Tour the Bahamas Beach House of Your Dreams
Time to Relax
Christina Murphy loves surprises. So when she began working on a plantation-style residence on Great Guana Cay in the Abacos Islands, she viewed its grandeur as a path to the unexpected. "The house has all the ingredients of an old manor house—ornate moldings, 14-foot ceilings, a grand foyer, and sweeping terraces," says the New York–based designer. "There was no escaping its formality, but we needed to find a way to relax it a little. And there's no better way to loosen things up than creating elements of surprise in each room."
Along with forgoing a tidy, symmetrical furniture plan in the living room in favor of a more casual configuration of wicker and upholstered seating, Murphy dreamed up an unconventional tropical palette dotted with deep hues like persimmon, citron, and indigo. And she covered walls with grasscloth in the bedrooms, where paint "felt too pristine," she says. "This home could've gone grand very quickly. And let's face it, it doesn't really feel like a beach house if you have to be showered and all dressed up just to sit down on the sofa."
The owner, too, understood that the house needed a little mellowing out. "When we first met him, he said that there was a lot that could make him happy," Murphy recalls. "So we took that statement and ran with it. It gave us the liberty to play with color, to invite imperfection, and to have some real fun." Here are a few more of her formulas for chilling out buttoned-up beach house rooms.
Purple ruellia, tropical grasses, and palms border the first-floor guest room, which overlooks Baker's Bay on Great Guana Cay. The drapery fabric is by Christopher Farr, and the clover-shaped side table is by Frontgate.
One-Off Seating + Watery Indigo
The large scale of the open living area made creating a more intimate seating plan slightly tricky. "I wanted this space to feel relaxed and inviting but still polished," says Murphy, who paired various wicker and upholstered chairs with custom sofas in light neutrals. Solid white draperies keep the sight line to the water absent of distractions. "Draperies have a way of shrinking and growing in high-humidity climates, so we used acrylic fabric in the living room, where the doors remain open much of the time. It's moisture resistant and holds its shape better," Murphy says. The sofas are by Cisco Home and are upholstered in ivory Sunbrella fabric, and the teak coffee tables are by Noir.
Natural Materials + Bright Whites
In the kitchen, Murphy warmed up the white cabinetry and Calacatta Gold countertops with chocolate brown rattan stools by McGuire, natural matchstick blinds, and woven pendants by Selamat Designs. "I loved their handmade feeling—you could almost imagine someone weaving those," she says. "They make a big impact without feeling the least bit formal."
Well-Worn Antiques + Funky Lighting
"The only true antique we bought for the house was this round table, which I found in Boston, and it just felt right for this grand foyer," says Murphy. "It's beat up and wonderful, and was totally worth the splurge." Because the front door opens to an expansive view of the bay, she knew the room needed a flush-mount light fixture. She found a 1930s brass palm frond–shaped fixture, which is a nice contrast with the traditional table. "There's nothing in here that matches, and yet it all makes sense together," Murphy says.
Modular Dining + Dressed-Down Chairs
The white lacquer-and-brass dining table is actually two tables pushed together to provide flexibility for entertaining. "In a beach house, you sometimes have 12 people staying and want to gather around the same table," says Murphy. "But if it's just two, a long table can feel lonely. These work equally well separated or pushed together." Simple white linen fabric on the chairs dials down the formality of the Chippendale chairs' trademark design, and oversize brass lanterns bridge the gap between the high ceilings and the table. "They're a traditional shape, but the lack of glass makes them feel a little different—another surprise element," Murphy says. "Plus, no one ever has to clean them!"
Persimmon Walls + Bold Black & White
"You can achieve a really dynamic effect with grasscloth or textured paper," says Murphy. "A color like persimmon might look cheap or dull as paint, but in this wallpaper, you see a variation in tones." She upholstered the custom Moorish bed in the same Katie Ridder fabric as the draperies. "The print feels coastal, but the combination of steel gray, red, and white is totally unexpected."
A Punch of Pineapple + Mod Graphics
This second-floor guest room overlooks a pineapple grove, so Murphy chose a citrus yellow grasscloth with a touch of green to connect it to the view. The bedroom lacked room for chairs, so she designed a low-back settee for the foot of the cane bed. "When a room is smaller, I think symmetry becomes an important element," she says. "An orderly design plan can make a room feel larger."
Pecky Cypress + Artistic Tile
The bar and built-ins are crafted of pecky cypress. "The wood is beautiful, warm, and so full of color. The imperfections, with all the pits and the holes, keep it from feeling slick or formal," says Murphy. "I love the juxtaposition of the rough wood with the smooth artistic tiles and the Carrara marble. It keeps the wood from feeling too heavy."
An Open-Air Bathtub + Wraparound Shutters
The homeowner opted for an outdoor bathtub in lieu of a shower. Antiqued brass hardware and a freestanding pedestal tub give the space a feeling of age, while a Danish modern armchair and a twig-leg stool keep it rooted in the natural landscape. "The more wood features I can get into a space, the better," Murphy says. "I think of wood tones as colors, so there's plenty of opportunity to create beautiful contrast." Louvered shutters surround the tub on three sides, providing privacy without blocking ocean breezes.
Palm Prints + Natural Caning
"I always pay a little extra attention to first-floor guest rooms," says Murphy of the green bedroom that opens to the pool. "It's where party guests are likely to duck into to go to the restroom, and it generally just has a higher profile than other bedrooms." She covered the walls in a celery grasscloth wallpaper by Phillip Jeffries as a soft backdrop for the palm-print draperies, and chose a caned bed. "I really love a simple bed when I use something dramatic on the windows," she adds. "I don't need two stars in the same show."
Wild Grasses + Charming Imperfections
"The infinity-style pool felt pretty modern and slick, so we needed to create some balance outside," says Murphy, who recommended an imperfect grid of stone pavers. Grass peeking up between them, along with a thick border of ornamental grasses along the far end of the pool, emphasizes the wildness of the tropical landscape. Curvy metal side tables contrast the traditional wicker chaises' tidy, linear lines.