Making Waves: Beach House Style

Is beach brain a thing? I think I’m suffering from it, especially with all the hot and humid weather! All I want to do is go to the beach and park myself there with a good book, soak up some sun, and splash around in the ocean every so often. That’s what summer is all about, right? Hot days and warm nights and hopefully a little bit of time cooling off in the water.

Needless to say, envisioning a dreamy beach house is part of the very serious beach brain condition. What I love about beach style is that it can take so many different forms: surf style, shabby chic, cottage, rustic. Whether you choose to keep it casual or dress it up, it’s a look that can be infused with tons of color or mellowed out with pale hues.

I recently found some designs that put a twist on typical beach style—some perhaps intentionally, and others perhaps not! One of them is this entryway by Seldin Design Studios of San Francisco, which also happens to be where this residence is located. San Francisco may not immediately bring the beach to mind, but its water views and access are a big part of the landscape, so it’s not an unlikely influence. This space is vintage beach chic—the wallpapers above and below the chair rail are the perfect balance of casual and formal. The woven details on the mirror and table drawers add extra texture, and the subdued wood tones make me think of driftwood and sand. The vase of wildflowers brings to mind the random flora that sometimes grows along the beach in patches of grass. It’s possible that the beach had nothing to do with inspiring this design, but I could definitely see using this space to inspire a pretty beach house.

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This dining area by Helen Bergin Interiors, based in Marblehead, MA, is full of natural elements and sandy colors that are totally beachy but far from stereotypical. The whimsical fixture over the table is a subtle nod to the home’s seaside location.

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In Manhattan Beach, CA, Waterleaf Interiors used a bright peacock green wallpaper with metallic accents on the inside of this bar cabinet. I love the formality of the elegant barware, traditional kitchen cabinets, and marble countertops combined with the retro, midcentury colors. It’s grown-up but with a touch of surf style.

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This bathroom, also by Waterleaf Interiors, is refreshing in pink and blush hues. I’m not sure I would think to use pink in a beach-inspired bathroom, but it makes so much sense. There are pink sand beaches, after all! The classic subway tile in this shower has a lovely sheen to it that reminds me of mother-of-pearl, and the pattern on the wallpaper echoes the shape of both sea plants and pebbles. Even the knob on the drawer has the texture of an urchin shell.

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I’m always drawn to spaces where a mix of styles are used, so naturally this powder room by Nicola’s Home, a designer based in Yarmouth, Maine, appeals to me. This is such a thoughtful combination of modern and vintage mixed with elegant and casual. And it’s topped off with that fantastic oyster shell mirror, which is just perfect for a home that’s close to the ocean.

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This bedroom by the same designer has a similarly eclectic look. The yellow and citron accents bring a lot of warmth to the space, and the room has a distinct seaside feel to it despite its minimal use of blue. It’s a great example of using texture and pattern to evoke a sense of place.

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Tracery Interiors, a design firm located in the Florida panhandle, also chose citron for this beach-side bedroom. When you stop to consider how sunshine plays a big role in a good beach day, it’s no wonder that shades of yellow can successfully evoke a beach vibe. The decor helps reinforce that idea with the tortoise shell on the wall and items on the sand-colored nightstand. The geometric patterns in this room give it a formal look, but the bright colors and natural linen fabrics on the bed and lamp shade help keep things feeling cozy instead of stuffy.

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All of these interiors are imaginative and distinct. They do, however, share some common elements such as weathered wood, woven baskets, uplifting colors, organic accents, and a mix of punchy and subtle patterns. If you had to choose one of these photos to jumpstart your beach house design (and potentially cure your case of beach brain!), which one would it be?

Color Story: Earthy, Rich, Bold + Textured

I went to Providence the other weekend for the Festival of Historic Houses and toured a handful of incredible homes in the city’s Paterson Park neighborhood. What a treat! It’s a tiny area made up of just a few streets, and it’s bursting with charm and personality. Every house in the neighborhood, whether it was on the tour or not, oozed curb appeal. Colorful front doors, inviting porches, creative gardens—there was something to admire about every single house!

Given my background in residential interior decorating, I was excited to see the inside of the homes on tour, as well. My favorite house was drenched in color and pattern. I could tell that the owner had done her homework. Each room had a color story, and she had installed some fantastic little surprises in the form of patterned draperies in several rooms, an antiqued mirror backsplash in the butler’s pantry, and playful wallpaper in a tucked-away powder room and hall (oh, and on a ceiling, too!). Walking from room to room felt like a treasure hunt because there was so much to discover and admire.

