Coastal Design Style: A Complete Guide

Written by Laura W

Shoring Up Style at Home

Defining the Style: Coastal decor style is everything you love about the coastal outdoors, minus the sand — unless, of course, that’s your thing and you want to include a nod to the one beach element people either love or hate. (More on that later.) Coastal decor is comfortable, easy, airy, and light. It blurs the lines between what you’d serendipitously find on the shores of your favorite beach with what you’d traditionally find indoors. This look beautifully incorporates elements of nature, such as various woods, crisp linens, glass, ceramic, jute, grasscloth, and cotton with coastal colors like blue, green, yellow, and coral. These complementing components are what make up Coastal design. (NOTE: Be careful not to confuse Coastal decor with Nautical decor, which is more the realm of anchors, sailboats, knotted ropes, etc., and can tend to be a bit kitschy.)

Where it originated: Coastal decor is by no means new. It emerged based on what was available to coastal populations centuries ago. Of course, adaptations have been made, but something interesting about this style is that you can vary the details depending on which coast you live on. For example, on the northeastern U.S. coastline, the type of wood used for interior design is often darker, while on southern coastlines, woods are lighter due to exposure of elements like sun and seawater. Driftwood is particularly big along the North Carolina coast. This is not a hard and fast rule, but displaying local elements can lend an authentic vibe to your space.
Who it appeals to: This look obviously appeals to those who love the coast. And to be clear, you don’t have to live on the waterfront to enjoy this style of decorating. Many homeowners in suburban areas are incorporating Coastal decor into their space. It’s for anyone desiring a peaceful, breezy home oasis that’s comfortably casual or even more formal, if you prefer.

A Breeze of Fresh Style

Coastal decor is all about the conversation between elements: mixing natural textures and introducing pops of color against a neutral, airy backdrop of whites, rustic woods, and smooth marble or glass. Your own personal taste can determine how tropical or colorful you want your Coastal decor to be. It’s one of the most versatile top interior design styles — one person’s Coastal decor will be a carefree, all-white affair, while another’s might feature coral patterned wallpaper on an accent wall or in a guest bath. The overarching theme of Coastal decor is the easy, natural feeling the style evokes.

The elements: Let’s look at some of the specific components of Coastal decor.

  • Neutral color story with pops of cobalt, shades of sea glass, pinky coral, or lemon yellow
  • Natural materials (wood like teak, airy fabrics like linen, and even warm and cool tones from pebbles or rocks smoothed by the ocean’s waves) 
  • A mix of textures (glass and glossy marble contrasted with driftwood and white oak flooring)
  • Emphasis on natural light pouring into a room
  • Woven textures (rattan, grasscloth, jute, hand-knotted rugs)
  • Crisp, clean whites
  • Stripes

Feel free to get personal with this design genre. For example — here comes the sand reference — if you happen to visit Bermuda on your honeymoon and scoop some pink sand as a souvenir, find a pretty little clear vase to display it in. That driftwood that drifted up during your beach camping trip can adorn your mantel or be DIY’d into a macrame wall piece. You get the idea. Picture frames are another way to infuse the coastal element. Some of ours that would fit in well include Wood Frame Profile 547 (in soothing neutrals from Walnut to Off-White) or our Rustic White Picture Frame with Mat. Browse all the many styles with our user-friendly Custom function. You can also brighten a neutral frame with a vast selection of colorful mats, from Cabana and Frond to Summer and Mandarin Orange.

Room by Room

Here are some ideas for styling different spaces with coastal flair.

Living Room: If your living room is awash with natural light, you’ve already got a winning canvas for Coastal decor. Furnishings can include a slipcovered, neutral couch and natural wood accents, while a hand-knotted rug — perhaps jute or another natural fiber — can create a cozy backdrop for accents like marble and glass. Bursts of color via throw pillows, art work, or a blanket are a nice finishing touch.

Kitchen: In the kitchen, we love seeing textures like natural wood tables and linen placemats. Look for serving ware like white-washed wood bowls and ceramic platters. Even more fun, adding a bowl of summer citrus fruits like lemons, limes, or tangerines brings fresh and natural color to your space. Consider a wicker pendant light or wooden bead chandelier over a breakfast nook. Speaking of breakfast nooks, don’t be afraid to further accessorize that area with some textured or colorful cushions.

Bedroom: This is the space where comfort truly matters. Go with natural fibers like linen or cotton bedding and curtains, along with furniture in soft neutrals. Stoneware in the form of vases and little dishes for jewelry are the perfect accessories for a dresser or bedside table. In one corner of the room, set out a woven basket to hold pillows or blankets from the bed after turndown. White oak hardwood floors, paired with a cotton rug underneath the bed, is a nice way to keep the room feeling tranquil and cozy.

Bathroom: Think simplicity; don’t overcrowd the space. Light colors in a bathroom are lovely and convey a sense of cleanliness. Consider sea glass hues of greens and blues, mixed with natural wood tones. Speaking of wood, teak is known not only for its smooth-grain look, but also its durability thanks to naturally occurring oils that repel water, preventing the wood from cracking and warping over time. The bathroom would also be an appropriate and fun space to bring in stone or pebbles for added texture. A shower with a smooth stone floor can be a winsome tribute to Coastal decor as you bring a completely natural element indoors.

Sea the Possibilities

Coastal decor evokes the feeling of peace and relaxation you experience on a beach vacation, without leaving home … or cleaning up all that sand! It can be a timeless style for any location, no matter how far inland you live. And remember, displaying treasures of your own from special memories you’ve made along the coast is not only acceptable, but strongly encouraged. A sweet little reminder of a small slice of paradise in your home oasis.

Last Updated October 12, 2023