Capturing the Coastal Vibe for your Home

Several design styles we've tackled recently are composites–collections of styles grouped together by factors other than design they have in common. Most notably, the geography of the Mediterranean Sea and the South Pacific islands create a collection of styles heavily influenced by water and shoreline, even though there are distinct subsets of style within each.

The same holds true for American Coastal design. Its origins stem from the Atlantic seaboard yet falling under the American Coastal banner is a wide range of variation in geography, architecture and décor.

Regions of American Coastal

a coastal home
Via Kid and Coe

Just as the definition of Mediterranean design changes as you travel the shoreline, so too does American Coastal. Create a mental image of a seaside home in each of Cape Cod, the Carolinas, Southern California and the Pacific Northwest and you likely have four very distinct ideas in mind. Each of these is quite accurately described as American Coastal in architecture despite the wide diversity in design function and form. In fact, the environmental disparities experienced along the American coastline guarantee more varied building adaptations than typically seen around the Mediterranean.

American Coastal sub-styles

Dining and living room of an American Coastal home

When it comes to décor, interiors in the American Coastal playbook developed variations within itself. Sub-styles such as Coastal Cottage, Contemporary Coastal and Modern Coastal each show distinct philosophies within the group and other design flourishes, primarily Nautical and Rustic influences, often feature prominently. Here are just a few of the notable variations.

Hamptons style

a Hamptons style formal living room

It's not all down-scale, casual cottage living. Perhaps at the origins of American Coastal is Hamptons style, the lifestyle of New York wealth transplanted to the coast. This is formal and elegant beach living, with panelled walls, ceiling sconces, chandeliers and sweeping staircases. If suddenly you're transported to a Jay Gatsby party, you have the idea. It's coastal, but you won't find seashells and nautical themes weighing heavily.


An open floor plan interior of a beach house

On the other hand, Boathouse style does sit to the Nautical side of American Coastal. You'll see ropes and oars and anchors, but not done to kitschy extremes. Though it's hard to generalize given the breadth and versatility of American Coastal, Boathouse is often a choice made for Canadian cottages, particularly in high-end cottage country such as Haliburton and Muskoka in Ontario.


a beach house
Via Kid and Coe

Malibu is all about fun-fun-fun, surf and sand setting in the sun, the very definition of the idyllic California beach ideal, so it's interesting to note the similarities between common Malibu design features and French Country style. Many of the common American Coastal elements give a nod to Provence when interpreted through the Malibu touch.

Keys to the American Coastal look

living room of a beach house
Via Kid and Coe

So, what are the common American Coastal design elements? To describe American Coastal as leaning toward monochrome doesn't create the right impression, but at its core, there's a limited palette based around white: white walls, white upholstery and wood furniture painted white, if it's not left natural. Certainly, off-whites remain valid, the tones of sand and sunlight, but you won't see cerulean hues of sea and sky. While colours can feature, the brightest shades are still subdued. Think Miami style for a celebration of pastel, but American Coastal is fundamentally about brightness and natural light.

Floors are bare, wood or tile. Generally, casual Coastal tends toward lighter colours while more formal applications go dark. Coastal homes in the Pacific Northwest often turn all the American Coastal rules on their heads, but such is the nature of a coastline estimated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as 152,750 kilometres long. Still, dark wood floors are the choice for northwest homes in Coastal style.

a formal beach house living room
Via Kid and Coe

Wood features prominently in furniture, too. Here, touches of RusticUpcycled and Shabby Chic may come into play using whitewashed and distressed finishes, with gloss white and natural varnishes being the traditional norm.

Texture comes by way of natural fibres. Area rugs of jute and sisal add a touch of seagoing rope without overhyping nautical and contemporary and modern takes on American Coastal often feature lots of reflective surfaces such as glass, mirrors and chrome. Fabrics follow in the light colour scheme, lots of linen and cotton for window treatments, along with diaphanous sheers. The seasonality of the beach house makes light-coloured slipcovers a practical nod.

Bringing American Coastal to Your Space

Leave your collection of Toby jug sailors for a basement pub. It's crucial for the American Coastal look to avoid over reliance on nautical elements. Suggest them, certainly, but don't feature them. Keep everything light and open to celebrate the natural light around you. Take pages from Minimalism and Zen styles to arrange your living spaces for flow and movement, but there's no need to fully abandon clutter.

a beach house bedroom
Via Kid and Coe

Cottage living, whether on the coast, at the lake or in suburbia, is all about relaxation and comfort, so choose American Coastal elements with this in mind. After all, a white sand Florida beach doesn't look all that different from a February Saskatchewanlandscape, minus some liquid water, of course.

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