The decor reminded me of projects by some of my favorite designers like Katie Ridder, Bailey McCarthy, Steven Gambrel, John Robshaw, and Seema Krish. I cannot emphasize enough how wonderful it was to see someone embrace color instead of painting every room white! Don’t get me wrong—white can be wonderful, and it has its place. But using color (and using it well) requires planning and coordination and commitment—the things that make up a thoughtfully designed space.

I left the tour inspired to find more designers who decorate this way. I had to wade through a lot of white walls and shiplap to find them, but I was successful! I thought I’d share my findings here for those of you who might also be craving rich colors and texture.

First up is Indigo + Ochre, a design company based in Brooklyn. Their tile game is on point. That kitchen backsplash is so vibrant and cheerful. In the powder room photo, notice how much texture is apparent in the floor tiles, the sink and wall surfaces, the hardware, and the mirror frame. Even the hand towel is made of beautiful dyed linen threads.

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Isn’t this sliding door incredible? It’s such a refreshing take on the oh-so-ubiquitous barn door. First of all, it’s blue—YAY for saturated color! Secondly, the lattice screen and carvings give it visual interest beyond the bright color. I would take this door any day over a standard Shaker-style barn slider! It’s a work of art. I also appreciate how it forges a connection between the two rooms in the photo. It really allows the rugs to stand out, whereas they would be lost and look pretty bland if this door was plain white.

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Robin Henry Studio is another designer I discovered in my quest for colorful interiors. Her portfolio reveals a knack for combining eclectic design elements with both bold and subdued colors. The result is rooms that feel timeless yet very much of-the-moment.

The room below features some classic midcentury furniture against the bones of traditional architecture. The pouf and side table are decidedly Moroccan while the lighting spans a variety of styles. The wallpaper, while bright and intensely patterned, nearly reads as a solid when you stop to analyze all of the other elements working together. The design is exciting yet also completely seamless.

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I adore the use of the color in the following spaces. This kitchen is awash in soft green and blue hues with shades of red in the floor and woodwork, which provide a counterpoint for the cool colors.

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Things are amped up quite a bit in this space with a much bolder blue and shimmery gold-green backsplash. This butler’s pantry feels modern, but it’s actually grounded in quite a bit of traditional detail.

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In a totally different room, this leafy green gives the impression of being nestled in the treetops.

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Here, a library is painted a similar punchy green. It’s both vibrant and soothing—enveloping the space in one color creates a cozy atmosphere. Consider how different this room would feel if the green had been used sparingly against a white background. Such contrast would have created a livelier, more charged space. Instead, we have a room that feels very intimate and relaxed.

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At some point, I came across the Instagram account of Reath Design, and before I knew it, I had tumbled down the rabbit hole of scrolling through their entire feed plus the whole website. I mean…wow. WHOA.

These interiors feel so organic to me. I know for many people, “organic” conjures images of white rooms with big windows, light wood tones, and streamlined furniture. For me, it means earthy, grounded, and inspired by nature. There are undertones of William Morris in the wallpaper with hints of Anthropolgie-esque bohemian decor fit for both a laid-back surfer’s beach house or an English gardener with a penchant for Farrow & Ball. In other words—it’s about LAYERS! I am forever in awe of designers who are able to successfully combine two seemingly opposite sensibilities.

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Reath Design’s outdoor spaces are just as special as their interiors. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then I want to read each and every one of these short stories.

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All of these designers have woven color into their interiors in fun, surprising, and elegant ways. What do you think—do you have a favorite among these three designers? Have you recently discovered anyone doing amazing things with color, texture, and natural elements?

Road Trip: A Return to Lehigh County

During my most recent visit to the Lehigh Valley, I was reminded just how splendid this little corner of the world is. The fact that you can drive around on random back roads and find gorgeous buildings like this is one of the reasons I love this area so much:

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This stone mill is located in Lower Macungie Township and is situated directly on the Little Lehigh Creek, which would have been a prime location when it was still in use. Some records refer to it as the Neumeyer grist mill, most likely for the builder, Conrad Nuemeyer. Other references call it Laudenslager’s Mill. It was built in 1831 and operated as a flour mill. I didn’t know any of this until after I got home and Googled the name of the road where it’s located and “stone mill.” It’s amazing what you can learn with a little curiosity, isn’t it?

