Everything you Need to Know to Create the Perfect Coastal Interior Design


White Contemporary living room

SOURCE: Pure Salt



Whether you’re an east or west coaster I’m certain you see your share of coastal interior design. But even for those of us that don’t live on a coast, it’s a style that makes its way to our lake houses, weekend retreats and sometimes even our homes. Coastal design evokes images of casual living and laid back beach days. It’s really a giant nod to Mother Nature with all of the natural elements that are included in this design aesthetic.

You may think this is a new style in the interior design landscape but it’s been a staple for many, many years. Its origins are just as you’d suspect. It began with the decorating style that was used by those homeowners who owned a waterfront property. 

This is one of the design styles that can easily go from classic and sophisticated to kitschy and cheap looking so use caution. Let’s look at what it actually takes to accomplish a perfect coastal design.




The Colour Palette

This is the style most connected to the outdoors so it’s logical that we begin with a gentle, soft palette. White or cream are typically the foundation and it’s commonplace to see the entire home painted in that base colour. 

Blues and greens are next when you’re creating the perfect coastal colour palette. There can be some navy but generally it’s softer blues and greens. Think of the colour of the perfect blue sky or the water on a sunny day. And greens also tend towards the lighter end of the colour spectrum. It’s not the deeply saturated forest green but instead it’s sage green or the perfect green of a worn piece of sea glass.

Pastels of any colour will work but don’t add too many different colours to the palette. If you love a soft pink, use it but don’t add light blue, light green and pink. We don’t want to end up looking like the ice cream store.

If you’re unsure just refer to the beach. Is this a colour you’d see outdoors? Think sand, clouds, water, and trees. That’ll keep you on track.

beige living room with black contemporary light fixture

SOURCE: Wendy Mauro Design


The Furniture

Coastal design is casual and comfortable. The pieces are oversized and stuffed in that perfect way that leaves you no option but to have a seat and stay put as long as possible. There’s a lot of down wrapped upholstery which is the most comfortable but gives the casual look that does require some fluffing to keep it looking its best. 

Upholstery has wide arms and is often slipcovered in cotton or linen. The upholstery is almost always on the light side, again with lots of cream and white. 

Case goods are simple and unfussy. There can be caning details but there isn’t a lot of ornamentation. Wood with a bleached, worn look is a great complement here. The wood colour for case goods tends to be lighter but you can definitely add in some teak to achieve the look. 

For a surprise twist, there’s often a few pieces of black thrown in to help keep the look grounded. It could be the legs on a main piece like a coffee table but more often it’s a side table or a sideboard.

gray contemporary sofa with bold artwork

SOURCE: Ally Whalen Design


The Fabric 

There are three primary fabric styles used in coastal interior design – Stripes and checks, plain and floral. You can mix it up and include all three together but if you go that route be sure you’re keeping the colour palette consistent. 

The simplest way to accomplish this look is to choose solids as the foundation for your larger upholstered pieces and then add striped and/or floral fabrics as accents. Having said that, it’s not uncommon to see a stripe, either wide or thin being used on some big pieces. Just be cautious to not throw too much pattern and colour together at any large piece of furniture.

If you want to use curtains, they are simple. You can hang panels in linen or sheers. If you have great views and privacy is not an issue you can leave them off altogether. I’m a fan of curtains because they add an extra layer to every space so my advice would be to add them, even if you don’t need them for functionality. 

Rugs are an important part of this look and are often made from natural materials like jute, sisal or wool. You want the rug to look great but also be durable, especially if you do live on a beach.


Contemporary living room

SOURCE: Pinterest


The Architecture 

There’s  limited ornamentation in the architecture of a coastal design. The emphasis is on indoor/outdoor living as well as natural materials. 

Large, expansive windows that take in nature is the best way to accomplish this look. Fireplaces tend to be sleek and simple but they can be dramatic as well. For a really natural look use stone with a simple textured wood mantle. If you like a bit more drama go for oversized marble slabs from ceiling to floor. 

We’re seeing a lot of wooden beams running across the ceiling in modern farmhouse design but it works equally well in coastal design. 

Finish off the simplicity of the architecture with light fixtures in natural materials like rattan, shell or bleached wood.

And lastly, you can bring in another layer of texture to your architecture by adding a beautiful wall covering in grasscloth. It’s so subtle but keeps that all-important element of natural texture alive in the room. 

Contemporary living room with oversized black light fixture

SOURCE: Foundation Goods


The Layout 

Coastal interior design actually is an umbrella term for a couple of different styles. Depending on which coast you live it will differ. 

On the east coast, think Hamptons with the more formal rooms and traditional layouts. West coast is a California style that leans more towards open concept. If you’re building from scratch, these are interchangeable and not coast specific. Don’t worry about creating a more formal east coast look on the west coast and vice versa. As long as you stick to the rules of design it’ll work.

Contemporary living room

SOURCE: The Lily Pad Cottage


The only thing I would caution you about is that an over eager decorator can turn their coastal interior design into a tacky replication of this style. Try to avoid too many obvious interpretations of “natural texture”. For instance, one simple lamp decorated with shells looks great but that along with nautical themed art and faux coral knick knacks can take it too far. 

Less can be more with this style. Just give a nod to the outdoors without overdoing it and you’ll create a beautiful design. 

Need help creating your own Coastal design? I’d love to discuss your project. Reach out and let’s talk.


If you know your design style but you struggle with which paint to use, take a look at my Made-For-You paint palettes. They take the guesswork out and give you the confidence to get started.


Coastal Colour Palette Guide for your home

Unlock your unique design style

Take the design style quiz



Success! Please check your inbox for your 3 Easy Steps.