Design Styles Defined: Your Guide to Coastal Interiors

Christyanne Wheeler
Mar 10, 2022 8:30:00 AM

February may be the shortest month of the year, but it often feels like the longest month of the midwestern winter. Now that March has finally arrived, spring really is right around the corner. If you’re like us, you're dreaming of longer days, warmer temps, and fresh air.

Lakeview vaulted ceiling, open floor plan living, kitchen and dining room with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the water.   

That “spring break” mindset may also have you longing for a change of scene — somewhere a bit more coastal, perhaps?

We’ve got you covered: For the 7th entry in our interior design blog series, we’re exploring coastal décor, a style that embraces natural light, soft tones, and a clean aesthetic to create a comfortable, soul-calming space that’s ready for lounging.

Here’s how you can bring this easy beach style home, no matter where you happen to live.  

Coastal Interior Design 101

Imagine feeling like you’re on holiday every time you step inside your front door. That’s the kind of carefree vibe and relaxing aesthetic you can carry off with coastal interior design.  

Light, airy, and blissfully serene, coastal style is all about evoking the same sense of peace, balance, and levity you feel when you’re at the beach or near a body of water. 

For as fresh as it feels, the look itself is nothing new — coastal design has been around for centuries, or basically for as long as people have been designing, building, decorating, and living in waterfront or seaside homes.  

Although the coastal design vibe changes depending on the exact latitude and longitude of the region it comes from, all coastal interiors embrace natural light, airy, open spaces, organic materials and textures, and a soft, neutral palette where central tonal roles are filled by crisp whites and various shades of blue. 

Elements of Coastal Design

Coastal décor is often translated as classic beach house, but there are subtler, more inspired ways to interpret the look and achieve the breezy, relaxed mood you’re going for. Just like so many other interior styles, coastal interiors can be done well (less literal, more evocative) or poorly (kitschy; too many obvious seaside or nautical elements). 

Here are the coastal design elements that can help you create this laidback style in your home, without going overboard:

1. A sea-inspired palette of layered neutrals 

Crisp white interiors are the minimalist backdrop of choice in coastal design, which is all about embracing natural light and creating open, airy spaces. With this straightforward canvas, it’s easy to incorporate a waterfront-inspired palette of layered neutrals like warm beige or khaki along with various shades of light blue, soft gray, and muted green.

While it can be tempting to flood a coastal-inspired space with a range of sea-inspired colors, use restraint — less is always more in coastal design.  

When choosing accent colors for your overall tonal palette, keep it balanced, consistent, and well-edited. You can adjust your palette according to the nuanced style you’re going for: Crisp whites and true blues create a Mediterranean coastal vibe, warm whites and pale blue-green shades invoke a country coastal mix, and bright coral set against sky blue conjures a more modern coastal aesthetic.

2. Natural fibers, materials, and textures

Going to the seaside is a multisensory experience — you feel the breeze across your skin, smell the salty ocean air, hear the waves breaking on the shore, and feel the sand between your toes. Similarly, coastal interiors are multisensory environments that emphasize a wide range of natural materials and textures. 

To imbue your costal décor with the same kind of “journey of the senses” you experience at the beach, start at your feet: Coastal interiors favor weathered wood floors (think reclaimed wood or wide-plank oak floors, painted white) and simple sisal or seagrass area rugs

Keep your tactile senses moving with tightly woven linen upholstery, and slipcovers, and let the wind into your space with gauzy linen curtains. Sun-faded teak, whitewashed oak, pale pine, rattan, and wicker are other materials that feel perfectly at home in a coastal interior. 

Great room with a stone fireplace, wood floors, abundant natural light and a dramatic staircase.

3. Let there be light — lots and lots of light

As a décor style that strives to bring the outdoors in, coastal design is all about natural light — lots and lots of natural light. The opposite of dim, cramped, or even cozy, abundantly lit rooms feel open, airy, spacious, fresh, and clean.    

When you sit back and relax in a coastal interior, you want to feel as though there’s virtually no boundary between indoors and outdoors. The key to creating this sun-drenched mood in an open and airy space? Large, undressed (or minimally dressed) windows, glass doors, and well-placed skylights.

4. Go modern or go traditional; just keep it edited

We often talk about where an interior style sits on the design spectrum; is it more modern, more traditional, or a beautiful blend of both? When it comes to coastal décor, anything goes — coastal can skew modern, lean toward the traditional, or be a contemporary blend of both. 

When setting the style tone of your coastal home, the one thing you don’t want to do is openly embrace all things kitschy. Coastal interiors tend to be minimal; when in doubt, take your cue from the open waterfront landscape that stretches out, uncluttered, for as far as the eye can see. That’s the feeling you want to create in your space. 

Does this mean you shouldn’t set out a bowl of shells or sea glass on your coffee table, adorn your built-ins with your driftwood or sand dollar collection, or hang seascape paintings on your walls? Of course not! It simply means you should choose your decorative elements wisely, and skip the urge to hang a “this way to the beach” sign or a nautical anchor anywhere in your space.

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