Spending my Fourth of July at the beach, I loved nosily peeking into peoples’ windows as I walked by and noticing their beachy decor (from the street, of course). While coastal decor that goes way over the top can be a great way to celebrate your surroundings, many of us are looking for more modern looks that avoid seagull-and whale-theme overload. 

Here are 10 ways to get a clean, coastal look that’s contemporary and uncluttered — and provides relaxation the moment you let the screen door slam behind you on the way inside.



Barnes Vanze Architects, Inc, original photo on Houzz


1. Glean inspiration from a spartan ship. This kitchen is clean and spare, which lets subtle marine accents like the chrome pendant lights, deep blue tile backsplash and light blue modern klismos chairs stand out.


2. Look to regional architecture for ideas. This beautiful waterfront home’s inspiration came from local wharf buildings and fishing shacks.


3. Curate vintage accents.Shells and anchors everywhere equals fun, but the look is not so modern. Eye-catching and graphically pleasing weathered fire buckets add a playful touch that creates the right counterpoint to all the sleek contemporary furniture.

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Robert Young Architects, original photo on Houzz

See the rest of this stunning Montauk, New York, home?


4. Use a monochromatic palette. Going with a simple color scheme lets the natural materials and the views stand out. Driftwood, a found branch and wood trusses and planks add up to what Coastal Modern author Tim Clarke dubs “Scandia Surf,” a look that embraces pleasing proportions, uncluttered spaces and natural materials.


5. Look to midcentury modern icons when furniture shopping. A set of Eames Shell ChairsEmeco Navy ChairsCesca chairs, or Saarinen Executive Chairs will add a good dose of classic modern style to today’s mix. Freshen them up with new upholstery or choose an unexpected color.



Core Development Group, Inc., original photo on Houzz?

An Eames molded plywood chair brings in wood and metal textures and midcentury style in this quiet coastal bedroom.



Richard Bubnowski Design LLC, original photo on Houzz


6. Balance whites (and/or off-whites) and warm woods. Cherry cabinetry anchors this beautiful bathroom in avid surfer, paddleboarder and architect Richard Bubnowski’s own home. Small accents of the warm wood punctuate the expanse of white walls in the form of mirror frames. Translucent glass cabinet doors resemble sea glass.

10 Small-Space Tips From Beach Cottages



Whitten Architects, original photo on Houzz


7. Ward off boredom with boards. Beadboardtongue and groove paneling, and shiplap are coastal alternatives to drywall that add texture and interest without busying things up.


8. Rein in collections. You can have vast collections and keep a modern look; just keep them well organized and know the power of white space. Special built-ins that allow you to space items out will keep them from overwhelming your space or making it too kitschy.



Kathleen DiPaolo Designs, original photo on Houzz


9. By all means, keep your beachy textures. In this room streamlined wicker chairs, “shelltanicals” arranged in a grid and a stunning glass chandelier celebrate coastal materials. Items like glass floats and ship wheels can be used to add seaside accents to your modern decor.

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10. Use nautical color schemes with a pop artist’s eye. So far I’ve shown rooms that are almost exclusively monochromatic, but you can have an updated look that includes bold color. The navy shag rug grounds the room here, while bright red chairs stand out atop it. The rest of the elements in the room are subdued, putting focus on the bolder elements.