Churchhaven, South Africa
The Style: Despite being only four years old, this cement beach cottage in Churchhaven, South Africa, boasts a nostalgic appeal that's perfect for its idyllic location. "We really wanted to achieve the feel of a house from a bygone age," explains Helen Untiedt, who uses the home as a weekend getaway with her husband, David. "It was also important to us to create something with low environmental impact—using only natural materials." They called in sustainable expert John Barrett, who designed a modest abode with just enough solar power and clean-burning propane to run a water pump, kitchen appliances, and a few lamps. Here's how he built a retreat that honors the environment, as well as the home's seaside locale.
The Coastal Touch: Keeping in line with the couple's desire for the use of natural materials, the walls and floors are formed from a mixture of white beach sand and cement, creating a soft, off-white back-drop for the vintage-chic interiors. "And you know the greatest thing about it?" enthuses Helen. "It never needs repainting. You can simply wash the walls down to freshen them up. It's not just an eco-friendly solution; it's pretty maintenance-free, too."
Stone Harbor, New Jersey
The Style: Classically picturesque, storybook perfect but never prim, this house in Stone Harbor, New Jersey, exudes a happy balance between practicality and panache. The New York--based homeowners needed their beach house to have enough dexterity to handle sun, salt, and sand—plus all the wear and tear an active family can dish out—while maintaining its graceful New England cottage charm. Mission accomplished by New Jersey architect Paul Kiss, Vermont architect Sebastion Pugliese, local builder Craig Otton, and Florida-based decorator T. Keller Donovan.
The Coastal Touch: An Americana mix of blue and white, with classic white trim, a refined gray-shingled facade, a white fence, and smart navy shutters.
The Style: Los Angeles architect Lewin Wertheimer chose Spanish Colonial influences for a house standing alone on a tawny hillside 300 feet above the beach. Nothing says old California like buff-colored stucco walls, dark wood beams, and a low-sloping terra-cotta roof.
The Coastal Touch: The house stands in splendid isolation with virtually no other residence in sight, only views of the wide Pacific and an adjacent canyon protected from development.
Bald Head Island, North Carolina
The Style: This simple, shingled bungalow off the coast of Southport, North Carolina, features soft gray cedar shakes and a large wraparound porch that serves as an outdoor living room.
The Coastal Touch: The porch ceiling and rafter rails’ seafoam-hue (in Benjamin Moore’s Barely Teal) puts a beachy spin on the soft gray exterior.
Rosemary Beach, Florida
The Style: This three-level, Dutch Colonial take on a sea captain's home is a reminder that designing a beach house isn't always about overt references to the shore. Sometimes it's just about harnessing those soothing emotions that the ocean evokes.
The Coastal Touch: Architect Bobby McAlpine and designer Susan Ferrier are known for a refined mix of muted shades with gradations from room to room. Their work is truly a study in contrasts—a balanced play of light and dark, hard and soft, earthy and airy. The look is fitting for the beach because it celebrates the best of what the coastal landscape offers: tranquil color, comforting texture, and romantic light.
Stinson Beach, California
The Style: Architect Lewis W. Butler built this H-shaped beach house as a weekend retreat that could accommodate his extended family. He clad the house in low-maintenance cedar-shake shingles and then painted the window trim white, tricks taken right out of an iconic East Coast cottage.
The Coastal Touch: Despite the departure from classic California on the outside, the cottage is right at home in Stinson Beach, which has retained its simple, beach-shack personality. The house proves there can be serious style in simplicity. "What you can see on the outside is the same as what you see on the inside of the house," Lewis says. "The straightforward design lets us focus on why we come in the first place, which is to hang out with each other at this beautiful beach."
Spring Island, South Carolina
The Style: What lies half-hidden in a tidal estuary off the Colleton River is a low-slung compound of three cottages and a carriage house, joined by a covered breezeway running parallel to the river. Architectural designer James Strickland of Historical Concepts modeled his ideas after the scattering of barns, smokehouses, and sheds that accrues on plantation grounds. "It's a tin-roof kind of place—nothing like the grand plantation house," the homeowner says. "We wanted something that reflected Lowcountry traditions."
The Coastal Touch: The home was designed around the existing live oaks; workers shoveled the foundation by hand and worked around the tree roots to ensure their survival. The design works to highlight the great romantic Southern character of the site.
The Style: The contemporary, red cedar home's facade offers a glimpse of Long Island Sound through a deep breezeway paved with honed Jerusalem limestone.
The Coastal Touch: "There's a beautiful purity of color where the water meets the sky," says Julie Salles Schaffer, the owner and architect of this cedar beach house set along the scenic central Connecticut coast. "What draws me to modern design is the opportunity to frame these elements—the horizon line, for example—in a way that includes few details or distractions. I'm always interested in making things as simple as possible, particularly in a house by the shore."
Southport, North Carolina
The Style: Taking a cue from sturdy sea captains' cottages, North Carolina architect Jason Bigelow built his own breezy, light-filled beach house that lives large in a compact space.
The Coastal Touch: He borrowed the cottages' long, skinny floor plan—devised for cross breezes and streaming light—and fused it with the aesthetic of the modern Carolina vacation homes he designs for a living. 350 square feet of porches means plenty of spaces for enjoying ocean air.
Pacific Palisades, California
The Style: Nestled in the rolling hills of Pacific Palisades, a tony Los Angeles enclave on the ocean, this shingle-style house is the perfect marriage of East and West—coasts, that is. With a wide front porch, tons of wicker, and plenty of antiques, the house has as much classic style as an old Hamptons beach retreat.
The Coastal Touch: Nearly the entire front wall of the house is lined with windows and French doors, which fill the primary living spaces—the living room, dining room, and kitchen—with garden and pool views and sunshine.
Key West, Florida
The Style: This 800-square-foot, 19th-century cottage in Key West’s Old Town neighborhood is as classic as they come, with a low-slung tin roof, front porch, and white picket fence.
The Coastal Touch: In keeping with the look of the historic neighborhood, where houses feature shutters and decorative elements in shades such as turquoise and coral, designer Blair Gordon used a conch shell pink for the exterior. "I wanted to stay true to the house's roots," he says. "I kept asking myself, 'Would Hemingway sleep here?'" He modernized the look by reversing the scheme, tempering the pink (Touch of Pink by Benjamin Moore) with a dark wood stain on the shutters and gray paint on the porch floors.