Beach design is about hardiness. Conditions at the beach can be rough, but it’s like swimming in the waves. If you work with them, rather than against them, it’s much less exhausting.
We love living at the beach. We love the views, the freshness of the air, and the abundance of recreational opportunities. We appreciate the focus on the outdoors and the general laissez faire lifestyle. Beach design is about keeping things laissez fair—understanding the elements and, in a sense, allowing them to have their way with you (and your home!).
Five Key Components of Functional Beach Design
- Blend the indoors and outdoors.
- Think deconstructed.
- Design to stay cool.
- Performance fabric is your friend.
- Keep things approachable and comfortable.
Beach Design Embraces Outdoor Living
You’re spending a lot of time outdoors and bringing the outdoors in, in the form of sandy floors, damp, salty bathing suits, beach tar, and general grit.
What this means for flooring…
You want to stay away from surfaces that scratch easily, like polished wood. Instead, choose deconstructed or distressed wood, such as bleached or sandblasted floors.
Another thing to avoid? Rayon or vicose rugs, which hold stains. Natural fibers, such as jute and sisal are fantastic choices for beach design, in both aesthetic terms and in terms of hiding flaws.
Indoor/outdoor rugs have come a long way in recent years. Sometimes we’ll use them inside, in high-traffic areas. Some of these rugs are so stain-resistant that you can spill red wine and spray them with a diluted bleach solution, and they clean right up.
What this means in general…
We’re always talking about how space is at premium at the beach. You can’t entirely cover your lot with your home. Patios and green space are dictated in local building ordinances. However, you probably need your entire lot for living space, which is where outdoor living rooms come in.
We love floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors on an upper story, to provide a sea view and to also transform your main leaving space into a sort of cabana. This is especially helpful if you choose not to have air conditioner, and a surprising number of luxury beach homeowners do. Additionally, double-sided fireplaces allow your patio to become an extension of your living room.
Materials that patina well are fabulous choices for beach design.
We love using metals like brass and steel that are going to get even more gorgeous and interesting as they age. For outdoor fixtures, such as sconces, go with marine grade finishes. You can also get patio furniture in marine grade finish.
For exterior furniture, we use a lot of teak and ipe. These hardwoods are a deep reddish brown when you install them. Over time, they turn a beautiful silvery gray.
The Best Beach Design Blends Airy & High Performance
In terms of window treatments and furniture, I stay away from heavy fabrics, such as silk, thick wools, or tweeds.
Window Treatments & Shades
Wool makes lovely draperies, but it locks in heat. We use linens and high performance synthetics that looks like linen.
We’re always thinking about the weather conditions when it comes to window treatments. There are certain materials that don’t have a lot of sunlight resistance and fall apart. You have to pick the correct linings, but you also want to get the right light filtration and the right degree of privacy. It’s a balancing act.
I like solar shades, which allow you to see out but don’t allow others to see in. Not only do they provide privacy, they block UV rays.
We also do a lot of natural fiber woven shades, sometimes with a lining behind them. Woven shades expand and contract with different moisture levels, so you don’t have to worry about warping in high humidity, like you do with wooden shades.
This shade/lining combo gives you a lot of control over the amount of light in the room, since you can raise both the shade and lining. For example, in my kids’ room, we use woven shades with a blackout lining, since it’s still light when they go to bed.
Performance Fabrics on Furniture
Wool or leather sofas are not my go-to for beach design. They’re both uncomfortable in heat, in addition to being too high-maintenance. (If you do go with leather, go for a deconstructed piece that will age well.)
Almost always, I create sofas with performance fabrics. They can mimic natural fibers, and they resist stains and moisture. At the beach, who wants to worry about whether or not it’s ok to sit on furniture in wet bathing suits? Often these fabrics are so soft, you wouldn’t even know you’re sitting on an indoor/outdoor sofa.
Performance fabrics do have one drawback, which is that they sometimes pill more easily. If you’re concerned about this, we can choose a construction that hides the pilling. I have a faux linen sofa, and when it pills, I just attack it with a fabric shaver. Easy-peasy, and my sofa looks brand new again!
Finally, Beach Design Is About Going With The Flow
The overall aesthetic at the beach is about comfort and non-fussy beauty. You’re not supposed to be worried that you’re going to mess things up. Even in your formal living room, you should be able to plop across the couch.
To that end, choose materials and furnishings that are already aged or that will only look better and more nuanced as they age.
Vintage Anything & Everything
I love old wooden chests and antique rugs. Antique rugs are already deconstructed, so what’s a little more wear and tear? You can add a stain treatment or UV treatment to prevent additional fading, but you can also do nothing at all and just enjoy the journey.
Sometimes clients are precious about marble and really worried about staining and etching. Think about Rome and how much marble is in that city…how many hundreds of years has it been there, and how many tourists have walked through and touched things?
I’m planning to use soapstone for my own kitchen remodel, because it’s a stain-resistant material that patinas over time. It’s soft and scratches easily, but you can buff out scratches or just let them go and they can become part of the natural beauty of the surface.
Beach life is all about appreciating natural beauty…of materials and surfaces, of the big sky and the big ocean, of the ebb and flow. It’s all just part of this amazing journey.
Thanks for reading,
Hawlie Ohe heads White Sands Interiors, and she and her husband are raising two boys along the South Bay coast. Hawlie brings the curiosity that fueled her first career, as a journalist, to her interior design approach: Who are you, who do want to be, and how can this space get you there? Great design makes you feel present and engaged, and Hawlie is here for it. Because she wants to help you be “here” (in this space, in this moment), too.