Interior Design Style Guide: Coastal

Published on
February 2, 2023
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The coastal design style is like the furniture equivalent of lofi music--soothing, tranquil, and it branches into a vast array of subcategories. And whether you prefer the nautical imagery of beach coastal designs, the warm greens of tropical coastal, or the rustic flair of farmhouse coastal, everyone wants to take home some good summer vibes.

But just what are the hallmarks of a good beach house? Who started this trend? And how the heck is summer already over?

The Look

The Coastal interior design style utilizes an abundance of natural light, soft pastels, and a clean aesthetic. Core features include earth tones and plenty of natural elements. Think linen upholstery, rattan material, weathered woods, and straw rugs. Fabrics are typically devoid of any shine or metallic gleam. And the color palette is limited to blue shades, crisp whites, and warm neutrals.

The whole look is meant to bring the outdoors inside. Interiors should never feel dark or cramped, and the more windows, the better. Coastal design is meant to evoke that breeziness and carefree calm of a secluded beach. Afterall, the style did originate as a backdrop for one of the most exclusive seaside communities.

The History

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where and when the coastal interior design style was conceived. One popular theory is that it stems from the Hamptons.

Through the late 19th and 20th centuries, America’s rich and affluent aristocracy flocked to Long Island for their summer getaways. In order to furnish these lavish vacation homes, many of them adopted the then popular French Baroque and Rococo styles, but with an American twist. The look continued to branch away in the coming decades and is now associated with the chic resort lifestyle of the Hamptons itself.

Open floorplans and ample sitting space for conversation with friends. And clean, simple decor to give every room some modern elegance. Everything to make entertaining easier, and the illusion of a permanent holiday more believable.

With the romanticization of beach life in media (like Baywatch, Pacific Blue, North Shore, Australian soap Home and Away, and HBO’s Big Little Lies) we’re all looking for some of that coastal cool.

Quick DIY Tips

Looking back at home stagings done with boldRM along the California coast - specifically in the near the Bay Area, here’s my advice on how to recreate some beach vibes indoors, without having to move to an exclusive seaside community.

There are three essential rules for coastal design: lots of white, lots of light, and zero clutter. Feel free to use bold accent colors (especially if you’re going for a tropical feel), but the majority of the room should be in white or soft pastels. Use thin curtains and light window furnishings to allow in as much natural light as possible. And to avoid a kitschy nautical beach house look, keep the number of seashells and ocean memorabilia to a minimum. (this paddle floor lamp from wayfair, however, is a definite keeper)

While coastal pieces tend more towards rustic, don’t be afraid to mix modern with traditional. You could combine sleek metal decor with driftwood carvings, like these west elm coastal vases. Statement pieces, like this wicker coffee table, are another simple way of ejecting some coastal charm. Add plenty of soft furnishings, like this CB2 linen throw, to complete the look.

And when in doubt, as Fixer Upper co-host Joanna Gaines would say, add some shiplap.

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