The coast has its own elements of style—a library of looks woven through the homes that rise up from the shoreline. Here, we're celebrating 20 enduring design ideas that define today's most beautiful beach houses.
Photo: Andrew Giammarco; design by Hoedemaker Pfeiffer
From glass-and-cedar facades in the Pacific Northwest to deep porches in the Lowcountry, each region has a particular design vocabulary, developed to meet climate challenges and play to the area's strengths. Over time, proven stylistic elements have a way of migrating, even island-hopping, to mix with other vernaculars. Click here for a salty collection of houses inspired by their locales, from Bainbridge Island, Washington (pictured here), to Martha’s Vineyard and Hawaii’s Big Island.
Photo: Maura McEvoy Photography
In an age of open floor plans, the rules for dining hubs are looser than ever. Whether it's a nook off the kitchen (like this one by decorator Colleen Bashaw) or a room unto itself, make the most of the walls you have. Wallpaper or wainscot add room-defining character, as do pretty trim and one-of-a-kind wall art, like these vintage oyster plates. (Don't forget the sconces: Every good dinner party needs a little mood lighting.)
Photo: top left: Isca Greenfield-Sanders/Ameringer | Mcenery | Yohe, New York, NY; others: courtesy of manufacturers
Grandmother passed down her vintage dhurries; your aunt bestowed treasured Slim Aarons estate prints. Today's beach houses have their own emerging class of investment pieces that is emblematic of 21st-century coastal style.
Instant Classics We Love (clockwise from top left):
Isca Greenfield-Sanders Paintings: The 39-year-old artist's re-creations of vintage American beach photos are masterful looks back at life by the sea. Two Bathers (Pink), 2017 mixed media oil on canvas (63" by 63"), pricing available upon request
Christopher Spitzmiller Lighting: These shapely, hand-turned lamps with water-gilded bases have become artisan staples in stylish homes. Christopher Spitzmiller Single Harry Lamp in Robin's Egg, $3,955
Custom Four-Poster Beds: Modern versions of these scene-stealers skim the ceiling (this one is nearly nine feet tall) and have slimmer posters. Hollywood at Home Whitley Bed in Whitley Blue, $9,875 (queen)
Frances Palmer Vases: The potter's work plays on the time-honored beauty of blue-and-white ceramics, but with a painterly spin. Frances Palmer Blue and White Oxide Porcelain Bud Vase, $450
Photo: Alison Miksch
"All-weather fabric options were so limited up until a few years ago, but with newer fabric technology, you can't even tell the difference anymore. Sunbrella, Perennials, and Link Outdoor fabrics are all stain and moisture resistant—they're far more hardy, so we're using them on every barstool, dining chair, breakfast chair, and banquette in beach houses,” says designer and 2017 trendsetter Andrew Howard. “It's a no-brainer for furniture that's in the middle of the action."
Pictured from left to right: Perennials Drypoint Plaid Fabric in Melon, available to the trade; Raoul Textiles Dianthus Outdoor Fabric in Delft, available to the trade; P/Kaufmann Corfu Fabric in Sunshine, $20 per yard
Photo: Courtesy Of Celerie Kemble/@Celerie
Cue the lounge music: Deep-seating furniture extends seat depth by two to four inches, which makes for a particularly cozy adjustment to outdoor idylls. (Standard seat depth generally measures 21 to 22 inches, while deep-seated counterparts usually measure between 24 and 25—much better for settling in as the sun goes down.)
Here, we've gathered some of our favorite picks for getting comfortable:
Kingsley Bate Havana Lounge Chair in Natural, $755
Frontgate Lyra Lounge Chair, $1,995
JANUS et Cie Azimuth Cross Lounge Chair in White Vermouth, pricing available upon request
Photo: David Tsay; styling by Liz Strong; design by Celerie Kemble
Coastal landscape rule of thumb: Blue water and natural greenery reign, which is all the more reason to use a light hand with hardscape. For example, the coral-stone coping around designer Celerie Kemble's Dominican Republic pool paves a slim enough path that it nearly disappears (leaving the concrete sheep plenty of room to graze).
Photo: Bess Friday; design by Allison Bloom
The past decade has seen a crush of modern kitchens with an endless suite of bells and whistles, from color-matched appliances to touch-and-swipe controls and smart convection ovens. (So you can preheat the oven on the way home from surf lessons—how hot is that?) But character is the most enduring innovation of all. Here, four ways to add it to the busiest room in the house.
Kitchen #1: Graphic Tile
The hand-painted geometric pattern on the wall and island tiles give this San Francisco kitchen a mod sense of place that's all West Coast cool.
Photo: Eric Piasecki/Otto; design by Steven Gambrel
Kitchen #2: Rustic Breakfast Table
What's the rush? The simple wood-and-iron table and Hans Wegner chairs in this Sag Harbor kitchen are an invitation to linger over coffee.
Photo: Annie Schlechter; design by Tracey Overbeck Stead
Kitchen #3: with Retro-Chic Appliances
A powder-blue Smeg fridge lends this sweet kitchen on Martha's Vineyard an air of nostalgia. Bonus points for the old-school metal table fan.
Photo: Max Kim-Bee; design by Tilton Fenwick
Kitchen #4: with a Warm Wood Backsplash
Whitewashed pecky wood paneling set in a herringbone pattern cozies up the walls behind open shelving in this Long Beach Island summer house.
Photo: Courtesy of Manufacturer
"I love a natural-fiber rug with an antique rug or dhurrie over it," says designer and 2017 trendsetter Mark D. Sikes, adding that they win on warmth, color, and texture. Size them so the top layer is at least a foot smaller on all sides. When you're ready to switch up your decor, swap the top layer with something else.
