When Jeffrey Alan Marks renovated his Santa Monica Canyon home, he combined three rooms to form an open bedroom with a 1940s Abercrombie & Fitch rowboat, complete with oars, hung upside down from the ceiling. "I wanted it to feel like a boathouse," he says, "but with a sense of humor." The bedroom is quintessential Marks—an impeccably appointed room with cotton-upholstered walls and a linen-covered bench, but with an unexpected, rustic touch.
If Marks had a slogan, it might be "couture design for barefoot living"—a happy contradiction he observed as a young designer living in England. "The British decorate, then throw in Grandma's chair," he says. "It punches the room up."
Three years ago Bravo gave Marks a broader following by casting him in the network's reality TV series Million Dollar Decorators. Last year he published The Meaning of Home, which documents the best of a 20-year career (including that bedroom rowboat). "My taste tends to be elegant, very European, but I always take it back to being a California beach guy," he says. "In the end the beach house is a state of mind." —Michael Cannell
Get Inspired: See Jeffrey Alan Marks' Lookbook.
Gideon Mendelson is like a master director, creating surprising moments—a sculptural antique mahogany propeller next to traditional midcentury furnishings in an upstairs den, a kitchen ceiling wallpapered in green gingham—in the coastal homes he outfits in Miami, the Hamptons, and Westchester.
"I love marrying objects that may not seem like they should go together. As you experience a space, you're almost watching a film, in a way," the designer says of his eclectic modernist approach. It takes a true classicist to approach a client's home as a moving picture; Mendelson has a degree in architecture from Columbia University, and is a graduate of The New York School of Interior Design. He started his firm with his mother, also an interior designer. Now retired, she still acts as a consultant on some projects.
"It's fun to layer pattern on pattern on pattern, but my comfort zone is to mix up the scale. Maybe there's a large print on the floor, paired with a horizontal stripe on a window treatment," he says. "Some people want to have a quiet, soft living space or bedroom, but in a hallway or a little powder room, why not take a risk and do something unexpected?" —Brooke Showell
Near the water, Mendelson takes into account a home's environs. "There are inherent attitudes in locations. Designing in the Hamptons is a little bit more laid-back, with beautiful lawns and charming fisherman's villages. Then you go to Miami and it's a different vibe," he says. "It's an escape, a sense of vacation."
Get Inspired: See Gideon Mendelson's Lookbook.
Trina Turk is a conjurer, a designer of vivid patterns that bring to mind retro pool parties and tiki torch dinners. She made her name by bringing a swirling, snappy form of beach cool to the fashion sphere. "If you grow up in California, it's all about the beach," she says. "Optimism and happiness are the keys to my designs. They're essential to the California mindset."
Turk has successfully made the leap from bathing suits to bedding, from prêt-à-porter to porch furniture. She had not considered a home fabrics line until pillows fabricated specially for a photo shoot flew off the shelves of her Palm Springs store. Now she draws on her deep catalog of fabric designs to make everything from coverlets to cocktail napkins with bold patterns that pair blissfully well with an ocean view.
Early in her career, Turk worked as a designer for Ocean Pacific, the surf-wear company. Today, she finds inspiration in the geometric designs of Southern California's midcentury homes. "Modernist architecture is really about letting the materials speak for themselves without embellishment," she says. "We try to do the same with our fabrics." —M.C.
In her own unconventional, elegant way, Boston-based Rachel Reider is making historic seaside New England homes and hotels more daring and joyfully cheeky. Lively coral-print wallpaper in the powder room of a 1960s Cape-style cottage or zesty zebra-striped cubes in a contemporary Rhode Island inn feel at once retro-nautical and urban-sophisticated.
"I love doing coastal work because it's a great medium to experiment with color and pattern. Vacation homes tend to be more casual and fun, so clients are willing to go bolder than they might ordinarily in their main home," says Reider, who has given a luxe face-lift to properties like Nantucket's centuries-old Veranda House and the now ultra-modern Attwater Hotel in Newport, Rhode Island, with lacquer surfaces, wavy geometric prints, and electric hues that channel a waterfront feel.
Reider's main philosophy for any coastal space? Durability. "In a beach house, it's a casual, relaxed feeling—I want the spaces really to be used. I don't want people to have to worry about tracking sand and water into the house, or having it be some fine space that you don't feel you can kick back and relax in," she says. "I try to create an environment that's fresh, inviting, and unexpected." —B.S.
Get Inspired: See Rachel Reider's Lookbook.
In Los Angeles, the land of theatrical gestures, architect Lewin Wertheimer stands out as a top-notch designer of historically sensitive beach homes with a vivid sense of place. Houses designed by Wertheimer occupy their sites with an assured sense of belonging and an authenticity of detail. "I'm really more of an idealist than I am a trendsetter," he says. "I work hard to understand my clients' hopes and dreams and interpret them in fresh ways."
Wertheimer's portfolio demonstrates his flexibility. He is that rare architect capable of spanning Spanish Colonial and shingle-style, Italian villa and a home based on modernism's European roots. His own home is a renovated 1905 bungalow a block from the beach in the Venice neighborhood. It is a daydream of walkable beach life, complete with white picket fence. "I've lived my entire life close to the ocean," he says. "I'm drawn to salt water."
Though the L.A. Wertheimer grew up in has changed, the essence of beachside living has not—at least not in his hands. "People's homes can still be their refuge," he says. "I strive to provide that." —M.C.
Get Inspired: See Lewin Wertheimer's lookbook.
