Coastal designs are meant to enhance ocean vibes and promote comfortable, care-free living. While some iterations of the style may seem outdated or over the top, innovative designers can use contemporary elements to create rich, dynamic environments, whether on the coast or just inspired by it. So how do designers balance coastal and high-modern influences to craft luxurious, beachy interiors? We talked with top designers about what it takes to pull off contemporary coastal style today.

White carved round dining table and rattan-backed dining chairs with beaded brass chandelier
{Design by CM Natural Designs | Photography by Chipper Hatter}

1. Architectural Details

Any great design begins with the structure. Corine Maggio, founder of CM Natural Designs in Mill Valley, California, points out that architectural elements can introduce a coastal vibe into a room. “Architectural detailing like molding, wainscoting, and paneling make such a big impact on a space,” says Maggio.

{Design by Elza B Design, Inc. | Photography by Irvin Serrano}

Rope-frame oval mirror on blue textured wallpaper in powder room
{Design by Lisa Michael Interiors | Photography by Jessica Glynn}

3. Simple, Clean Lines

Simplicity is of the utmost important in coastal design. “Easy living is the overall goal,” says Lisa Michael, a designer based in Delray Beach, Florida. Clean-lined cabinetry can help create this fantasy of effortlessness, as can other elements that focus on crisp, classic forms. Lisa Walsh, owner of Walsh Hill Design in Pennsylvania, recommends using sharp lines, like stripes, to emphasize the horizon line outside.

{Design by J Banks Design}

4. Avoid Over-Emphasizing a Nautical Theme

The most obvious way to create a coastal style is to incorporate nautical elements, including anchor motifs, decorative objects, and beachy artwork. With restraint, nautical tropes can help express the soul of a design; without it, the design risks coming off as cheap or overwrought. “Being too overt with nautical or coastal references” can disrupt the subtle beauty of a design, according to Joni Vanderslice, president of J Banks Design in Hilton Head, South Carolina. The team at J Banks Design suggests avoiding or limiting the use of seashells. “Use boats, fish, and anchors sparsely, if at all,” advises Sophia Shibles, a designer based in Providence, Rhode Island.

Dining room with bamboo bistro-style chairs and framed shell photographs
{Design by Amanda Webster Design, Inc. | Photography by Jessie Preza}

Beachy bedroom with blue-patterned throw pillows and gold-framed mirror
{Design by Sophia Shibles Interiors | Photography by Michael Patrick Lefebvre}

Dining room with mismatched dining chair, glass jars, bottles, vases, and oceanic art piece
{Design by Rachel Reider Interiors | Photography by Michael Partenio}

7. Emphasize Views with Every Detail

If a home has water views, every detail in the house should enhance those vistas, rather than obstruct them. Window treatments are key for emphasizing water views, and designers often recommend sheer or light drapery. Other accents matter as well. For example, large, contemporary pendants may help a room look more modern, but they risk blocking windows from different perspectives in a room, depending on the layout of a room and the fixture’s location. Rachel Reider, a Boston-based interior designer, recommends glass lighting. “Glass oversized light fixtures are another go to element in creating a modern coastal environment,” says Reider. “They make a statement without obstructing water views.”

Bedroom with wood platform bed frame, small bamboo side table, and blue and black woven rug
{Design by Stefani Stein | Photography by Tessa Neustadt}

White clawfoot tub with paneled walls in bright bathroom
{Design by Walsh Hill Design | Photography by Jonathan Reece}


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June 28, 2020

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