Bringing the beach home with sophistication

Summer is officially over, but that doesn't mean that you can't take some decor cues from beautiful beach homes

September 24, 2010|By Dennis Hockman, ChesapeakeHome

Just back from a lazy week at the beach, I recently found myself considering coastal style and couldn't help recalling some of beach houses we've showcased in ChesapeakeHome Magazine. I even drove by a few of them on my way to lunch or en route to that new shop I was heading to check out. And of course I have favorites.

Over the years I've visited and considered hundreds of coastal homes for publication, and the magazine has published dozens of seaside residences where the architecture, decor and locations were truly special. When I look back at the many beach homes we've photographed and published, the ones that remain at the top of my mind evoke a subtler "beachy" theme — one that hints at sun, water and sand, and incorporates the nuances of coastal life without looking like a boardwalk gift shop.

And although summer is officially over, that doesn't mean homes on the coast have lost the power to communicate their capitivating vibe or that elements of seashore decor won't blend in with your home — no matter how far from the beach it may be.

Having come a long way from the uninsulated cottages some of us remember from our youth, today's beach homes are typically used year-round, and in contrast with their landlocked counterparts are better engineered. They have to be.

Coastal environments expose houses to gale-force winds, nor'easters that drive rain and debris sideways, constant damage from salt air and occasional storm surges that pound waves up against the outer walls. And just as beach house windows, roofing materials and insulation have evolved, so too has the decor.

Mostly, seaside escapes are vacation and weekend homes or summer rentals, so it's important that the interior spaces are tough and fun — or at least not overly serious.

My favorite beach houses stand out for their ability to be at once uplifting and fresh, classic yet casual, sophisticated and fun, and, yes, beachy — but beachy in a way that evokes a mood, suggests an environment. After all, the ocean, beaches, dunes and marshland are all just outside the window. Too many interior reminders of such elements is overkill.

My favorite beach houses are simple, natural, calming. They're also practical, decorated like the houses are built, to weather the storm. Furnishings are selected to forgive damp beach towels, crab feasts, sandy feet and the occasional wet, stinky dog just in from a swim.

My favorite beach houses whisper "seashore," rather than scream "I'm downyocean!" Their decor adheres to the top commandments of beach interiors everywhere — that they be comfortable, unfussy, durable and elegant. These are qualities to be admired in any locale, whether Nags Head or Ocean City or, for that matter, Canton, Ohio.

One such residence is located in an older Rehoboth Beach neighborhood near the resort community's commercial avenues. To create an informal, friendly spirit, interior designer Lee DeFord emphasizes a casual lifestyle through natural materials, a neutral color palette and ease of maintenance. A serene "great room" with a cathedral ceiling and exposed beams doubles for living and dining. From spring through fall, the deck encourages indoor/outdoor living and expands the possibilities for easy entertaining, enlarging the charm of the house.

Another favorite features interiors designed by Andy Staszak. Also in Rehoboth, just a few blocks away, it has an informal, relaxed feel that avoids the more typical beach themes. The interior spaces share an organic relationship with the region — golds, beiges, tans and greens relate to nature, fostering a space that feels cool in the summer yet cozy in the winter.

Keeping a Bethany Beach house beachy without falling into the trappings of too much nautical decor was a line interior designer Missy Connolly and her client, Laura Westervelt, treaded very carefully in their selection of accessories and embellishments.

What I love about this house is that, like most of Connolly's projects, it makes great use of color. "All the rooms are bright and fun," says Westervelt.

To balance the vivid hues, Connolly and Westervelt spent days scouring antiques and home furnishings shops up and down the coast to find special touches that evoke the beach aesthetic. "You want to put a starfish here and there, but at the same time, you don't want everything to be beachy," Connolly explains. She points to the master bedroom as an example of beach done right, where a Brunschwig & Fils fabric shows off a subtle pattern of seashells that blends into the cool blues of the room.

Added to a décor, elements like driftwood carvings, seashell-print fabrics and nautical color schemes not only suggest coastal climes, they also convey personality, letting guests learn a little something about the inhabitants of a house.

Love the beach? Why not bring it home? Even though the autumn leaves will soon fall and beach vacations are just a memory, infusing a house with subtle coastal style can help "keep those lovin' good vibrations happening" all year long.

Dennis Hockman is editor of ChesapeakeHome Magazine. He can be reached at

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