Cool, coastal decor is water, beach-inspired

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News
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Coastal decor is all about water-inspired blues, driftwood and sandy beaches. We may not be near any oceans in Michigan, but water is part of who we are, especially during the summer. That translates into our decor at home and at summer cottages.

No wonder coastal decor is so popular in Michigan. Still, how you define a coastal look really depends on where you live; it means different things in different parts of the world, says interior designer Jane Synnestvedt of Jane Synnestvedt Interior Design in Birmingham. She grew up in Elbow Cay in the Abaco Islands of the Bahamas, where her family still has a home and she often visits.

“In the islands, you might see fabrics that have birds. You wouldn’t see that in the Hamptons, but you’d see blue and white,” says Synnestvedt.

Coastal, in fact, may be less about a specific look and more about a feel. For Synnestvedt, it’s more about creating a look and feel of casual elegance, which can be done with breezy fabrics or color palettes.

“I’ve always felt blue, white and yellow were classic for the water,” says Synnestvedt. “And if people like the teals, those look nice too.”

Northville interior designer Donna Brown of Dazzling Designs says coastal decor is all about bringing the outdoors in, even if you don’t live on the water.

“It’s definitely all about comfort — light colors and lightweight fabrics,” says Brown.

Types of coastal

There are several types of coastal design. And comfort, as Brown says, is key with American coastal decor. Also called cottage coastal, American coastal is often a mix of warm whites and ocean hues, reflective surfaces and soft furnishings with a touch of nautical decor.

Tropical island coastal decor, meanwhile, incorporates more bright colors and tropical patterns. It blends natural elements such as teak and other woods into your decor.

Mediterranean coastal style, meanwhile, is inspired by the bright, sun-baked colors of coastal Italy, Spain or Greece. Think spaces infused with ample natural light, terra cotta, heavy woods, and black iron or metals.

Whatever your coastal style, natural materials should influence your design, whether that’s wood, stone or water.

Celebrity designer Thom Filicia, who starred on “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” for example, is a self-described lake guy. The Syracuse native bought a house on the Finger Lakes in upstate New York, which he renovated and documented for his 2012 book, “American Beauty” (Clarkson Potter, $45). For his renovation, three of the home’s original elements really informed his design decisions — the original stone fireplace, wood paneled walls and heavy five-plank wood doors.

“What this meant in practice was that any wood I added would build on the doors. All hard surfaces would look to the fireplace,” writes Filicia in his book. “The paneling would bind everything together. Whether I was trying to select colors, textures or shapes, these elements would help narrow my choices.”

His lake decor includes subtle nautical touches, including rope light fixtures and a rope stair railing.

Coastal, but nautical

But coastal decor doesn’t have to be literal in drawing from the water and the aquatic life around it. Don’t buy every sand dollar or fish accent in reach. Synnestvedt says less is always more.

“A lot of times people go overboard with the signs that say ‘This way to be the beach,’” she says. “Maybe use an old paddle or driftwood. You don’t need to have all this writing.”

Synnnestvedt likes to use collections from a client’s travels or groupings of items such as sea shells to create a fun touch to a space. Sea shells can be put under glass. She once used Bahamian flags as an accent.

Be creative in how collected items are used or put together, she suggests. She says it’s all about grouping things in the right way and not going overboard.

“I had a client with a child and they’d collected a bunch of shells they were quite proud of,” Synnestvedt. “So we took a mirror and glued them around it and sprayed it white – it was coastal and personal — and hung that over the dresser.”

When it comes to permanent surfaces and trim, think white, recommends Brown: white cabinets, white trims, clean lines.

“And nothing heavy on the draperies,” says Brown. “You probably have a lot of people that are doing far less for window treatments — plantation shutters or lightweight blinds.”

And think about fabrics and materials that will hold up underneath wet swimsuits or sandy feet, because as summer winds to close, no one wants to spend time cleaning up. We have more important things to do — like hanging out by the water.

(313) 223-4686

Twitter: @mfeighan

Coastal cues

■ Warm whites and ocean hues

■ Reflective surfaces

■ Soft furnishings

■ A touch of nautical decor

■ Comfort is key

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