Magical colors of Rio de Janeiro inspire decorating themes

By Carleton Varney

Special to the Daily News

You might remember Flying Down to Rio, a movie starring Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. And a memorable movie it was, for good reasons for the dancing, for the two great stars and for the location, Rio de Janeiro.

Ah, Rio, where the super beaches include Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon. I recently enjoyed the latter while spending a few days on a work assignment in the Brazilian resort city. I was not there solely for pleasure, but I’ll head back again someday, simply to enjoy the sunshine, the beaches, the smiles of the very, very friendly Brazilians and the cuisine. Brazil has justly earned a world-renowned reputation for its barbecues, where the courses of beef, lamb, chicken, sausage and the like keep coming for your pleasure, should you want to savor the very best.

The colors of Rio — and, indeed, of all Brazil — are lively and radiant with sunshine. At the Copacabana Palace hotel, even the dining-room waiters are dressed with aprons of a tropical print, with bright-green banana leaves entwined with torrid-orange birds of paradise on a snappy black background.

Color is everywhere, and, of course, its influence comes not only from the foliage and flowers but also from the rare gemstones mined in this lush country. I stopped in a number of gem boutiques, including one called Freddy on Copacabana Beach, where citrines, amethysts, topaz, emeralds, pink tourmaline, and other colorful gems were displayed. I do love the sparkle of stones. And to think they come from beneath the earth’s surface — what a marvel this planet really is, with color above and below.

Banana leaf

I was in Brazil working on a project that will involve lots of magical colors. The design will also pay tribute to the banana leaf, which I enjoy for its scale and rich, shiny color. Very often I choose for draperies or upholstery a fabric with a banana-leaf motif. One of my favorites is manufactured by Carleton V, the wallcovering and fabric house of my son, Sebastian: It’s a silk damask design called Copacabana, and features deep, shining greens.

Next time you consider a new fabric for your sofa, club chairs or drapery, why not consider a banana-leaf pattern? Without flowers, the print can be used as a fine background for other patterns, and it’s so appropriate in a Palm Beach setting paired with rattan, contemporary or traditional furnishings. The banana leaf is a bit more romantic than the palm-tree leaf, which I think works best in a room with casual décor.

Rio, of course, is more than just tropical foliage. You’ll find that the samba is still going strong. Dancing with the Stars has taken hold all over the world, and the Brazilian version is called Dança dos Famosos. I found many dance studios teaching courses in samba. When walking down the streets of the city, you can easily look up into the windows above the storefronts and see young — as well as older — folk taking a dance lesson or two.

And at the airport duty-free shops, you’ll see posters and full-figure stand-up images of that Hollywood icon of the 1940s, samba queen Carmen Miranda, depicted in her famous tutti-frutti headdress. On the lobby level of the Copacabana Palace is a hallway lined with photographs of notables: Carmen Miranda shares wall space with prime ministers, royals and athletic figures such as soccer superstar Pelé himself.

Bring a little Rio into your home

As I am still in the city’s thrall, I’ll offer you a decorating scheme for a bedroom that could bring a little Rio into your home. Paint the walls a watermelon pink and all the woodwork gleaming white. At the windows, hang drapery in a banana-leaf print of greens on white. Hang the drapery from white poles with white rings.

Select a rich green rug. Upholster your headboard in a clear aquamarine hue. Use the banana-leaf fabric for the bed’s comforter, and line it in a green-and-white stripe. The bed skirt can be of a watermelon hue.

Upholster either a chaise or a club chair and ottoman in a pretty tropical print — one with oranges, pinks, lavenders and greens, all on a white background.

If that’s not enough to get you in a Rio mood, fly down yourself for some colorful inspiration. The airline of my choice, out of Miami, is TAM Brazilian Airways.


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