Ralph’s home Chotipool. Over a period of three months, set builders went to work transforming the abandoned buildings, creating interiors that are replicas of those seen throughout the countries colonised by the British. Luckily, while every detail had to be historically accurate for the show, fans of the colonial look don’t have to spend months renovating their homes to achieve it.
1. Stay cool with the right foundations
Go light with walls and dark for flooring. Walls were painted cream and white to help create a cool escape from tropical heat, while furniture was made of local woods, such as teak and mahogany. Go for dark-wood pieces or, if you prefer a lighter look, choose bamboo designs. When it comes to flooring, skip carpets and team dark-wood planks and natural-fibre rugs, such as
sea grass and jute.
For dark-wood flooring, try Quick-Step
2. Pick the perfect chair for sipping a G&T… or five
Rattan and cane chairs were often teamed with heavier, darker pieces of furniture, while upholstery was often cream or white. As those posted abroad would often move on after a couple of years, campaign furniture that could fold away for transportation or used to store china and linen was a practical option – try canvas desks and drawers, beige director’s chairs, leather trunks and chests, and tables with crisscross legs.
For similar furniture, try Lombok and Occa-Home
3. Be British with florals or go native with tropical brights
Add colour to the scheme with either classic English chintz, bringing traditional prints used in stately British houses overseas, or the bold brights that would have been favoured by the locals for a more tropical feel.
Curtains made in Botanica, £14.99 per m, Paradise collection, Prestigious Textiles
Whether a property had curtains or shutters, their purpose was to let in bright sunlight during the fresher part of the day, then keep out oppressive midday and afternoon heat. Shutters are the best option for instant hill-station feel. If you do opt for curtains, choose light, filmy fabrics – heavy ones would have been ruined by mildew and mould in the rainy seasons.
4. Hide your affairs behind the right window dressings
5. Channel your intrepid explorer
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The perfect scheme for those exotic pieces you have brought back from abroad, think animal-print picture frames from Africa, textiles from Indonesia, wooden carvings and boxes. Old maps from places you’ve been and antique or metal globes are also worthy additions – for a really lavish touch you could get the Raleigh bar globe, £350, JustGlobes.co.uk, for those bottles of gin.
Finally, don’t forget a fine china tea set – no self-respecting ex-pat would have taken afternoon tea from anything else.
For good china, try Wedgwood
If the colonial look is just your cup of tea, take a look at this colonial-style Dutch house