Coastal Decorating Tips

The term “coastal” has many connotations in the U.S., with variations from New England, to Florida, to the west coast. Architecture, motif, and overall style can swing widely from region to region. There are common threads in coastal decorating, however, and below you will find basic concepts that bring together the elements of these varying designs. Depending on your specific tastes, we will provide you with several beach home decorating ideas to get you started toward that invigorating “life by the sea” sensation.


The primary colors that make up traditional coastal decorating include shades of green, blue, gray, white and brown. Mixtures of green, blue and gray for an emerald hue closely resembling that of the ocean and sky; browns and greens representing vegetation; and whites, tans, pinks and beiges for sun, sand, coral and shells.

White is consistently the foundation color in coastal themes, keeping the environment fresh, clean and airy. Fabrics, cushions, upholstery, trim work, cabinets, walls, bead-board wainscot, window treatments and appliances all contribute white tones to the interior.


When considering color in your design, you can definitely stick with an all white color scheme, but this may not suit everybody. For added flare, consider mixing in a combination of the other colors described in this section. It is important, however, to focus on lighter rather than dark or deep tones, so that your room remains open and relaxed, as you might feel while lounging on the beach. The lighter background will also serve as an excellent backdrop for fixtures and furnishings.

To draw distinction and enhance your wall colors, crown molding, trim, doors, doorways, and baseboards should be painted in a bright white. Although wall colors should remain lighter, creatively mixing darker shades with lighter will add depth and complexity to the room. See the figure below for suggestions on colors in the coastal theme.


Flooring in coastal decorating can range from tile, with terracotta being a very popular choice (adding a burnt-orange color to the room), all the way to hardwood, which can be wide-planked and left unfinished (for a tan or gray appearance), or thin slats that are stained and polished to a deep finish (golden to dark brown).


Furniture in coastal decorating has a wide range of possibilities, as it is not necessarily tied to regional or historic boundaries. That being said, an eclectic mix in the decor is expected, so in a single room you may find accents from Asia, Africa and Europe, spanning antique to modern, all within a few feet of each other.

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One common trait that you will find in coastal decorating, however, is that sofas and arm chairs are puffy, overstuffed and extremely comfortable. Upholstery for these larger pieces typically falls into one of several categories, including, being solid in color, bold stripes in two colors, thinner stripes with multiple colors, or floral patterns.

Rattan and wicker furniture are staples in the seaside themes. Virtually any piece of furniture can be purchased that is made of rattan (which is a plant similar to bamboo, but not as thick). Known for being lightweight, durable, flexible and easily stained, rattan can be woven into a very sturdy mesh which makes it an ideal candidate for stylish couches, chairs, tables and ottomans.


Striped patterns are a distinct characteristic found in coastal decorating. Thin stripes or thick, monochrome or multi-colored, furniture, upholstery, bedding and cushions in the coastal theme are all likely candidates for fabrics using this pattern. While stripes are appealing, however, in order to keep them from overwhelming a room, solid fabrics should be incorporated into the decor as well.

One easy way to get your furniture looking more coastal, without actually having to buy a whole new set, is to use slipcovers. Larger pieces like the couch and arm chair can be inexpensively camouflaged under slipcovers, which have several advantages, including, they can be easily washed, switched out to match specific occasions or seasons, the furniture will be preserved, and finally, if the underlying furniture has seen its better days, no one will ever know.

Windows are typically sparsely covered, especially if you happen to have a view of the ocean. So instead, consider drop down linen or bamboo blinds, Venetian blinds, or plantation shutters, all of which can be opened to completely let the scenery indoors.

And last, area floor covering mats made of sea grass and palm thatch naturally fit into this theme, and are especially useful as they are easy to maintain and do a good job keeping sand isolated to the doorway.


Large, leafy plants in the seaside designs are a critical component, and with several varieties to choose from, will add just the right touch to your coastal theme.

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As described in the tropical section, your local nursery as well as online plant retailers will be able to set you up nicely. Be on the lookout for such things as Banana plants, palm trees, Golden Pothos, Heart Leaf Philodendron, Striped Dracaena, Orchids, Plumeria and Bromeliads.

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Accessories in Coastal Decorating

Natural materials found from in and around the sea is the best place to start when accessorizing your home. Additional references to maritime life and fishing will get you well on your way.

There are some more ideas to get you started.

– Brass or copper kerosene cargo lanterns

– Old weathered nautical equipment, such as the helm’s ship wheel, a sextant, a ship’s compass, an anchor, a brass bell or barometer

– Antique brass telescopes

– Model ships and paintings of ships traversing through rough seas

– Accessories with fisherman, sailboats and lighthouse decor, such as lamps, clocks, tables, figurines, dishes and pictures

– Large, leafy potted plants or small trees

– Coral, seashells, sand dollars, starfish and driftwood displayed in clear jars, on dishes, or simply as stand alone items

– Driftwood furniture, artwork, lamps and mirrors

– Ocean scented candles and oil lamps with seashells and other sea life represented

– A tropical salt water fish tank

– Depictions of underwater sea life, such dolphins, sea horses and coral

– Straw baskets to hold towels, magazines, beach findings or a potted plant

– Sea gull and Crane statues or figurines



The diverse nature of coastal decorating really opens the door for you to step out onto a creative limb and pursue any path you like. Some suggestions include swirling, wrought-iron chandeliers, thick, ocean-scented candles, kerosene lanterns, hurricane lamps, and rattan, wicker or palm thatch lamps and lamp shades.

Be on the look out for lighting that depicts such motifs as palm trees, seashells, fish, lighthouses, sailboats and nautical accessories. Lighting can follow a more rustic path of wood and iron, or delve into the contemporary with a more modern look. Oval bulkhead lighting on walls, along with port and starboard lamps are a great way to replicate life on a ship without ever having to leave your home.

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