The New Nautical

Lobster traps, fishnets, rope and sextants—it’s very easy to go overboard with a nautical theme. But a fresh take can bring a seaside flare into a home without making it look like a dockside restaurant or an attempt at the pirate headquarters of a bygone era. North Shore or South, our coastline offers a variety of color schemes and decorating ideas. Using them in a different way is the key to updating this classic look.

Shades of blues and greens are typical colors in a nautical design, but a walk along the shore suggests other, less obvious hues. Depending on the time of day and the season, the ocean can be aqua, bottle green, slate or deep blue. Grasses and wildflowers offer hints of rose, lavender and heather. Even the rocks on the North Shore and sands on the south have a varied palette of neutral tans, browns and grays. Take advantage of the color matching apps from Sherwin- Williams or Benjamin Moore and snap color samples to compare later. “Look to nature for a color scheme,” suggested New York City-based interior designer Amy Lau. When deciding on the décor for the dining room of a Bridgehampton beach house, she said, “the colors I chose were from the grasses, flowers, trees, beach and sky. I opened the windows to bring as much of the outside in as possible.”

The way color is used in the home depends on personal style and taste. Nautical isn’t static. It can convey a casual, beach house vibe or a more formal atmosphere, like a ship’s stateroom. The main hue plays a big role in setting the room’s tone.

“Navy blue is an obvious choice,” said New York City and London-based interior designer Philip Gorrivan, “but how about navy blue lacquered walls?” Or navy can provide just a pop of color, as in the contemporary photograph of jellyfish in the family room he designed for a home in Montauk. Gorrivan also believes that gray “is a perfect neutral.” He incorporated gray tones in the textured walls of a dining room in Amagansett, accessorizing with simple white shell sconces and a touch of deep aqua in the chairs and vases.

Fabrics can also define a nautical theme in a subtle way. A feature wall covered in grass cloth, burlap or raffia can anchor a room and also lend it an organic feel. For a bolder statement with an air of sophistication, make curtains using Mood Fabrics’ antique French maritime maps printed on a cotton-linen blend or cover a few throw pillows with their seaglass stripes. Even a kitschy anchor pattern, when used sparingly, is all you need to set the mood. A couch covered in crisp white canvas suggests a boat’s sails and a gold braid trim brings to mind a captain’s uniform. There are many textures, prints and colors that can add a seafaring accent in a luxurious, upscale way. A thickly knotted rope rug is durable and tells the story of the seaman’s craft. “When trying to achieve a certain look, sometimes the most simple thing can make all the difference,” Gorrivan said.

Wallpaper is another option and although there are many patterns on the market that fit the bill, there’s a simple way to create your own custom wall coverings. Take a camera or sketchpad to the beach. Photograph or draw a grouping of shells, a family of terns or capture the texture and patterns of the dunes. Upload the images to where they can be printed as wallpaper, fabric and even peel-and-stick decals.

Contain the nautical idea to a single room or weave the design throughout the home. Accessories are the way to express a love of the sea and create a coastal vibe in a personal way. Think of that perfect seashell children find and keep for years. East Hampton artist Tim Lee photographed the sculptures he created from clamshells. His ink-jet print on archival paper in a matte silver frame is a stunning artwork perfect for an entranceway or foyer.

For the Bridgehampton dining room, Lau selected an elegant driftwood lamp, a chandelier and wall sconces that look like shells and ceramic wall art resembling the Queen Anne’s lace growing in surrounding fields. “Abstract the ideas you find outside,” she said. “You don’t have to take it literally.” She prefers to work with organic shapes that are nature-inspired and bring interest to an interior. When choosing furniture, brass drawer fittings or white lacquer pulls on dark wood can evoke a sailing vessel. A steamer trunk can make an ideal coffee table. Showcase one beautiful conch shell on a mantle. And a selection of seafaring novels in the guest bedroom will help visitors get in the salty-dog mood. The ocean can evoke strong memories and choosing accessories like a framed map of a beloved seaside town, a bottle of colorful sea glass or a cable-knit throw can make a room a personal haven.

The new nautical still leaves plenty of room for fun, bright color and whimsy. A teenager’s room can be a hip hangout with a surfboard on the wall, Jolly Roger bed sheets, a few boardwalk signs and bunk beds, as in Gorrivan’s Montauk project. “I always mix ‘high’ and ‘low’ when it comes to accessories,” he said. “And I like to use a few casual references to the time and place.”

The key is mixing personal style with a coastal theme to create a finish that is unique and unexpected. Take cues from Long Island’s natural beauty and maritime history to discover a new palette of colors for walls, furniture and fabrics and stroll the beach to find the perfect accessories. Nautical done right will bring in fresh ocean breezes all yearlong.

annette rose-shapiro

annette rose-shapiro

Annette Rose-Shapiro writes about decor, interior design, art and architecture. She is currently working on a short documentary about the creative process.