These beach house cookspaces are seriously sensational—and we’ve got the secret ingredients behind them. Get ready for major kitchen inspiration.

By Caroline McKenzie
September 13, 2017
Photo: David Hillegas; Styling: Heather Chadduck Hillegas; Design: Cynthia Rice

Any beach-dweller worth her salt knows how to whip up a killer margarita (our secret: just add tequila), but how about a seriously sensational kitchen? Here, three winning coastal cookspaces, and the surprisingly simple ingredients they share.

Photo: David Hillegas; Styling: Heather Chadduck Hillegas; Design: Cynthia Rice

Kitchen #1: Natural Beauty

In Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, designer Cynthia Rice trades 21st-century sleek for sea grass and weathered wood.

When Cynthia and Alex Rice scooped up their dream lot—one block from the beach on one of the highest points in Seagrove, Florida—they knew the wild Gulf shoreline would influence every material that went into their home. "I wanted the landscape and the design to be in harmony," says Cynthia, who owns design and construction firm Old Seagrove Homes with her husband. In the kitchen, this was especially important: "I was inspired by the windswept trees, sea grasses, and lapping waves, and used materials that echo these elements to soften the hardscape surfaces," she says. Thanks to a smart mix of natural finishes—including weathered wood—the kitchen has an organic, sun-bleached quality.

The Scene-Stealer: Counter-to-ceiling marble tile brings a watery, reflecting-pool effect to the kitchen, and adds a pretty polish to all the organic materials. "The blue is the perfect cool tone for a beach house, and the subtly feminine pattern is a nice contrast to the textured wood—it really stands out," notes Cynthia.

The Character-Builder: Cabinets made from handpicked slabs of pecky cypress strike the right note: Painted a creamy white, they mimic the look of whitewashed coral. Tip: To keep distressed wood from feeling dated, opt for hues found in nature, and don't overdo it; a little goes a long way.

The Hint of Shine: Brass pendants and brushed-brass cabinet hardware read like rays of sunshine, an extra layer of warmth in the kitchen. For the plumbing fixtures, Cynthia and Alex chose polished nickel. "I always use nickel for the items closest to marble. The cool undertones blend better with the stone, rather than distracting from it," she says.

Photo: David Hillegas; Styling: Heather Chadduck Hillegas; Design: Cynthia Rice

The Unsung Hero: Unadorned windows maximize natural light and further connect the kitchen's organic materials to the ones growing right outside.

The Beach House Essential: Rattan barstools relax the solid stones and metals, and their curvy seat backs serve up sweet organic style.

The All-Star Organic: Seeking a material akin to driftwood, the Rices clad the large, 7- by 5-foot island in black cypress, a wood native to north Florida. Left uncoated—no stain or polyure thane—it brings an earthy foundation (and native chutzpah) to the pastel-leaning kitchen.

Photo: Jessica Glynn; Styling and Design: Olivia O'Bryan

Kitchen #2: Work of Art

A pretty collection of framed sketches and paintings gets top billing in this modern Vero Beach kitchen.

Move over, galley kitchen. Meet the gallery kitchen. When sisters Ashley Waddell and Courtney Whatley, who co-own the design firm Olivia O'Bryan, renovated this modern beach house in Vero Beach, they set out to make clever use of the clients' extensive art collection. "The entire house was designed as a backdrop for their fabulous pieces," says Waddell. "We liked the idea of carrying that through to the kitchen, even though art is traditionally more of an afterthought in cookspaces." First, they curated a mix of original sketches and paintings, collected by the homeowners during their travels, and then matted them in a variety of frames that includes gold, silver, and wood tones. Crisp white walls and mod, minimalist-style cabinetry ensure the selections have the stage.

Related: Beautiful Backsplash Ideas for Your Kitchen:

The Character-Builder: You'd never know it, but the upholstered counter seating swivels, so guests can work the room. Waddell and Whatley upholstered the oak stools in a faux shagreen made from Edelman leather, which develops a rich patina over time. The minty green hue has gray undertones that help it toe the line between an earthy neutral and an exciting accent color.