Photo: Lauren Rubenstein
For exterior fixtures, lighting, and hardware, copper is a beach house all-star. "It's especially great for roofs, because it's a long-lasting metal," says architect and 2017 trendsetter Beau Clowney. "It doesn't rust or require much maintenance, and if there's damage, it's an easy fix: You just solder it back together." Plus, copper's timeworn patina is a character-builder. Look for copper fixtures (here’s a chic sailboat weathervane we love) with a verdigris finish if you want an aged look without the wait.
Photo: David A. Land; design: Andrew Howard
Like most anything else, bright, high-impact trim is even better at the beach. That's because painting it a dynamite hue "is like putting a picture frame around your view," says designer Anne Maxwell Foster. Try choosing a color from your wallpaper—in this bath, Andrew Howard matched the watery shade in the seaweed pattern with Pool Blue by Benjamin Moore. Or contrast pastel or gray walls with trim painted a few shades darker for a tonal pairing that sings.
Photo: Courtesy of Manufacturers
Buy it: CB2 Tayabas Cane Side Chair in White, $499
A coastal cult favorite since the 17th century, the textural rattan detailing earns an A+ for adaptability. Here, a look at how it's weaving its way into 21st-century furniture design.
Photo: Durston Saylor Photography; design by Ike Kligerman Barkley
Northern Europeans have been onto this idea for centuries—think handsome, barn-like structures peering off a rugged Danish coast. And in the Hamptons and New England, where we found this house, patinas often darken over centuries to create a similar monochromatic contrast. "There's something so dramatic about dark shingles or siding with white contrasting trim," says designer and 2017 trendsetter Mark D. Sikes. "The combination is timeless and classic."
Photo: courtesy of manufacturers
The Neutral: Seashell Gold; The Paint: Peche by Behr
The Neutral: Agave Green; The Paint: Stone Blue by Farrow & Ball
The Color: Sea Urchin Purple; The Paint: Lavender Mist by Benjamin Moore
The Neutral: Sunset Pink; The Paint: Morning Glow by Valspar
Brighten up the basics: our eyes grow accustomed to the colors in our natural landscape, so the soft hues found along the shoreline—the light pinks that streak through evening sunsets, the earthy greens that light up the dune grass—are as fitting as foundation colors as they are as accents. Try using these spirited naturals on walls or on larger upholstered pieces, like sofas.
Photo: Christina Cernik Photography/www.christinacernik.com; design by McCann Design Group
The idea of continuing a single pattern from one design element to the next (i.e. draperies to wallpaper, wallpaper to upholstery) is a throwback to the 1950s, "60s, and "70s, and the work of American decorating greats like Billy Baldwin and Sister Parish. The two were fearless when it came to giving rooms a double, or even triple, shot of the same print. "The key to making the old-school look work is to keep your patterns in line: The print should flow uninterrupted throughout the room," says Andrew Howard.
Photos: Courtesy of Manufacturers
Pictured, clockwise from top left: Arteriors Geoffrey Medium Chandelier, $2,550; Thomas O'Brien Henry Industrial Hanging Light in Hand-Rubbed Antique Brass with Green Shade, $798; Ralph Lauren Home Anette Single Sconce in Natural Brass, $600; Serena & Lily Davenport Table Lamp, $348
"The basic rule for making nautical lighting work is the same one that applies to so many other aspects of decorating— don't do too much of it at once," advises 2017 trendsetter Christopher Spitzmiller. "Include it sparingly to increase its impact."
Photo: Max Kim-Bee; design by Andrew Howard
It's the design equivalent of a well-tailored suit—here's how to bring the bespoke factor up a notch without losing that easygoing air.
Here, banquette seating adds a super shot of warmth and pattern to dining tables. (Plus, you can squeeze more people for dinner.) Try using outdoor-rated fabrics for easy cleanup and worry-free drying.
Photo: Courtesy Of Mcgrath II; design by McGrath II
Vacation houses helped write the book on high-impact wall details, from the floor-to-ceiling beadboard lining 19th-century summer cottages to toile-covered guest rooms of Victorian-era lake houses. In the meantime, our penchant for wall detail hasn't waned—here are four super current spins on classic coverings.
Trelliage: Ornamental latticework paneling is a genius way to reinforce a room's kinship with the outdoors.
Photo: Jessica Klewicki Glynn; Design by Blair Harris Interior Design
Organic weaves in jewel tones reinforce the natural beauty of the beach, plus they give rooms depth and dimension.
Photo: Francesco Lagnese/Otto; Design by Marshall Watson
This updated spin on midcentury wood paneling reads like abstract art.
Photo: Sara Essex Bradley; Design by Logan Killen Interiors
Bold prints rooted in history, like this classic leaf pattern, have more staying power.
Photo: Annie Schlechter; design by Christina Murphy
Cocktail hour at the beach is no shrinking violet. "Having a bar in a prominent gathering room immediately puts people at ease," says Christopher Spitzmiller. Plus, whether it's a stylish bar cart or a built-in cocktail station like this one crafted of pecky cypress, it tends to cut down on hosting duties—and we're all for that. Twirl yours up with local art, quirky curiosities, and vintage glassware.
Photo: Annie Schlechter; design by Christina Murphy
"Brass can soften any interior," says Anne Maxwell Foster. "The key is to use unlacquered brass, because the patina changes over time. It has character, which brings a feeling of timelessness to a room."
Photo: Annie Schlechter; design by Christina Murphy
The encaustic cement tile flooring in this Baker's Bay, Bahamas, house is made in Morocco by Mosaic House, and is reminiscent of the patterned tiles seen in historic island entryways.