An expert at updating the traditional, Annie Selke has made Americana enchanting to a whole new generation. Her company, Pine Cone Hill, and its rug spinoff, Dash & Albert, are known for handsome, home-spun furnishings that have polish without pretension—and a fresh, coastal feel. That seaside aesthetic goes back to childhood trips to her grandparents' house in Maine. "I was exposed early on to a coastal lifestyle," she says.
Selke began 20 years ago with a sewing machine on her kitchen table. Her earliest products were patchwork quilts for L.L. Bean and other catalog companies. As with all that followed, the quilts were inspired by her collection of 10,000 vintage fabric swatches.
She has come a long way since then, but Selke's products reflect the same wholesome quality. They are beach home casual, most explicitly a collection of bedding, sleepwear, accessories, and linens called Cape Calm. "It's airy, light, and breezy," Selke says. This year, she partnered with iconic designer Bunny Williams to release a line of pillows, throws, and outdoor-friendly rugs that are pitch-perfect for coastal residences. —M.C.
Get Inspired: See Annie Selke's lookbook.
John Robshaw is the Indiana Jones of textiles. He spends as much as three months a year in the field studying Uzbeki weavers, Jaipur batik artisans, and Philippine islanders spinning fabric from banana fibers. From Bolivia to Bangkok, Aleppo to Ahmadabad, he seeks out batiks, ikats, and wood-block prints he can adapt to his own textile and bedding line.
"I riff on traditional patterns, or rethink them," says Robshaw, who keeps a showroom and studio in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. All of that world traveling has earned Robshaw a heady following in the design industry and a wealth of tales and ideas told in his 2012 book, John Robshaw Prints.
What sets Robshaw apart is his glorification of the accidental. His designs inherently reflect the laid-back, transformative spirit of the shore. The beauty of indigenous printing, Robshaw says, lies in its celebration of the human touch, in all of its glorious imperfection. "Everything has become so efficient, so mass-produced," he says, "that people now really crave things that are handmade." So if an indigo beach bungalow pillow is imperfect or lake house linens uneven, so much the better. —M.C.
Get Inspired: See John Robshaw's lookbook.
As the creative force behind the powerhouse home furnishings brand Serena & Lily, Serena Dugan wanted to present something new in design when she launched the company in 2004 with Lily Kanter, chief executive officer. "There's a cheerful quality to our colors and prints that resonates with people," says Dugan. "It's good spice in an environment."
The business began with nursery bedding, and gradually expanded to include upholstered furniture, table linens, bed and bath textiles, rugs, wallpaper, and out-door accessories. Serena & Lily's bold-but-restrained signature style is easy to spot, whether it's a leather Moroccan pouf in a Malibu living room, bright blue geometric cocktail napkins in a Lake Michigan cottage, or a woven-basket hamper with rope detailing in a Hamptons walk-in closet. "I love how the brand applies in different locales," Dugan says.
Though headquartered in the Bay Area, she draws upon the iconic Atlantic beaches of her East Coast childhood for designs—a coral medallion-print duvet, an ethereal chambray sheer linen window panel—that evoke the feeling of summer all year. After the success of the first Serena & Lily retail store in Wainscott, New York, last year, a San Francisco showroom opened in May.
Dugan regularly travels for inspiration, which she calls "a great palate cleanser," adding, "I go to work every day not feeling compelled to follow any rules. It's about designing from the heart." —B.S.
Get Inspired: See Serena Dugan's lookbook.
This onetime aspiring actress found a new stage—the coastal homes that she infuses with brilliant color. Amanda Nisbet launched her eponymous New York firm in 1998 after a fine-arts career at Christie's. The famed auction house's jewelry department, she says, still informs much of her love for luminous shades in tones of ruby, sapphire, emerald, and amethyst.
In Nisbet's hands, bold orange lamps, an oversize chandelier strung with turquoise beads, or wallpaper in a risky hot pink can feel exhilarating, opulent, or even serene. She often develops original colors and patterns for clients, which has led to her collections of lighting, textiles, and rugs, including standout fabrics like the wavy Positano, inspired by the Amalfi Coast.
"There's more to a waterfront home than just the color blue," says Nisbet, who pulls from all shades of a seaside landscape in her work. "Maybe there are thistles that have a bit of lavender, green, or brown. At the coastline you have lovely sunset colors like corals and light oranges." From fuchsia to fawn, "color is my jumping-off point." —B.S.
Get Inspired: See Amanda Nisbet's lookbook.
Karen Robertson began collecting seashells at age 8 near her hometown of Lexington, Massachusetts. Today she captures the ocean's essence with handmade creations—from one-of-a-kind decorative flowers made of shells and tinted oversize sea fans suspended in transparent glass to trumeau mirrors dressed with clusters of coral. She has also designed anchor-print cushions for Coastal Home Pillows, and Davis & Davis rugs with nautical knots. "My artwork brings the outdoors into the interior space," she says.
Robertson's lakefront home off the Intracoastal Waterway in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, serves as a rotating gallery for her work. The consummate collector, she frequently travels to nearby Sanibel and Captiva islands (known as the shell capital of the world) to search for new discoveries. "I'm kind of like the pied piper at the beach," she says. "I bring extra nets to give out to children to identify shells."
Robertson says she plans to go more modern and more unusual with her work—dimensional pieces that one might not even realize are made of shells until you look closely. Whether contemporary or cottage style, her art will continue to give anyone with four walls an ocean view. "I want my designs to take you to another place," she says. "The nature of any room should come from nature." —B.S.
Get Inspired: See Karen Robertson's lookbook.