Free Issue! Try Saltscapes Magazine before you buy. Download Now

Cool and clean décor ideas for home or cottage

by Cheryl Cook

Living in Atlantic Canada, the ocean is a natural source for design inspiration in many parts of our lives, including our homes. The coastal look has never been more popular, and it’s a natural fit in our part of the world, and a great look for summer, be it in your home or cottage. However, tossing a few dried starfish on the coffee table does not a coastal interior make. Luckily, capturing the look isn’t complicated, especially with this handy guide to creating the perfect, breezy coastal interior. 

The look

Typically, there are three types of coastal looks: The North American Style tends to be what we think of in terms of an east coast beach house, or California seaside chic: whites, pale blues, and greens, with traditional and vintage touches. The Tropical coastal look is more Polynesian or Hawaiian, so you often see brighter colours, leafy patterns, and teak or rattan in the furniture. The Mediterranean coastal look also tends to be more colourful than the North American style, with bright blues and floral tones. It can also feature more traditional and ornate forms in the furniture and decorations.

Today, we’re focusing on the North American coastal look.

When planning your coastal makeover—and if we agree on nothing else, it’s the importance of planning your decorating projects before you so much as buy a single curtain panel, yes?—start with a vision. Flip through a few magazines, spend an hour on Pinterest, and get a feel for how you want your space to look. The coastal look focuses on ocean hues, natural light, and an open, comfortable feel. It works to connect the interior design of your home to the outside world through colour, texture, light and use of space.

The motifs at play in this tend to be nautical or from the seashore. In these you can go as simple or as kitschy as you like. Boat models, seashells, and glass bottles can be brought together in your space. Try creating clustered displays, rather than setting individual objects all around the room on their own. Allowing some negative space will help with the feeling of openness that defines the coastal look.


Colour is the quickest way to effect change in a space, and white is the colour of choice to ground your room with a coastal feel. This is a decorating trick that is also favoured in rooms that have a Scandinavian touch. Painting the ceiling, walls, and even the floor white not only maximizes the natural light, it maximizes the feeling of space and openness.

A quick trip to the paint store will uncover the fact that you have about eighty shades of white from which to choose. But don’t worry. The staff at your local paint store are always there to help, as are many of us local decorators. And here are my quick tips for choosing a white.

If your room faces south or west and has plenty of warm, natural light, consider a cooler shade of white to avoid the possibility of the room taking on a yellow-ish hue. Conversely, if the room faces east or north, go for a warmer white to counteract that cool indirect light.

If you are considering a painted floor, my general rule is that you don’t paint wood that looks good and brings value to your home. But if the floors are worn and perhaps not the best-looking wood, why not paint it? This is, however, a different task than painting your walls. Floors need a gentle sanding to bring up the grain. You’ll then need to vacuum and clean them thoroughly to ensure there is no dust left to make your paint look dull and granular. Adding a primer before painting may feel like a lot of extra work, but ensuring that the paint adheres well will save you headache in the future. Talk to your local paint shop about a floor or deck paint in your chosen shade of white. You’ll need a few coats of this and a polyurethane finish to seal it. It’s definitely more work than simply painting your walls, but the results can be stunning.

Building on your white base, coastal décor tends towards soothing shades of blues and greens, with natural tones thrown in—think bleached wood or seagrass. If you want bright pops of colour to accompany these, go for a coral accent, or take your inspiration from local flowers.

Put together a palette of your main colour (likely a white), with two main accents in blue and/or green and choose an optional bright contrast in the red-pink family. Natural accents such as wood or grass cloth can be seamlessly added to any coastal palette. This palette can then guide your decorating choices, in everything from rugs to furnishings to window treatments. 


Natural light is essential to the airy, open feel of the coastal look. Whether or not you have an abundance of windows, you’ll always work to maximize what is available. If you want or need heavy curtains, ensure they are open during daylight hours, and that your rod is log enough that when pulled open, the curtains do not crowd the window itself, cutting off light. Stay within your colour palette, keeping even your heavyweight fabrics in light and clean tones. Airy sheers or light weight panels in linen or light cottons will keep the look natural and work with your white colours and accents.


