20 Best Coastal Design Tips From The Pros

Take it from the pros: A beautiful beachy home doesn’t require views of swaying palms and gentle waves of aqua (though that’s certainly a bonus). There are tried-and-true design tips that anyone can try to create a coastal look that we all love for its bright and breezy feeling.

Interior coastal design makes a connection to the surrounding seascape. Coastal color schemes borrow from vivid sunsets, sandy beaches, deep-blue seas, and lush, tropical surroundings. Another beach house must is adding textures from local, natural materials like seagrass, jute, raffia, sisal, and bamboo that bring in the outdoors while being incredibly durable. Go serene and understated, mix it up with tropical prints and patterns, or land somewhere in between. No matter what, coastal design always stands up to the elements.

Ready for some inspiration? Check out these 20 timeless coastal design and decor ideas from designers that make a home feel like an airy, seaside escape.

Go Bold

Jillian Guyette

Bright, vibrant colors are iconic on the coast. From pink Hawaiian sand to turquoise waters and palm leaf green, the inspiration is endless. Pick a statement area to go bold with color or deck out the entire house. When Chelsea Meissner renovated her James Island home, she drew inspiration from a local juice bar with a Caribbean vibe. “The Clay Imports tile reminds me of the Caribbean; the glossy finish looks like water in certain lighting,” she says. “It’s one of my favorite moments in my home.”

Use Natural Fibers

Laurey W. Glenn

No beach house would be complete without the lush texture of natural fiber. Whether it’s jute, seagrass, or sisal, incorporating woven materials into your décor connects the indoors with the outdoors and brings a casual feel to the home. Try a natural fiber rug, which is super-durable and works great in virtually any space. Materials that connect to the location—even if you aren’t right on the beach—are key to character building. “Sisal is so right for the Lowcountry,” says interior designer Elizabeth Newman of this Kiawah Island home. It hints at beach grasses in an elegant way and is also durable, easy to clean, and ideal for layering.

Panel Walls With Shiplap

Laurey W. Glenn

Shiplap is a durable and scrubbable wall covering that holds up in tough coastal climates. It can have a rough and rustic finish or be carefully painted for a more elegant look. Newman chose to panel many of the house’s rooms in nautical-inspired shiplap. The texture of wood adds interest to an all-white kitchen.

Channel The Landscape

Laurey W. Glenn; Styling: Liz Strong

To make a room feel connected to the outdoors, greenery is a must. For big impact with a coastal vibe, choose palm fronds or banana leaves, which are both architectural and reminiscent of the islands. In our Crane Island, Florida Idea House, former Southern Living Style Director turned decorator Heather Chadduck Hillegas brought the outdoors in with a sepia-toned tropical scene over the range. A thin layer of plexiglass covers the wallpaper for protection and easy care.

Give The Primary Bedroom A View

PHOTOGRAPHY BY LAUREY W. GLENN; STYLING BY KENDRA SURFACE

While the primary bedroom is often situated on the first floor, a second-story setup was the only way to go in our Coastal Carolina Escape, according to architect William Court of Court Atkins Group. “We wanted this suite to look out on the harbor and to be on its own, away from the action,” he said. “Moving it upstairs to capture those views became really important.” Curtains are necessary for privacy in a bedroom, but you can use sheers to maximize sunlight. They provide some privacy, yet still keep that airy, light-filled quality we all love in coastal homes.

Deck The Outdoors With Indoor Comforts

PHOTOGRAPHY BY LAUREY W. GLENN; STYLING BY KENDRA SURFACE

In a beach house, outdoor living rooms see just as much (or more) use than indoor ones. So creating a place that’s as cozy as its air conditioned counterpart was crucial in this Carolina coastal escape. Interior designer Charlotte Harris Lucas of Charlotte Lucas Interior Design says,  “It feels like the epitome of a Southern porch with all the wicker,” she says, while the Sunbrella Pinstripe Navy fabric on the cushions is “like something that would be on a sailboat or yacht.” Décor typically used for interiors, like rugs and hanging artwork, give wall-less spaces definition, while covered porches and decks can benefit from things like curtains and ceiling fans.

Open Up The Kitchen

Photo: Laurey W. Glenn

When it comes to coastal design, the view is key. Instead of cramping the kitchen with bulky cabinets, go for open shelving. It is still functional, yet brings the kitchen’s focus to a more welcoming sight, like a standout view or a stylish backsplash. This feature makes it easier for friends and family to help themselves and hang out while you’re cooking. In our Palmetto Bluff Idea House, architect Ken Pursley also included a large island with a cooktop. “It’s like being at a Japanese steak house,” he says.

Get Playful With Flooring

Photo: Laurey W. Glenn; Styling: Buffy Hargett Miller

In high-traffic or moisture-filled areas, antique or ornamental rugs can take on a lot of wear and tear. Add beachy appeal to these spaces with playful flooring. In our Bald Head, North Carolina idea house, designer Lindsey Coral Harper of LCH Interiors used a cheery cement tile in the primary bath. “Patterned tile has returned,” Harper says, but the color combinations and finish are more subdued. This cement tile requires zero grouting and is held in place with mastic.

Don’t Go Overboard

Photo: Laurey W. Glenn; Styling: Buffy Hargett Miller

Shells, bamboo, fishing floats, coral, and driftwood are all fine accents in a sea-inspired home, but use with abandon and you might find your home looking more like a seaside souvenir shop. This bedroom strikes the perfect balance. The wallpaper “is very adult and beach chic. The yellow has a bit of brown in it, which works well with the natural bamboo and rattan elements in here,” Harper says. “I had the wainscot built 54 inches tall so the wallpaper wouldn’t overwhelm the space.” Sandy-hued furniture and fabrics give the room a relaxed vibe.

