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How to Get an Understated Modern Coastal Look

Coastal-style homes are having a moment… or rather, a decade. For the last several years, seemingly all trends have moved toward modern coastal decor. Even fashion (think of nap dresses, the breezy "coastal grandma” look, and linen) has taken a coastal turn. Everyone seems to want to evoke nature, relaxation, and a sense of peace from the beach.

Photography: Jennifer Lavelle

And why not? It's hard to think of the ocean without getting those feelings of relaxation and calm. We all want that fresh, warm summer vibe. Here's how to bring those beachy vibes into your home in a way that will elevate your decor.

What is Modern Coastal Decor?

Modern coastal decor and its partner modern Hamptons-style are inspired by the scenic Long Island homes along the oceanfront in New York. Not to split too many hairs, but there are a few subtle differences between modern coastal and Hamptons-style, although they’re similar and fairly interchangeable.

Design: Marie Flanigan Interiors | Photography: Julie Soefer

Hamptons-style trends more toward luxury, whereas coastal style is slightly more rustic. Both styles feel right at home on a sandy coast, but depending on the style and architecture of the home, you can incorporate elements of a modern coastal look no matter where you live.

Modern coastal style has taken off worldwide, particularly in Australia. Like the Hygge trend a few years back (inspired by Danish decor and style), the look has universal appeal to many different homeowners, no matter how far inland they might live.

Design: Athena Calderone | Styling: Colin King | Photography: Nicole Franzen | Architectural Digest

So, how do you get modern coastal and/or Hamptons style in your home? The houses that inspired the trend are beachside properties with lots of light, open floor plans, big windows, and clean, fresh decor. There’s a distinct coastal feel that’s both classic and fresh.

Elements of nature are essential in Hampton's style decor too. Often wooden floors are used in natural, dark, or slightly weathered tones. In addition, you'll likely see many colors reflecting water, sand, and sky—blues, seafoam green, wheat, greige, and all shades of white. Yes, modern coastal interiors are often neutral, but they can also be dark and moody as well. Above all, they feel inviting and peaceful.

Design + Image: Athena Calderone | EyeSwoon

Features of Modern Coastal Style Homes

Undeniably, the architecture and design that inspire the modern coastal look stem from Sag Harbor, Montauk, and other East Coast homes. There's a distinct look and feel to these sturdily built houses.

Modern coastal homes often feature porches and wooden trim. Coffered ceilings are common, and most coastal homes open right up to a large, welcoming staircase in the entryway. The layout of these homes is usually spacious and open. Windows overlook the ocean views and let in lots of bright light.

Design + Image: Kate Marker Interiors

Unlike other "beach cottage" styles like brick Cape Cods and bungalows, modern coastal homes usually feature an open entertaining and gathering space. These homes are dramatic, with wooden trim, timeless, luxurious touches, and soft natural colors that only get better with coastal weather.

The exterior of these coastal homes almost always includes a veranda and gathering space. What’s the difference between a veranda and a porch? A veranda often goes around the sides of the home as well, extending out from the front. Verandas feature railings that create the feeling of walls or half-walls around the base. On the other hand, a porch typically covers just the front or back of the house from an entryway. Think of a modern coastal veranda as an extension of living space for outdoor entertaining.

Of course, white is prevalent amongst modern coastal homes, and the exteriors are no exception. Monochromatic homes or layering shades of white, grey, and soft blue are standard. However, you may also see dramatic trim used in this look; black or very dark brown is a common touch. And, with the rise of coastal grandma, plenty of pattern and color mixing are now at play as well.

Modern Coastal Interiors

So, what about modern coastal and Hamptons-style interiors? The inside of these beachy-looking homes is all about molding, wainscoting, and trim. Additions like cornices and skirting add those little details that really set apart the understated yet carefully crafted look.

Another aspect of modern coastal design is that it's typically continued throughout the home (without being overly "theme-y"). Tones and textures are often cohesive throughout the space.

Of course, the colors are the biggest thing that people often think of in modern coastal design. The soft, sea-washed palette of whites, blues, greys, and soft greens is instantly relaxing and calming. Layers of white, off-white, greige, neutral and earth tones make the look feel pulled together and inviting. Despite the white, minimalist aspect of modern coastal design, it somehow still feels warm and comforting rather than stark—by creating layers through a mix of materials and textures.

Many modern coastal interiors feature plenty of nooks and little spaces to relax, read, meditate, and enjoy the outdoors. To get a modern Hamptons look, be sure to include places where you can kick back and read, work, or take an afternoon nap.

Design + Image: Lindye Galloway

In addition to plenty of spaces for solo time, you’ll also have great entertaining and gathering spots throughout the home. The kitchen and dining areas are often a central focus, with a lovely big marble island or counter space to chat and cook. It's not uncommon to see a combination of soft, comfortable seating alongside the typical dining chairs. Welcoming conversation spaces abound.

You'll see high-quality yet natural materials throughout a modern Hamptons home: marble countertops, tile and hardwood flooring, and crafted trim. Often, a mixture of metals are part of the contemporary coastal design scheme—touches of brass, nickel, chrome, pewter, and even gold add a polished appeal.

Evoking Modern Coastal Design in Any Space

How can you add elements of coastal appeal to your space (even without an ocean view from your living room)?

Earth tones are a key element to this look, of course. Start with a neutral, light palette, and you're already on your way. Remember that white alone can be modern and crisp but also a bit stark. A creamy white, off-white, taupe, or greige can make the space feel warmer. Accent colors are typically soft, although you may see moody hues incorporated into coastal spaces as well.

To keep the look understated, you'll want to avoid any overtly nautical themes. Now, of course, some sea glass, shells, or other natural elements can be beautifully appropriate, but less is more. Keep artwork classic and use sculptural forms, found objects, or antique treasures as decorative items. Blue and white ginger jars and other chinoiserie are classic coastal staples alongside white ceramics. Seagrass baskets provide both beauty and function.

Modern coastal design is all about texture (which I love)! Think sisal rugs, rattan, jute, and wicker in natural shades and whites. Oak is quite common in coastal style. Furniture fabrics are often practical and always natural. Cotton, linen, and other wovens help create a comfortable yet well-appointed look.

Light abounds in modern coastal homes. If you don’t have large windows in your space, keep your home well-lit with layered lighting. Pendant lights and chandeliers fit well with coastal design, but utilize lamps and wall sconces to help brighten the space too. Use mirrors to create the illusion of more space, if needed as well. Even small homes can feel much larger with the right lighting approach.

If you're lucky enough to have a veranda or even a large porch—patio furniture often includes wicker, porch swings, teak, and classic pieces like Adirondack chairs. Add softness with pillows, throws, and other textiles.

As with any living space, the most crucial part of any look or aesthetic is that it works for you and brings you a sense of comfort and ultimately joy.

What do you think of modern coastal decor? Are you a fan of coastal grandma? Let me know in the comments.

X Lauren


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