The All-Star Organic: The designers collaborated with architects Peter Moor and Chris Baker of Moor, Baker & Associates to design the custom oak cabinetry that's as much groovy midcentury paneling as streamlined storage. It's crafted of whitewashed V-groove planks and includes a cool soffit running the length of the kitchen that reads like an oversize picture frame.

The Beach House Essential: Bronze casement windows with levered panes frame the tropical views and bring in warm coastal breezes.

Photo: Jessica Glynn; Styling and Design: Olivia O'Bryan

The Scene-Stealers: The artwork commands this kitchen. Below it, a shallow floating shelf, crafted from the same marble as the backsplash and island countertops, adds sleek display space for smaller art and frequently used dishware. The lightly veined marble blends well with the more solidly white quartz on the countertops.

The Unsung Heroes: Building off the minimalist vibe established with the cabinetry, the architects chose a streamlined down-draft cooktop. Though it's a standard 36-inch range, it feels smaller and less obtrusive without a hood, and because it fits flush with the countertop. "Like the art, it keeps the space from feeling overly utilitarian," Waddell explains. Another low-profile win: a trio of tapered, nearly transparent glass pendants, which shed plenty of light without obscuring the art.

The Hint of Shine: The brass pendant chains and gold wall accents are a brilliant contrast to the muted, whitewashed wood.


Photo: Karyn Millet; Styling and Design: Parrish Chilcoat and Joe Lucas

Kitchen #3: Blue Streak

In an all-out salute to the shore's signature hue, designers parrish chilcoat and Joe Lucas create a tonal masterpiece in Manhattan Beach.

"Sapphire, sky blue, turquoise—we hand-picked each of the colors in the kitchen tile to showcase the best of blue from light to dark," says designer Joe Lucas of the Manhattan Beach home he co-designed with Parrish Chilcoat of Cameron Design. While the rest of the beach house is outfitted with white horizontal paneling and a more mellow palette, the clients wanted the spacious kitchen to really draw the eye in to the house's hub. Lucas and Chilcoat turned to the beach's all-star hue: blue. "Going all in with one color is the perfect way to create drama but maintain sophistication," Chilcoat explains. "Sticking to a palette of blues that exists together in nature ensures you can't mess it up."

The Scene-Stealer: Glazed terra-cotta tiles feature a traditional Moroccan zellij design and served as the starting point for Lucas's and Chilcoat's rush of blue. "They come in large squares, so while there is an actual grout line, you can't see it, giving the appearance of one solid mosaic," says Chilcoat. "This puts the focus on the overall design instead of individual tiles, like you would have with more of a subway-tile design."

The Unsung Hero: Gauzy Roman shades in an ethereal blue create a beautiful filter for the strong California sunlight.

The Character Builder: These aqua pendants have loads of nautical swagger, with curvy silhouettes and metal cages reminiscent of vintage ship lamps. Plus, aqua is a dynamite foil for moodier shades of blue, and feels like a playful nod to the beach just a few yards away.

Photo: Karyn Millet; Styling and Design: Parrish Chilcoat and Joe Lucas

The Hint of Shine: Blue's favorite sidekick, white, makes a mod cameo by way of the enamel-encased range hood. The opaque fixture pops among the sea of blues, and also visually links the space to the surrounding white shiplap rooms. Likewise, the range's stainless steel trim complements the britannium cabinet hardware. "Cool, silvery tones really suit blue color schemes like this one," says Lucas.

The All-Star Organic: Lucas and Chilcoat upholstered the stools in a pecan-hued faux leather. It grounds the room in a material that looks and feels very organic. "We loved how the rich material gave the room an instant lived-in look, without appearing beat up," Lucas says, adding that it's super durable.

The Beach House Essential: "The blue-green cabinetry color is muted like a neutral, but it envelops the other blues more than, for instance, traditional white cabinetry would have," explains Chilcoat. The hue was inspired by an accent color in the tile, "and adds depth to the kitchen," she says. The upper cabinets are inlaid with antiqued mirrors to reflect the blues of the sky outside the windows.