Coastal design styles can make any space feel like a beachy getaway. The popular aesthetic combines natural elements with breezy color schemes to create relaxed, inviting spaces that make you feel like you’re on vacation on year long.
But knowing that you want a coastal look and actually executing it are two very different things. To help you make your coastal design ideas come to life, we spoke to a variety of coastal interior design experts to learn their favorite home design tips and decor ideas for achieving this time-tested style.
Our team of coastal experts includes: Heather Humphrey, co-founder of Alder & Tweed; Amy Forshew of Proximity Interior Design; Reya Duenas, owner and creative director of Reya Duenas Design; and Molly McGinness, founder of Molly McGinness Interior Design.
What is Coastal Interior Design?
If easy breezy were an interior design style, it’d be coastal design. The timeless style never tries too hard, emphasizing a casual feeling that’s both relaxing and uplifting. “Coastal interiors tend to have a light, bright, easy going feeling that’s never too formal yet doesn’t veer towards grungy,” says Molly McGinness, founder of Molly McGinness Interior Design.
Inspired by the feel-good, beachy vibes of the ocean, coastal spaces often include color palettes full of soft blues, whites, and beiges coupled with furniture and home decor made of natural materials, such as jute, rattan, seagrass, and sisal.
The result is an interior design style that prioritizes casual comfort, but still has a thoughtful, intentional look. “Coastal Interior Design takes a lighthearted approach and celebrates the natural surroundings of the beach and waterways,” says Amy Forshew of Proximity Interior Design.
12 key characteristics of coastal interior design
1. Embrace the views
Coastal spaces take their inspiration from the outdoors, so if you’re looking to achieve this style, consider how you can create indoor-outdoor harmony by taking advantage of beautiful views or creating an indoor-outdoor living space.
“Coastal interiors definitely involve bringing the outdoors in,” says Molly McGinness, “whether that means maximizing an ocean view or having large doors opening up to an outdoor setting, merging the interior living space with exterior rooms is a great way to nail coastal style.”
2. Open plan spaces
Many coastal spaces make use of open concept floor plans, inspired by the expansive feeling that you get when walking along the beach and looking at the vast ocean in front of you. But beyond feeling light and expansive, open floor plans also create a relaxed atmosphere that makes it easy to host friends and family.
“A lot of families use these coastal homes to host vacations and events for their friends and families,” says Molly McGinness, “so the open plan layout works well and really caters to a relaxed atmosphere.” And if you love to host and want to take the relaxed feeling of a coastal space even further, consider incorporating indoor-outdoor fabrics that are easily cleaned so you don’t have to worry about spills and stains during a great party.
3. Weathered wood finishes
Coastal decor and furniture often incorporate weathered wood finishes, which help contribute to the natural, laid-back vibe inherent in this interior design style. “A lot of the furniture I use will have a weather wood finish,” says Molly McGinness. “For instance, the exposed frame of a chair or a table base might have a driftwood accent.”
But if you really want to achieve the relaxed and casual flair for which coastal style is so beloved, then make a point to include pieces that are strong and durable rather than fragile. “I always want the finishes of tables to be extremely durable because you don’t want anything to feel too precious in coastal spaces,” advises Molly.
4. Organic shapes and materials
Given that coastal style is heavily inspired by nature, it might come as no surprise that organic shapes and natural elements are inherent in this interior design style. “Materials like rattan and cane are often incorporated into coastal spaces,” says Molly McGinness.
You’ll also find lots of soft curves and silhouettes, along with organic accents, like ceramic vases or jute area rugs, which make these spaces feel incredibly relaxed and inviting.
5. A light and neutral color palette
Light and airy is the name of the coastal style game, so try to stick with a light, neutral color scheme. Not only does this help you achieve a coastal look, but it also offers a neutral foundation on which you can layer more textures and pops of color to add unique style and personality to your design.
“Start with a light and neutral color palette,” advises Reya Duenas, “then start layering on textures and art pieces as needed. But be careful not to over accessorize or crowd the shelves or bookcases. The spaces should have room to breathe.”
6. Earthy tones
Whether you’re creating a coastal bedroom or a coastal living room, you can’t go wrong with tones found in nature. But if you want to stick to traditional coastal style, then forgo warm sunset hues in favor of bright and light earthy colors.