Costal décor tends towards a relatively traditional feel. But within this, avoid heavy ornamentation in favour of cleaner, simpler lines. Relying on your palette, keep your large items, like sofas, natural or white, and use colour in your smaller pieces. Create a sun-bleached effect by choosing wood accents that are in a pickled or driftwood shade. Try open shelving rather than heavy cabinets to keep with the light, fresh feel.

If you are handy and want to take on a DIY project or two, chalk paints are just the right medium for this look. Old dining tables and chairs, or a coffee table in the living room, can be transformed into a pale blue or off-white, with a lightly distressed feel. If you’re unsure about using these, check around locally for a class. Often, you get to work on a personal project while learning how to use chalk paint and various finishes, so you can try it out on a piece that you want to include in your room.

Simple upholstery projects like seats on dining room chairs, can also benefit from a bit of DIY. Choose a fabric that works with your palette, and head over to YouTube for a tutorial. Local upholstery companies can be called upon for more advanced pieces, and many offer classes that allow you to create something special for yourself.

When considering patterns or prints for any project or décor addition to your space, you simply need to stay within your colour palette. You can mix and match prints and patterns within this. A good place to start is choosing three different patterns or prints with a varied scale, so not every pattern is the same size. Some people prefer more traditional patterns like stripes and checks and some people want to go wild with fun florals or animals prints. Feel free to throw in a solid as well and don’t forget that this is the perfect place to incorporate your coastal motifs such as fish, coral, anchors, and let’s not forget the ever-popular octopi. There’s no right or wrong in this preference—it’s simply down to your own taste. Just stay within your palette, and you can’t really go wrong.

Adding textures

Decorating a room in pale, sun washed shades can leave it feeling a bit flat. You can remedy this with some texture, brought in through rugs, blankets, fabrics, décor pieces and even your walls.

Sisal and jute are popular material to use underfoot in rugs, with sisal being exceptionally durable but jute being softer. If you want something even cushier, and are opting for a traditional rug, again, stick to the rule of choosing from within your palette to help you decide on colour.

Other décor such as blankets, upholstery and window fabrics, and décor pieces are an opportunity for some variety in the textures you choose, as well as a chance to bring your coastal theme. Shiny, pale blue glass bottles contrasted against rough, heavy rope, and the smooth, matte finish of a ceramic shell dish. Unbleached cotton cushions piled up next to a soft green blanket. These varieties in texture are a real finishing touch in any room.

On your walls, beadboard and barnboard can be used to add depth and variety. If you paint these white or white-wash them, you’ll avoid the look of heavy wood, while maintaining the feel they add. Grass-cloth wallpaper is also popular and a great way to bring a natural tone and subtle texture to the walls.

Finally, don’t forget to add a bit of greenery. Leafy, tropical plants are an obvious choice, but you can also take your cue from nature and imitate the feel of grassy dunes with plants like lemongrass or a ponytail palm. Like any décor element, try clustering these together, using plants of different looks and heights, and don’t forget to use your colour palette when choosing the containers that you place these in.

Easy as 1, 2, 3

With so many choices to make, any decorating project can feel overwhelming at first. If you are hoping to bring a breezy coastal vibe into your home, just follow the steps here. Start with a plan, create a palette, and proceed to make something beautiful. And don’t forget to keep an eye out for a vintage pitcher for the rum punch you’ll make when you’ve put this all together—and do invite me over to take a look.    

Intro Credit: BIgstock/Kasia Bialasiewicz
Intro Caption: accessories like pillows, throws, glassware and
plants help to add to the ambience.

Header Credit: Tuft and Trim Interior Design/


Other Stories You May Enjoy

The (almost) stress-free kitchen reno

Redoing the heart of your home without anxiety

Tread Softly

Although I never met Gwendolyn Brunelle, she has - indirectly - taught me how to braid rugs. Born and raised in North Woodside in Dartmouth, NS, Gwen died there in 1997. Fortunately for me, her...
The stunning cupola at the Lovitt House gift shop in Yarmouth, NS

Up on the Roof

This was the question that started our attraction to the cupola 20 years ago. We were travelling across Canada and the US, hitting back roads and historical sites whenever we could. Noticing how...