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I happened to be driving by the mill as the sun was going down, and a soft, golden light streamed through the trees, casting a warm glow on the building. It was the perfect light for snapping a few pictures on my phone. I couldn’t resist taking a photo of the farmhouse that also shares the property.

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At Kalmbach Memorial Park, also in Macungie, I spotted one of the two Singmaster barns in the area. This one was built sometime around 1850. The current iteration has a bright white exterior with deep green doors and trim, as well as two distinct hex signs above the second floor windows.

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The property was originally the John Singmaster farm, later purchased by Fred Kalmbach, Sr., who loved the land’s natural beauty. The barn and house are surrounded by woods, fields, gardens, and a small stream. Kalmbach was adamant about the land being used as a public park after his passing, a place for the community to gather and appreciate nature. According to the park’s website, the property hosts lots of educational and recreational programs for adults and children.

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I couldn’t help but notice how quiet and peaceful the park is. My car was the only one in the lot, so I think I had the place to myself. I took my time strolling through the gardens, down to the water, and into the woods and through the fields. I appreciated how the signs throughout the park reminded visitors that it’s a place intended for quiet reflection.

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Not much farther afield is Kospia Farms. I noticed this garden center the first time I visited, and I would have stopped if it hadn’t been pouring rain. I made a point to go back this time and wandered through the greenhouses and retail shops. The colorful sign below caught my eye—I especially love the arrow pointing towards the dog! Much to my dismay, I only spotted the dog as I was driving away. He looked like a friendly pup eager to greet his visitors!

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Get a load of these succulent planters! This might have been my favorite section of the nursery. The variety of plants and containers creates a whimsical, perfectly-imperfect look, and the longer you look at the display, the more details reveal themselves.

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Who knew cinder blocks could look so magical? I don’t know if this arrangement happened by design or as a matter of convenience, but I love the combination of the lush plants with what’s basically an unremarkable construction material. It works especially well as part of the larger display grouped with the tree stump, the Jonathan Adler-esque planter, and other containers. I’m also in love with all the prickly pear cacti!

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Later in the weekend, I went to the farmers market in downtown Emmaus followed by a trip to Funk Brewing. I passed this brick house while walking through a back alley to get to Funk. You never know what you’re going to find when you take the road less traveled, right?!

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Funk Brewing was a great spot to hang out. I went with my husband and dad, and we sampled every beer on tap AND had some of the most delicious poutine from a food tent pop-up that set up shop for the afternoon. I didn’t take pictures of the food, which is a shame, but also maybe a blessing in disguise because looking at pictures of it would make me want to eat fries smothered with cheese and gravy nonstop!

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I not-so-secretly want one of those Lehigh Valley Brewers Guild signs.

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My trip to Lehigh County was for a family visit, so all of my exploring happened by chance. It just so happens that there’s a lot to do here, and you’re never far from pretty scenery.

Caption This: Storytelling vs. Scrolling

Sometimes it feels like 90% of writing about home design is posting a photo of your own or someone else’s work and saying, “I wouldn’t mind drinking coffee/reading a book/eating/sleeping here.” So many photos on Instagram are captioned with something similar—and hey, it might be true! I’m sure I’ve done that myself on this blog.

It seems a little lazy, though, especially when promoting one’s own work. I’d much rather learn a unique fact about the project! Tell me something meaningful about a piece included in the photograph or an interesting tidbit about the client. And that doesn’t mean telling the audience that the space was designed for “a young couple with children who needed lots of space for x, y, z” or “empty nesters interested in living closer to restaurant and entertainment options downtown.” Those circumstances are extremely common—lots of people are expanding their families or becoming empty nesters or living alone and looking for ways to do that in a home that’s functional and beautiful. Needing living space for a certain number of people is not the only reason why a client chooses a certain type of dwelling, and it’s not the only driving factor in decorating choices. What led them to choose that town, that neighborhood, that block, that building, that unit? What significance is there to the furnishings they’ve chosen—are they heirlooms, antiques, or collected works of art?

There can be limitations in revealing this information, of course. A client’s privacy is of the utmost importance, and sometimes a space has been decorated to simply be a pretty spot in someone’s home without maximizing function. And Instagram favors short captions for scroll-happy attention spans! But I still think it’s worth telling the story instead of opting for the fluffy caption.

