Beach House Style: How To Achieve Breezy Summer Style on a Budget


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We’re now well into Summer and I am craving the beach like no year before. Unfortunately, with a full design calendar, I don’t see a trip in my near future. Tennessee’s a landlocked state. Rivers are fine. But there’s something about the crashing waves and soothing blues that makes everything feel right with the world. I just want to get there. I guess you know the adage – if you can’t get to the beach, get the beach to you. What no one says that? Well, I say we start a trend. 

Of course, I know a lot of people cringe at the idea of “beach-themed” home decor. We’ve all seen how badly it can go. My mother has a collection of shell-shaped soaps in her bathroom that have been gathering dust next to the pine cone and apple slice potpourri for at least 30 years. I’ve seen more flip flop picture frames in houses than there were actual feet to wear flip flops. I’m not talking about kitsch. I’m not talking about your mother’s beach decor. Does anyone else remember the Avon-style, mom-to-mom sales company Home Interiors from the 90s? Yeah. I’m not talking about that either. I’m suggesting subtle changes and accents that can bring the serenity of a beach lifestyle to your own home. Everything in moderation, kids. Don’t go out and buy this entire list and then tell people Teri Moore designed your living room because I will unfriend you. I’m not afraid to deny deny deny all involvement in your obsessions.

Listed below are just a few ways you can let the beach lifestyle guide  you, inspired by my friend Susan Hirst, Principle Designer at Modern Cottage Collective Design Studio. She works with clients who actually do live on the beach and she incorporates the ocean aesthetic in a meaningful, yet subtle way. I think you’ll love what she has to offer. You can check out her website and portfolio here

Modern Cottage Collective Design Studio
Modern Cottage Collective Design Studio

Start with a neutral base. 
I often hear from clients that they’re afraid to use too much white in their homes. They worry the white will feel stark or cold. White backgrounds are a staple in all of Susan’s designs. This is, of course, my favorite aspect of her work. She allows white to shine by incorporating varying shades. Did you know white can be as varied as any other color? It can. Some whites have blue undertones while others appear warmer by incorporating subtle beige tones. She plays with white in ways that make the entire space feel layered and not cold at all. Here are my favorite whites, from Sherwin Williams. 

See how varied even just different shades of white can be? Another way that Susan plays with white to create depth is by using one single shade and creating a layered textural effect. In this shower, she’s installed a plain subway tile in a modern, geometric pattern and layered in a  cotton shower curtain in a similar tone to create interest. I absolutely love her skills with white. 

Modern Cottage Collective Design Studio
Modern Cottage Collective Design Studio

To achieve a similar look, you can also choose tile patterns that vary shades of white or offer unique textures like the ones here. 

A simple subway tile with a bevel gives the impression of color depth, while the veining in these white marble tiles introduces subtle shades of cool white and grey for texture. Paired with the shower curtains below, any of these tiles can provide instant interest and keep a space from feeling stark. 

Modern Cottage Collective Design Studio
Modern Cottage Collective Design Studio

Layer in blue. 
If you’ve been reading this blog or following me on Instagram for any length of time, you probably suspected this was going to be one of my tips. I’m obsessed with blue. It can feel both feminine and masculine. There are so many shade options, ranging from cool grey blue tones to heavy, brown-toned navy. Plus, when we all think of the beach, don’t we first think of that line where the ocean and the sky collide and create the most beautiful shade of blue on Earth? 

Modern Cottage Collective Design Studio
Modern Cottage Collective Design Studio

Susan has such a talent for pulling varying shades of blue into her spaces without making the rooms feel stuffy or over saturated with color. Despite there being grossly varying shades of blue in the room above, the design is cohesive and seamless. The blue feels like the waves rolling gently into you and scooping you up, rather than a crash that jars you. You can achieve this balance by picking a base color, like navy, and introducing it in multiple pieces and to varying degrees. Here are some of my favorite navy blue accent pieces that you can use to create your base layer of color. 

Once you have that base layer in place, you can look for clues in the pieces you’ve incorporated to find your smallest accent colors. For instance, in the lamp above, the blue has a gradient. I would pull the lighter tones for this room from there. Here are some pieces that would layer beautifully. 

Modern Cottage Collective Design Studio
Modern Cottage Collective Design Studio

Stick with warm wood tones.
There’s this idea that a beach or coastal look requires white washed wood. I completely disagree. In fact, white wood can be a one-way ticket to Kitschville, Population: A LOT. Beyond the sand and ocean, there’s so much life at the beach. Between the driftwood and palm trees, you’ll notice subtle hints of brown everywhere. This is the most modern and yet classically beautiful design trick Susan employs. She sticks with warm wood. You won’t find white washing in her vocabulary and I love that! Here are some warm wood pieces you can use to create a sturdy base in your home. 

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Add hints of nature.
She’s surrounded by the ocean and yet, there’s not a seashell in sight. No fussy floral arrangements in Susan Hirst’s designs. I love how she recalls her surroundings with simple fern cuttings and hydrangea stems tossed in a vase. The bowls of lemons and edible delights that adorn her kitchen counters feel like they’ve been effortlessly tossed there. They aren’t there to adorn the space so much as they serve a utilitarian purpose – to offer up a quick snack to a passerby. After all, isn’t that what the beach is about? Nothing too fussy. We’re here to relax. A laid-back vibe is just the best. I’ve gathered the below items to assist you in creating a similar vibe, even in your regular ol’ hustle and bustle life. 

Of course, I don’t share just anyone who designs pretty rooms. You know that if I’m exalting someone, it’s because they’ve got a bit of humanity that I love. Susan Hirst is no exception. Her passion is for animals and I admire how she dedicates her time to service. She donates a portion of her fees to animal protection charities and her life’s dream is to donate all of her income. I can’t hate on that. What an awesome designer with a wonderful story. If you’re not familiar, I implore you to check her out right here. She will blow your mind. 





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