Long gone are the days when owners of beach houses swathe ceilings in fishnets punctuated with well-weathered buoys and other nautical paraphernalia. The waterfront house of choice for many is less chintzy, more modern, anchored by steel, wood and acres of glass—all the better for gazing at those delicious views. But thoroughly modern design can feel a tad cold for a relaxing oceanfront retreat, and an overly “beach themed” home can venture to a realm of seashell-clad kitsch. One cannot entirely thrive without the other. By incorporating a touch of both, a home of any locale can hit that seaside sweet spot.
A Poolside Oasis to Dive For
Modernizing a Beach Retreat
Accepting the challenge of incorporating a modern aesthetic without losing that beachy feel requires playing with warmer, relaxing tones and textures. You are, after all, at the beach. “Streamlined contemporary beach homes are lovely when they are warm and inviting,” said interior designer Katharine McGowan of Katharine Jessica Interiors in Huntington. The way to achieve this is to blend outdoor elements into the home. “Floor tones should have a neutral sand wash on the wide plank floors by using a fumed or smoked technique.”
Mid-century furniture is a perfect fit for the modern beach house along with “driftwood-feeling” furniture. Pops of blues can be incorporated into accessories and “oversized woven rattan lighting also adds to the modern beachy feel.”
At Mojo Stumer, a Greenvale architecture firm with a robust interior design arm, the belief is that modern design can be as warm and inviting as any other. “[We use] softer, warmer materials like wood, leather and fabrics against harder materials like stone and metal,” said company partner Mark Stumer. Wood dominates their modern beach houses on both ceilings and floors, where they play with varying plank widths, often changing their direction and making imaginative borders.
Shiplap is a method of wood paneling historically used by ship builders as cheap slats for handcrafted boats. More recently it was used externally as an inexpensive siding on farmhouses and is currently a hot item in Hamptons interiors with designers from Steven Gambrel to Kristen Farrell, who use it to give a hint of the area’s maritime past to panel walls.
Farrell is lead designer for Farrell Building, a ubiquitous construction firm in Bridgehampton. For her company’s modern beach houses, she also opts for “layers in soft inviting fabrics in the neutral beach palette of ivory, beige and grays for structured upholstery and drapes.” Where she might add a Lucite finish to a chair or bench for a glam look in one of their more urbane homes, she stays grounded with wood in a beach house. “A Farrell beach house references bright whites and neutral tones that have texture and character, not obvious prints.”
Bringing Maritime Character Home
Modern designers are often still eager to bring natural elements indoors—whether seaside or not. Iris Zonlight of Sag Harbor’s Blue Ocean Design is happy to invite the oceanfront atmosphere into homes with wood stumps, hand-spun hemp rugs, oversize plants, rattan and cane. But she makes sure to combine such homey touches with edgy finishes including “poured concrete, slick stainless steel and laminate. It’s all about bringing nature inside,” she said.
“I feel that the concept of bringing the outside in is more important to the beach house atmosphere than furniture or accessories,” Stumer said in agreement. “Opening the kitchen to a larger living space and creating a shared family space totally open to the outside would help any house have a more relaxing beach-house feel.”
In Steven Gambrel’s historic Sag Harbor home, the designer wanted the maritime character of the village to seep through—but not glaringly so. In his drawing room hangs a large bronze chandelier. Although it sports a fanciful cluster of octopus finials, it doesn’t scream aquatic reference. It whispers it—thus all the more powerful.
Interior designer Jackie Higgins of Beach Glass Designs in Huntington Bay prefers to begin a seaside-inspired home with relaxing wall colors—cool beiges, warm grays and soft blues—then lets a good piece of art do the talking. “I love coastal artwork, and oil paintings in particular add instant pedigree to any interior.” She advised incorporating works of local artists into collections and to keep accessories at a minimum. “Leave open space for your eyes to rest.”
And, if you can’t help but pepper the seashells into the décor, Higgins offered a caveat worth following. “Make sure to only have a few mingled in with other year-round pieces so interiors feel sophisticated in any season.”