“When creating a coastal look, I like to use creams, tans, blues, greens, and grays,” says Heather Humphrey, co-founder of Alder & Tweed. Crisp white and sandy beige are also great colors that can help you get that fresh beach house look.
7. Slipcovered furniture
When creating a coastal getaway, consider incorporating slipcovered furniture, which will instantly give your room a relaxed and casual feel. Slipcovered furniture is also easy to clean, so it’s a great choice if you’re planning to entertain at your coastal getaway.
In addition to slipcovered sofas, Reya Duenas recommends “sectional sofas that are low to the ground.” Low-profile furniture has a knack for inviting people to sit down and stay a while, enhancing the easy breezy casual vibe of coastal interiors.
8. Beachy artwork
Artwork is the perfect opportunity to punctuate your new coastal vibe with beachy scenes that can bring to mind your favorite vacation. “There's no better way to achieve a coastal look than with art,” says Amy Forshew. “Beach views with natural frames can really set the tone.”
You can also use artwork as a way to infuse more color into an otherwise neutral color scheme. Think closeups of colorful seashells, a bright beach scene with bold umbrellas, or an abstract oceanic motif infused with your favorite hues.
9. Coastal accents
Once you’ve decided on a general color scheme and furniture, it’s time to punch up your look with decorative accents. And depending on where you live, you might not even have to go to the store to do it.
“You can accent with natural materials from the surrounding coastal environment,” says Molly McGinness, “Over time, collect seashells, rocks, driftwood, etc. and display it in beautiful glass or on open shelves.“ You can also, “Add shells or Mother of Pearl in light fixtures, like sconces,” says Reya Duenas.
10. Layered fabrics
Layering on fabrics and textiles with natural fibers, like jute, will instantly make your space feel more coastal, cozy, and dynamic. “Coastal interior design incorporates lots of layered fabrics and soft textures,” says Heather Humphrey.
You can incorporate these fabrics through gorgeous area rugs, throw blankets, and pillows. And since these accents are relatively easy to swap out, you can always replace them with new options whenever you want to refresh your look.
11. Light and airy window treatments
Coastal design is all about being bright and breezy, so it’s nice to maximize your natural light however you can. Window treatments in a light fabric, like linen, or with a sheer composition are great ways to add texture to your look without blocking out too much natural light.
Just make sure the window treatments you choose can stand up to the environment. “Oftentimes interiors can get too hot and the fabrics can be bleached out by the sunlight,” says Molly McGinness, “so invest in appropriate window coverings and consider having the windows coated.”
12. Neutral walls
“Paint is the easiest way to refresh and set the tone for a coastal interior. Consider selecting a color palette that reflects the coast you live near,” suggests Molly McGinness.
And if you have design elements that you especially want to showcase, then opting for neutral walls is a great choice. Neutral wall colors, like beige or crisp white, will allow your gorgeous furniture and home decor to shine brightly.
13. Beaded chandeliers
Don’t overlook your lighting’s ability to make a strong style statement. Light fixtures that combine form and function can significantly enhance your look with great style and practicality.
For instance, maybe you want to “Put a casual beaded chandelier over your kitchen table,” advises Amy Forshew, which can add playful texture to your design while illuminating your space. A beaded chandelier might also look great over your dining table or in the entryway.
14. Blue accent pillows and throws
When designing a coastal space, you can’t go wrong by incorporating various shades of blue. These hues instantly evoke the peaceful vibes of a clear sky or the vast ocean, so they’re a no brainer for coastal aesthetics.
Different blue shades also work really well when combined, so consider mixing and matching shades and patterns through blue accent pillows and throw blankets.
What to avoid
While there’s no right or wrong way to design a space, if you want to stay true to coastal style, then there are a few elements you’ll want to avoid. For instance, “Don’t buy kitschy signs that say ‘beach this way’ or sailboat-shaped lamps. You and your guests already know you’re near the coast, so let nature speak for itself,” suggests Molly McGinness.
Additionally, coastal vibes are all about being soft, light, and breezy, so “Don’t use bold warm colors and bright, graphic patterns,” advises Reya Duanas. “Giving the eye too much visual stimulation is the opposite of the coastal experience you want to create.”
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