Florida-based designer and father of two Andrew Howard is a pro at designing family beach retreats that are equal parts pretty and practical. Here, we share his five secrets for making a family-friendly beach house look showhouse chic.

By Betsy Cribb
October 16, 2019

“I don’t use chairs that kids aren’t allowed to sit in,” says Jacksonville, Florida, based designer Andrew Howard of his easygoing approach to beach house design. “A family should be able to kick back and relax in every room in the house, even the formal ones!” A father to two young boys (whose antics play prominently in the designer’s tongue-in-cheek Instagram captions), Howard is a whiz at marrying beachy brilliance with family-friendly practicality. Here, the designer shares his secrets for making a family beach house look showhouse chic.

1. You can – and should! – bring outdoor fabrics inside.

Photo: Max Kim-Bee

"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. It's a no-brainer for furniture that's in the middle of the action."

2. Color is always a bright idea.

Photo: Francesco Lagnese, Styling: Liz Strong

“If a family wants something neutral, they probably won’t call me to decorate their house,” says Howard with a laugh. “I’m thoughtful in my approach to color and try to incorporate it into every room in the house. Color gives a space life.” Plus, color is the perfect camouflage, says the designer. In high traffic areas like living and play rooms, going with color and bold patterns, rather than neutrals, is a dynamite way to hide the wear of daily use.

Related: How to Create a Bright, Beachy Living Room

3. Designate a drop zone.

Photo: David A. Land, Styling: Liz Strong

Leave the beach day baggage at the back door! A handful of hooks keep wet towels and sandy suits off the floor, while pretty built-ins are a clever way to store fresh towels, beach toys, and sunscreen. And while your drop zone may act as your après-beach-day catch-all, don’t treat the space as a decorating throw-away. In this Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, home, for instance, Howard dialed up the mudroom’s beachy fun factor with surfboard wallpaper and paneling and pillows in bright ocean hues.

4. Make room for play.

Photo: David A. Land, Styling: Liz Strong

While family-friendly fabrics and furniture should guarantee that no room is off-limits to the kids, it’s a smart idea to create at least one space in the house that is specifically designed with the littlest beach bums and their need to play in mind. The hanging wicker chair and groovy Jonathan Adler window treatments add whimsy and fun to this Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, upstairs playroom, while a zigzag rug in zippy aqua and deep marine brings the funk … and sneakily covers up spills and stains.

5. Go ahead, wear furniture out.

Photo: Erica Georgia Dines, Styling: Liz Strong

Consider distressing and hand-scraping furniture before putting it in high-traffic areas in a kid-friendly home. The extra step adds instant character, plus the worn look masks future imperfections and accidents. Howard used a durable, hand-scraped coffee table in this Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, family room for a space that’s warm, polished, and can stand up to rough-and-tumble rainy day play.