Vacation houses have never seen so much action. “People are working remotely so they’re spending more time in their vacation homes,” Joni Vanderslice, owner of J. Banks Design, says. As such, spaces need to be flexible. In addition, people are craving comfort. Coastal design has veered away from stark, white showplaces towards livable spaces replete with natural materials, textural finishes, and luxurious performance fabrics. Designers are creating inviting environments meant for intimate gatherings, indoors and out. Michelle Gerson, principal of Michelle Gerson Interiors sums it up saying, “The pandemic has brought people back to their homes.”

Michelle Gerson, Michelle Gerson Interiors, New York City

“People are moving away from super modern in coastal homes and warming them up with farmhouse elements,” says Gerson, who often works in the Hamptons. That means wood plank floors and organic texture and scraped plaster walls.

Photograph by Kris Tamburello

In a Palm Beach manse, Gerson designed a Venetian plaster wall with an ombré effect that echoes the ocean. Cerused wood is popular for furniture, wall panels, and floorboards. “We’re moving from natural, blonde floors towards a warmer, taupe-y tone,” Gerson says.

Other trends? Outdoor rooms that can transition from day to evening with pull-down screens and lush outdoor fabrics like chenille and bouclé. Interiors are similarly cozy. “People go to their coastal homes in winter,” the designer points out. “I love using shearling at the beach.”

Giselle Loor Sugerman, B+G Design, Miami

The virus has all but halted travel but it hasn’t ebbed the flow of inspiration from overseas. “French furniture and lighting designs are spectacular right now,” says Sugerman, who points to the curvy silhouettes and pale woods of Christophe Delcourt’s collection.

Photograph by José Manuel Alorda

“We have a clean, contemporary take on coastal with light, neutral palettes and curved shapes that mimic the ocean.” While Sugarman plays with gray and bronze mirrors to reflect the view, she otherwise opts for matte finishes and textured surfaces like rough, chiseled countertops that evoke the feel of being on the beach.

“Technology has advanced, making applications easier,” she says. “You can face a cabinet in stone now.” Sugarman also references innovations in lighting. “You can dramatically illuminate with the tiniest light now from Kreon,” she says. “If a room isn’t well lit, it’s worthless.” 

Jeffrey Marks, Jeffrey Alan Marks, Montecito and East Hampton

Southern California native Marks blends East and West Coast sensibilities. “I take the traditional East Coast vibe to California, and the laid-back California vibe to East Hampton,” he says. For Marks, coastal is spare and tailored, yet always comfortable. The designer, who is creating a new line of outdoor chenilles for Kravet, uses outdoor fabrics everywhere. “I want a house where I can take a spa then flop onto a daybed,” he says.

Photograph by Jessica Delaney

As people move out of cities, they’re spending more on outdoor rooms. He’s working on an open-air kitchen pavilion that overlooks the Pacific Ocean and recently completed his own spa shed for relaxing, reading, and watching television. Marks observes that people are also setting up house calls for haircuts and such. “I don’t think that’s going to go away now that people have nice areas to do these things at home.”

Jill Najnigier, JN Interior Spaces, Boston

For Najnigier, coastal is about  simplicity and serenity, which she achieves by blurring lines. Indoors melds with outdoors thanks to folding glass walls and retractable screens. Private zones merge with public ones as designers define cozy retreats within open layouts; an especially important hallmark of the Covid era.

Najnigier is diving deeper into organic materials, particularly wood, to help create character and warmth. “It can be solid, slatted, reeded, or planked” the designer says. She’s particularly interested in creating deep, wood-lined passageways between rooms. Najnigier also cites blackened steel as becoming more popular on the coast. “Before, I mostly used steel-framed doors and windows in mountain and lake homes,” she notes. As for color, Najnigier concedes that while the ocean hues will never become obsolete, the current-day coastal palette feels freshest when rooted in warm neutrals. “It’s not like years ago, when coastal meant whitewashed,” she says.

Photograph by Michelle Gerson

Joni Vanderslice, J. Banks Design, Hilton Head

Multifunction is where it’s at according to Vanderslice. While gathering was the primary focus of a summer home pre-pandemic, today people need spots where they can be productive. Vanderslice says C-tables are equally ideal for cocktails and for laptops, and console tables can double as desks. She also mentions club chairs that aren’t quite so squishy. “You don’t want to sink when you’re using your computer,” she says.

For outdoor living, Vanderslice is most excited about new offerings in lighting, such as floor lamps that look as though they belong indoors. She also rhapsodizes about the technological advances of performance fabrics like velvet, which she maintains has a place at the beach. And there are beautiful fabrics suitable for porch and pergola draperies. “You can really create atmosphere outdoors now,” she says.