Nautical knickknacks don’t have to be kitschy. Luckily, there’s no shortage of tasteful maritime decor that lets us celebrate the Great Lakes State without going overboard (pun intended).

A recent trip to New Buffalo was filled with inspiration. Though I’ve long been fascinated by waterfront locales, I’ve only shown a glimpse of them inside my home.

Perhaps it was the summer stays near the ocean while growing up on the east coast that made a lasting impression. Any body of water, even the pond we face in our current home, has a mesmerizing effect on me.

It’s no wonder many of us want to mimic beachfront living and all it entails in our interiors. Our first condo in Connecticut overlooked the Long Island Sound. I’ll never forget being lulled to sleep by the sound of the waves.

That’s the magic behind model ships and gathered seashells. Beach memorabilia reminds us of our time spent near the water’s edge.

This particular trip was marked by the lure of Lake Michigan. We just happened to arrive during the New Buffalo Ship & Shore Festival that features a Lighted Boat Parade at night.

Everything from vintage life preservers to sea captain paintings filled the shops in New Buffalo and the surrounding towns like Harbert and Sawyer. My daughter and I bought a boat ornament at the Clipper Ship Gallery, which we plucked from their nautical-themed Christmas tree.

My husband mentioned a wooden boat we have at home that I used to fill with mints for guests to grab on their way out the door. This furniture store prop deserves another try because it’s been hiding inside a kitchen cabinet for too long.

We have other hints of the water throughout the house without ever intending to go in that direction. Nautical charts dot my husband’s home office, while seashells from our travels are displayed in the master bathroom.

In the quaint town of Harbert, there were large market umbrellas along Red Arrow Highway to be auctioned off for charity this month. Many of them featured whimsical beach-inspired themes, which would be a great addition to any outdoor setting.

On the drive there, we discovered a place that offered sandcastle lessons. It’s hard to resist a smile when shown these iconic forms.

A stop in St. Joseph on the way home yielded a charming outdoor art exhibit that consisted of lighthouse sculptures painted and decorated with playful themes.

One of their lovely shops, Harbor Town Interiors, was filled with fun finds, such as a headboard made from oars, an impressive selection of beach-inspired artwork and colorful objects like glass floats.

Their displays prove you don’t have to go with a theme when a simple nod to nautical will do.

In fact, introducing the look in smaller doses, with anything from an anchor to a barometer or a ship’s wheel, is a great way to get started. These conversation pieces would suit just about any setting while serving as a souvenir of a favorite sea or lakeside destination.

Jeanine Matlow is a Metro Detroit interior decorator turned freelance writer specializing in stories about interior design. You can reach her at

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