Rooms alight with sunshine, sheathed in soft, watery hues and lightweight, gauzy fabrics, are indicative of coastal decorating. A few essential style elements will conjure the coastal look with its casual beach attitude and renewing seaside energy, even if the shoreline is only in your mind's eye.

By Sarah Egge
Updated February 17, 2017

The Colors of Sea & Sky

The purest, most immediate way to bring the shore across the threshold is to capture a beach-inspired blue hue and splash it across the walls. You might be mesmerized by a literal ocean shade, such as the turquoise of a Caribbean inlet. On the other hand, you might prefer a deep lake green or a gray the color of a storm-churned wave. Crisp white woodwork will amplify the hue, so choose from the pale end of the paint chip to keep from drowning in color. If you prefer the crispness of white clouds or soft misty gray on the walls, wash your favorite blues across linens or upholstery. Layer blue shades in multiple coordinating patterns to fill the room with depth and detail. Many interior designers advise looking to nature for pairings that work flawlessly. In this case, sunshine yellow, a natural complement to blue, is an excellent accent color, as are sandy beige and seaweed green.

Bright Ideas

In coastal decorating, the emphasis is on light. Avoid heavy, dark wood tones in furnishings and flooring. Instead, look for beach-tone rugs and light wood varieties, such as oak, maple, and cork, in clear varnishes. Leave the windows minimally covered -- or even bare -- to bring in as much daylight as possible. Plenty of white in upholstery fabrics, window treatments, or kitchen cabinet paint will also enhance the breeziness of a space.

Ocean Artifacts

To re-create the look of waterside living, incorporate elements that could have been discovered on a walk along the beach. Pieces of driftwood coiled into a lamp base or a jar full of wave-smoothed beach glass, for example, make natural decorative accessories. Take care not to go overboard with the theme; too many single-theme accessories can lead to a heavy-handed look. If you fill a bowl with seashells as the dining table centerpiece, for example, don't also set the places with sand-dollar dinnerware.

Embrace the Elements

Coastal living is often barefoot living, and what's outside the house is as important as what is inside. Look for ways to link the two by furnishing the patio, deck, or garden as thoroughly as you would any other "room." Create comfortable lounging spots for an afternoon spent with a book. Look for ample dining surfaces to accommodate a crowd. And bring pieces that evoke the outside world indoors: a terrarium, a weathered lobster crate turned into a side table, or artwork that depicts favorite outdoor activities, such as sailing.

Practical Tips

If you've ever lived in a coastal home or vacationed in a lakeside cabin, you know certain practicalities of this life must be faced -- sandy feet track across the floors; harsh sunbeams fade upholstery fabrics; damp swimsuits mar the finish on kitchen stools -- but you can remedy these issues with smart decorating choices. Keep to wood floors, which are easy to sweep clean with a broom. Use slipcovers to protect upholstery fabric. And choose hardworking painted finishes as opposed to stained woods for seating and tables. Typically, these choices accentuate the coastal look, too.

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