Expert Advice: Coastal Chic

coastal chic

Expert Advice: By Phyllis Van Doren

Coastal Chic

Beyond the obvious variables of blue, what makes up the quintessential summer interior beside the sea? Quick fixes include a recipe of wicker and rattan and seagrass on the floor but fresh ideas abound. There’s more to comfort than the tried-and-true.


ONE CANNOT BEGIN TO design a house at the beach without considering the expanse beyond its walls. I am currently remodeling a beach home for an artist who finds inspiration in the ever-changing forms she sees when walking the shoreline. My primary objective is to neutralize the home’s interior to give focus to the landscape beyond. 

Minimizing the baseboard and door trim makes the walls recede, accentuating the ocean views that are filtered by gossamer sheers. Visually soft finishes such as Venetian plastered walls, matte porcelain tile and honed limestone keep the backgrounds calm. Materials that depict nature’s dynamic processes such as blackened steel with its random iridescent hues and igneous stone with its crystal formations are incorporated as a reminder of the seaside atmosphere. Keeping the furniture organic in form with upholstery in neutral textures adds a quiet serenity. 

With this gentle backdrop, the sea’s peaceful spirit will infuse the home, giving my client freedom to create.

Joyce Von Graven
Jm Von Graven Co.



Start by building a relationship with nature. Warm wood flooring, natural fiber rugs, found objects, stone, beach glass and clean white accents are fundamentals of coastal style.

Use the sand, sea and sunset as your palette. Once you’ve established a base (I like Dunn Edward’s Muslin) have fun with other colors for a casual feel — teal blues and pops of coral, orange and bronze. A more homogenous neutral palette is friendly but more sophisticated.

Think about being on vacation. Beach cottages are never fussy. Comfortable furniture beckons you to relax. Use worry-free indoor/outdoor upholstery fabrics. Large lanterns and candles help extend the already long days of summer.

Make it modern. Enlarging the scale can make patterns and furnishings more current. Bold striped or geometric Dhurrie rugs anchor light upholstery. I love a deeply painted wood floor (try Dunn Edwards Deep Ocean) and oversized iron light fixtures. Traditional furniture painted in happy lacquer colors helps make a fun modern statement. It’s easy to make the California coastal style your own, even if you don’t own the perfect beach cottage. 

Anita Dawson, Allied Member Asid
Dawson Design Group 


FOR A SEASIDE HOME, anchor your main seating group with a light-colored area rug. Seagrass has a rich texture; for a softer feel underfoot, I bind remnants of Berber or other nubby carpeting. I take cues for the wall color from natural lighting, and then add a twist. Soft greens or blues are ideal but you can add unexpected texture with stencils or provide 3-D relief with embedded grasses, fabrics or tinted joint compound.

I like rich bold colors on kitchen cabinets or the occasional piece of wood furniture. Unique hardware can update the look. In a bathroom or closet, glass inserts etched with a seaside motif add character to the room.

Texture can be added to rooms with wicker-basket accessories, perhaps storage size placed under a console. Seagrass cubes for seating can become extra tables when a tray is added to the top. Taking a cue from fashion, I dress windows with a combination of shade fabric and filmy sheers, fabricated into a pull-up covering. I hang them from driftwood-like rods for an unusual touch.

Caroline Baker, Assistant Designer
A Touch Of Tradition


WHETHER IT’S A BEACH COTTAGE or an oceanfront estate, beach chic should be clean, crisp and, above all, comfortable. Set the palette for your ocean inspired space with a color that is purely backdrop. You do not need a strong color, you need a color that sets a tone and acts as a frame for how you decorate. White walls can be compelling — if you use the right white. For a whisper of color, I like Farrow & Ball’s Pavilion Blue. The flooring should have a simple pattern. Rug maker Dash and Albert’s Catamaran striped navy indoor/outdoor rug looks like a cotton rug but is much more forgiving and can easily be cleaned.

I like a beach style that’s a layered look blending framed vintage family photos, striped antique suitcases and artifacts from the beach displayed simply. Furnishings should also share the same feel. I like crisp white slipcovers for their practicality and versatility. TIP: When you have slipcovers made, order at least one extra cover so your room is always ready for guests. They are smart, resourceful and always stylish.

Paul Scott Silvera
Scout, ASID Industry Partner


DON’T LET YOUR GUESTS FIND your beach house style tired and stale. Begin outdoors, by cleaning up after any storms. Make sure windows are sparkling clean and that patio furniture and umbrellas are in good condition. Maybe its time to reupholster those faded and outdated cushions with fade-resistant and durable fabrics, using piping for contrast and to hold their shape.

Then turn your attention to inside where the goal is to create ambience that brings the outdoors in. Light summer draperies will move with the breeze and filter bright sun. Don’t forget a splash of sand, sea and sun colors. Rearrange the furniture to take advantage of the view and create multiple seating areas for summer parties. Botanicals always liven up a space. If you can’t use fresh, try silk arrangements of Oncidium and Cymbidium orchids in clear-glass cylinders. Don’t forget a sisal area rug for texture, and a red or orange throw for chilly nights. Voilà!

Terri Anne Parsons
Allied Member Asid, Nkba, Ifda
Anne Parsons Interiors

Categories: Home Design