Master Mixing Patterns And Colors

Carmel Brantley

Just as beach homes are natural fits for bold color, they’re also perfect spots to play with pattern. The trick is to stick with the patterns in the same color family and layer abstracts, geometrics, florals, or stripes of similar weights. In addition, layering window treatments, furniture, and flooring in natural materials serve as a neutral backdrop. “Play around with patterns, proportions, and scale to achieve a balanced, layered look,” says says designer Kara Miller, who used a mix of greens and peaches in her Jupiter, Florida home.

Add A Sleeping Porch

Photo: Laurey W. Glenn; Styling: Buffy Hargett Miller

Beach homes certainly have the leisure thing down, which is why so many of them have sleeping porches. These siesta-ready spaces are perfect for cozying up solo or chilling out on a cool night with a cocktail and a small group of friends. Accommodate lounging and snoozing in all seasons by decking the daybed with extra throws and installing a ceiling fan or space heater.

Layer Your Neutrals

Brie Williams; Styling: Page Mullins

An all-white room by the beach is certainly blissful (it’s also known to promote a sense of calm and clarity). To keep it from falling flat, vary your shades and textures. In this Kiawah Island beach home, “We knew the living room would have to be a bit toned down because of the number of children who would be running through the space,” says interior designer Cortney Bishop. She chose neutral-toned, vintage furniture that blends sophistication and durability. “It really became an art collection of furniture.”

Be Strategic With Seating

Brie Williams; Styling: Page Mullins

Beach houses often call for impromptu gatherings. To accommodate everyone, choose furniture that can serve multiple purposes, from large upholstered coffee table ottomans to small garden stools that double as seating and side tables. Even a stairwell landing can accommodate a game table. “Yes, this is a large home, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t utilize every last inch creatively,” says Bishop. 

Weather-Proof Everything

Brie Williams; Styling: Page Mullins

Stain resistance reigns supreme in a busy beach house. One solution for combating spills is to use outdoor fabric on indoor furnishings. Because it’s made to be weatherproof, it’ll hold up to anything and can easily be wiped clean with a damp cloth. At the same time, you may want to try synthetic materials on your porch if damp ocean air is a regular part of daily life. This dreamy hanging porch swing from a German furniture manufacturer looks like wicker but is actually fabricated from engineered fiber. “Outdoor furniture is not what it used to be! It’s possible now to have old-fashioned charm and modern durability too,” says Bishop.

Pair Blue And Green

Photo: David A. Land; styling: Lindsey Ellis Beatty and Rachael Burrow

While all-white rooms are coastal crowd-pleasers, infusing shades inspired by the outside are equally as appealing. “[Blue and green] make a good pair because we’re used to seeing the colors of grass and sky together, and it always feels optimistic and energetic,” says designer Meg Braff. For a foolproof recipe, start with a standout pattern that incorporates the two hues and translate the solid shades elsewhere on furniture, rugs, or walls.

Slip On Slipcovers

Hector Manuel Sanchez; Styling: Buffy Hargett Miller

From sandy feet to suntan lotioned legs, coastal upholstery needs to be pretty, hard working, and hassle-free—which is why slipcovers are pretty much every beach dweller’s best friend. They’re versatile and easy to clean, meaning light shades like white or the muted neutrals are fair game. Slipcovers can be custom-made, but they also now come in all kinds of shapes and sizes to fit your favorite pieces. Investing in your interiors with young kids can be risky, but homeowner Nikki Colquitt wanted no areas in her Watercolor, Florida home to be off-limits. Washable linen slipcovers top the chaises and sofa, and the armchairs were stain treated. “Now I don’t have to be a helicopter mom and worry about messes,” she says.

Wow With Wallpaper

Julia Lynn; Styling: Dakota Willimon

You can almost always win big with a bold wallpaper in a small room. A striking wallpaper can make it the star of the house. Try one with a large-scale, repeating motif and layer it with contrasting accents. Interior designer Allison Elebash decorated the den in this Sullivan’s Island home with a deep custom sectional and brightly colored pillows. To inject a bit of fun in this hangout space, she installed Thibaut’s Kasai wallpaper for its coral-like texture, providing a vibrant backdrop for the room.

Bunk Up

Photo: Laurey W. Glenn

Love hosting a crowd? The best way to maximize sleeping space is using bunk beds, and coastal designers have mastered the art of making them as fabulous as they are functional. Opt for space-saving built-ins, which work particularly well in cramped or oddly shaped rooms, and add fun textiles like brightly colored throws or patterned curtains to each bunk. “We all know that the best houses are all about friends and family,” says Interior Designer Suzanne Kasler, who crafted an unused space in our Palmetto Bluff Idea House into an extra sleeping spot.

Embrace Imperfections

Photo: David Tsay; Styling By Liz Strong

Beach homes are beloved for their kick-your-shoes-off vibe, which means treating anything too delicately is more often than not a big don’t. “You never want to design a home that feels too precious to really live in, especially at the beach,” says designer Tim Clarke. Use materials with natural imperfections, such as recycled wood, and opt for a less buttoned-up, more chill approach to styling (e.g., a chunky throw strewn over the back of an armchair).

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