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How to... get the coastal look (minus the cliches)

Can’t afford a holiday? A home by the sea is the next best thing. Can’t afford that either? Then fake it – by bringing a bit of the seaside into your home.

Think “coastal style” interiors, however, and a few clich├ęs may come to mind: faux-distressed white woodwork, nautical accessories, driftwood furniture… But it doesn’t have to be thus. To create something stylish, rather than tweely themed, it’s important to think beyond the obvious – and to work it in moderation. 

Do check the wonderful images (numbers 1, 2 & 3) taken by Wendy Goodman in Provincetown for her brilliant NY Magazine blog. Images 4 & 5 are from stylist and writer, Atlanta Bartlett's luscious Beach Studios location hire company (the site is stuffed with inspiring images). Seriously stylish.

I just love the 70s-tinged boat look (see 1), and the compact arrangement of space and dinky cubby holes (2). The light colours and weatherbeaten textures keep things feeling airy. And the colours (especially in 3) show that coastal colours don't need to be twee bright blue and white, with contrived nautical accessories hanging from the walls.

“Take a more natural approach to that beach idea,” says Atlanta Bartlett, an interiors stylist and author who also runs Beach Studios, a locations agency which includes her own coast-side property in Kent. “There are lots of other colours associated with the seaside. What about the beach in winter? My local, Camber Sands, is almost more beautiful then than in summer – all those sandy beiges, charcoals, off-whites and greys – it’s breathtaking.” To keep darker colours reminiscent of the beach, use deeper shades for accessories and smaller details.

As this look is all about the big outdoors, a good shortcut is to incorporate items you’d normally find outside. A simple way to do this is with furniture: a vintage deckchair in the bathroom, or a white painted folding garden chair at a desk can give a hint of beach life without overdoing it.  You can also incorporate typically external materials; rough natural floor tiles in a bedroom or living room, where you’d least expect them – rather than just the traditional locations of a kitchen or bathroom – can be effective for conjuring up a hint of the wild and rugged.

1.There’s something about antique pieces or reclaimed things that evokes the coast and inspires a sense of relaxation. I love the dark, battered wood at one of the many gorgeous properties you can browse for inspiration at Atlanta Bartlett's Beach Studios location hire. “It’s about not having something that looks too precious,” says Atlanta Bartlett. By using lots of whites, you could potentially create something that looks slick and minimal, so to avoid it looking clinical or deliberately designer-y, rough it up a bit." 

2: Pale colours best evoke the coast but, says Bartlee: "Be careful to mix up your whites. All brilliant white will look very cold. Go for lots of different shades, and add as much textural variety as possible to create definition and not just have one big white mass.” This large ceramic cake stand £44.95 from Pale and Interesting (a smaller size is available for £18.95) is a lovely, simple way to do just that, and to make more of those seaside finds. Think too of white-painted, nautical-evoking tongue and groove cladding on walls (“doesn’t have to be vertical, try horizontal too,” suggests Bartlett), sheepskin throws over armchairs and sisal rugs for breaking up a pale and potentially too-smooth backdrop. 

3. Find well worn trunks for storage from salvage outlet, Lassco in London, for a couple of hundred quid. They have a whole ship/nautical section online to browse which currently has a lovely pair of aged oars for sale that would look beautiful leaning against a wall. A battered leather armchair would do a similar job of softening pale, clean lines if you don't need the storage.

4. Framed bus blinds have been a growing trend for a while now – I love getting them out of the obvious urban context and going for seaside-themed locations. Retrophenia sells individual locations for £255, all originals. 

1. Reflective surfaces, say glass panels in a door, lots of mirrors – ideally vintage finds – and accessories such as these numbered glass bottles are £59 for a set of four from Pale and Interesting will also boost whatever level of natural light you’re working with as well as provide textural contrast. 

2. There is also an alternative approach: to take things tropical. In his book, The Way we Live by the Sea, by Stafford Cliff (£19.95, Thames & Hudson), the former Conran creative director, Stafford Cliff, includes luscious shots of colourful beachside rooms in exotic locations including Mexico, Mauritius and Kenya: think bold print fabrics, bamboo walls and rattan flooring. Without tropical sunshine to set it off, however, colour overload risks creating a cluttered looking space at odds with the desired airy, relaxed effect – so, again, keep the backdrop pale, using jungle-y touches for selected accents. 

3. Type ‘St Ives’ into the search box for prints, cards and picture books ripe for framing by local artists old and new from the famously arty Cornish seaside town, including Patrick Heron, Ben Nicholson  and Alfred Wallis.  Ben Nicholson from the Tate shop online.

4. “The interiors of houses by the sea, wherever they are located, often seem to have a design vocabulary in common,” says Stafford Cliff, “and colours tend to be light and reflective.” Describing the bathroom in a London house which has been subtly styled to hint at the seaside – all shades of white, tongue and groove panelling, and natural wood – he says: “[This] is a good example of how materials, colours and design can evoke the feeling of freshness and openness normally associated with life on the coast or even at sea.” Give it a go with something like this feminine white framed Augusta mirror, which is pricey at £500-odd from New England Lifestyle. But Not on the High Street sell a plainer but more purse-friendly range from £69.99. 

5. Beach up the garden with a bamboo lantern from Pebbles to Sand for £25. They also sell a sexy mohair and wool throw in charcoal for just £40, that would look good draped over the end of a pale sofa.

6. Frame a trio of 18th century copper engravings of marine life Heatons of Tisbury – they’re just £10 each. 

A natural wooden decorative liner for just £14 Beach Hut does it all – just the one, mind.

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