One of my favorite places to get the story—to read about the why—is the “You Make the Call” features in the New York Times real estate section. And I know, I know! We’re talking about long-form writing instead of snappy social media posts. It’s a little apples-to-oranges, but not a total stretch. The point of these articles is to try to guess which property a home buyer has chosen based on a fairly in-depth profile, which often includes information about their jobs and commutes, marital status and family size, pet ownership, and entertainment preferences.

After getting all the details, you’re presented with three real estate listings that fit the “must-have” list to some degree, and you’re asked to pick which listing you would choose for yourself and which one the buyer chose. When you make your selections, the buyer’s actual choice is revealed along with the percentage of readers who voted for each unit, both for themselves and for the buyer. I love guessing which property appeals most to the readers because sometimes it’s a no-brainer and other times it’s a total surprise. It can be tough to guess the buyer’s choice, too! Sometimes I think the decisions are based on information you’d only get by being familiar with the area instead of only trying to interpret the facts provided in the article. The best part is that you’re also given the backstory on why the buyer made their decision along with photos of the home after the buyer has moved in, so you get to see how they’ve personalized it.

In “You Make the Call,” decorating is (usually) less a part of the story than the preference for building type, architectural style, and neighborhood, but I like that you learn a lot about the buyer’s decision-making process.

The content in these articles serves a different purpose than Instagram posts. These articles aren’t meant to be a designer’s marketing tool or mini portfolio. Some of the qualities are transferrable, though. Thoughtful captions, like thoughtful articles, take time to write. It’s obviously easier to type something short and simple like “weekend vibes” with a few emojis. I can’t help but see that as a missed opportunity to actually engage your readers and give them information that they can learn only from you.

What do you think? If you prefer to get more story, what house-related social media accounts or websites do you follow? Some of my other favorites include House Stories, The Front Door Project, Maine Home + Design, Houzz, and Los Angeles Times Home and Garden. I’m sure there are TONS of others, though. Tell me what your favorites are!

Click through photo for source and get the WHOLE story by clicking “Beacon on the Harbor” in green font.

Hometown Nostalgia: Christmas City Charm

I recently travelled to my hometown of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania after years of being away. It’s possible that the last time I visited was for my wedding shower, which was more than ten years ago! Isn’t that wild?

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My family recently relocated to the area, so I anticipate spending a lot more time there. I’m so excited about that! It means being with my favorite people in some of my most favorite places in the Lehigh Valley, Bucks County, and Brandywine Valley. The culture in these areas did so much to shape my passion for design and architecture, and without my parents’ interest in the art and culture of the region, I wouldn’t have the appreciation for it that I do. There’s an aesthetic to this part of southeastern Pennsylvania that I have yet to see replicated anywhere else—the landscape and artistic renderings of it are truly distinct. I can’t wait to rediscover and explore the places I was once so familiar with!

That’s why I jumped at the chance to spend a day in downtown Bethlehem during my most recent visit. I always loved walking the tree-lined streets when I was growing up. As a kid, when I would go to the library with my mom, sometimes we’d have to park a few blocks away, and I never minded because it meant walking beneath the leafy canopy and admiring the gardens tucked away behind hedges and in the narrow spaces between houses.

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I think these outdoor spaces are what sparked my love of urban gardens. There’s something magical about these small, semi-private areas shaded by trees, partially obscured by landscaping and garden gates. Despite being in the heart of a bustling city, they always seemed quiet and serene, as though their diminutive sizes naturally imposed a hush over street traffic and passersby.

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Porch style (and stoop style) is taken very seriously here, too.

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It makes me so happy to see how well-maintained the houses are. Keeping up with external maintenance on an old house is a constant process—there’s always something peeling, cracking, chipping, eroding, or breaking. I admire how effortless these homeowners have made it look.

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One of my favorite accents used outdoors in Bethlehem is the Moravian star, which you’ll notice in several photos. The Moravian star, also known as the Star of Bethlehem, is the quintessential symbol of the city. There is even a giant, lighted version of the star that sits permanently at the top of South Mountain overlooking Bethlehem.

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I came across this quote a couple of months ago: “Home is a place you grow up wanting to leave and grow old wanting to get back to.” Certainly as the years have passed, I’ve found myself thinking more about my hometown and longing to spend more time there. I’m looking forward to future visits, and I can’t wait to share more of this wonderful little town with you.