The venerable designer on the hallmarks of a great beach house, improvising, and why you won't find any chintz in his Abaco home.

By Mimi Read
August 07, 2018
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Tom Scheerer has some rules. "Informality is my watchword, especially at the beach," he says. The Manhattan-based designer's crisp, breezy decorating style has graced escapes including the tony Lyford Cay Club and three of his own homes in the Bahamas. "I don't like anything too shiny, too glitzy, or too polished along the shore."

He grew up spending summers at his grandmother's shingled cottage a few feet behind the dunes of Georgica Beach in East Hampton, New York, and from there followed a deep familiarity with the cultural nuances and easygoing nature of watery places. "In decorating, great locales tell me what to do," he explains. "Different places call for different design choices. For instance, I use batiks in the tropics but not in the Northeast. Airy, flowery chintzes always seem right in East Hampton but would be an off note in my house in the Abacos. So I always start with the beach."

WATCH: Our Best Coastal Design Tips of All Time

No matter the stretch of sand, practicality and durability count heavily: "My personal style calls for patina," Scheerer says. "It's a great camouflage for sand on the floor, inevitable rust, and often a little mildew!" This translates into rough stone paving or concrete floors "with or without seashells worked into them." Features he tends to use over and over at the beach include walls covered in straw hats (a trick he picked up from his grandmother), lamps made from shapely glass bottles, natural grasscloth upholstery in a radiantly blond hue, weathered teak, and indestructible Formica coffee tables designed to a room's proportions.

"It's a loose formula that happily allows for improvisation," Scheerer says. "Being overly deliberate can sometimes spoil the fun."

On Location

Favorite Beach
Little Bridge at Schooner Bay, Great Abaco Island

House Essentials
An outdoor shower and a kitchen floor that doesn't show sand

First Task On Arrival
Unpack groceries. And if the sun is over the yardarm, I make everybody mojitos.

In His Beach Bag
Nothing, not even a beach towel. I usually just bring a mesh mochilla that I fill up with flotsam on my walks—sadly most of it is plastic. I don't care how pristine a beach is advertised to be; there's always something that can be picked up to make it more so.

Favorite Time of Year
Where I live, high season is as empty as low season, so both are great.

Game Changer
Outdoor lighting. Keep this indirect whenever possible—nothing with glare. At my Abaco house, we sit under an uplit spreading sea grape tree before dinner, always with a candle burning on the cocktail table.

Insta Escapes

Scheerer's must-follow feeds for everything from pretty interiors to wandering the globe:

For blue-water bingeing:

For dreamy tropical design:

For nomadic flights of fancy:

5 Things He Loves Right Now

Scheerer shares the trends and trappings on his decorating radar:

Pillow and book: Robbie Caponetto; All other products: Courtesy of manufacturers

2. Jonas Wood's Paintings of Exotic Plants
Dinosaur Pots Still Life, 2014, pricing available upon request

3. Thonet-Style Bentwood Hall Hooks
Michael Thonet 15 Bentwood Coat Rack in Natural, $720

5. Vintage Indonesian Batiks
Jayson Home Vintage Batik Pillow, one of a kind; for similar styles, visit