Golden sun, turquoise waters, powder-white sand — what’s not to love about being at the beach? Nothing, it turns out. Just click on any home décor website and it quickly becomes obvious that the beach look is always in style.
The beach has long been a source of inspiration in the design world, whether borrowing its colors, its textures or both, in part because the idea of living near the beach is so tempting to many homeowners. After all, who wouldn’t enjoy having that laid-back lifestyle all year long?
Designer Paige Schnell has spent the past decade designing dozens of homes along North Florida’s scenic Highway 30A, a unique, upscale beach community that embodies the spirit of coastal design — with a twist. Unlike other waterside areas, 30A’s version of coastal design is a little bit Southern, a little bit small town, yet always about the beach. “We’re more small town beach with a Southern influence,” says Paige, who also has authored the book Tracery: The Art of Southern Design.
Her home design shop, Tracery Interiors, was among the first to open in Rosemary Beach, one of several New Urbanist communities along 30A (her second shop is nearby in Inlet Beach). “The architecture along 30A really sets the stage for the look and feel of the interior design here,” Paige says. “Even though each community looks different from the next, we’ve never had a modern take on design like Miami nor are we traditional like Nantucket; we sort of have our own niche. There’s a very heavy Southern influence here.”
We recently met up with Paige at her Rosemary Beach store and asked her to break down the key design features that make a 30A beach home so unique. Whether you borrow one or all, you’ll be feeling like it’s 5 o’clock somewhere (perhaps in your living room).
1. A Front Porch
When Seaside, the first New Urbanist community built on 30A, was in development, the architects reportedly drove around the South for architecture inspiration. “That’s why you see a lot of front porches along 30A, many with large overhands and big porch swings — these are elements equated with Southern design,” Paige says.
It’s also perfect for warm weather, something North Florida has in abundance, and it’s a cornerstone of the New Urbanist movement, which encourages interaction between neighbors.
2. A Sand Room
You’ve heard of mudrooms; well, at the beach, they’re called sand rooms, at least according to Paige. “You need a place to drop your beach gear, a spot where you can store flip-flops, hang your beach tote, that sort of thing,” she says. “Just like a mudroom, these are usually set near a side or back door, so it becomes a pit stop on the way out as well as on the way in from the beach.”
3. Casual Interiors
“The No. 1 design rule on 30A is that a home has to be light, bright and casual —nobody wants a dark, stuffy beach house,” Paige says. “Even if it’s a very upscale house, it still has to have a casual feel to it.”
Light, breathable materials, such as linen and cotton, are perfect. “I love Sunbrella fabrics for a beach house because they can be used indoors or out,” she says. “I also recommend flooring that has a driftwood color, so if you track sand in, it doesn’t show.”
Slipcovers are another must-have for that casual, beach house look. “What’s great about slipcovers is that they’re easy to care for,” she notes. If slipcovers get dirty, all you have to do is toss them in the wash. “Sunscreen is the biggest hazard to a beach home because everyone walks in covered in it and it gets on everything.” Look for high-performance fabrics, such as those from Pottery Barn, that won’t absorb stains and odors easily.
If you’ve got kids, Paige also recommends indoor/outdoor dining chairs you can wipe down if someone spills ketchup, for example. Low-maintenance furnishings are key to coastal design.
4. Outdoor Everything
You’ve heard of designers bringing the outdoors in? Paige is a pro at bringing the indoors out. “I use a lot of upholstered furniture because it makes the outdoors feel more comfy. Having that living room feel is really important because it makes you want to linger outside longer.”
With outdoor kitchens becoming more popular, it’s important to fold them into the design, so that the chef isn’t somewhere off to the side grilling. “Creating a space where everyone can spend time together, whether cooking or relaxing, is key.” If you don’t have the room for an outdoor fridge, Paige recommends a simple ice maker and a sink, “so you’re not constantly running to the kitchen to refill drinks.
It’s not just the drinks you’ll want to enjoy outside. You’ll probably want to eat most of your meals al fresco, too. “Enjoying an evening meal outside is the best way to end a day at the beach,” she says.
Perhaps nothing else makes you feel like you’re at the beach more than an outdoor shower. “It’s refreshing and relaxing, and it makes the most of the elements — people love it,” Paige says. It also helps to minimize a sandy mess indoors. “Remember to include hooks for towels and a place for shampoo and soap.”
Ana Connery is former content director of Parenting, Babytalk, Pregnancy Planner and Conceive magazines as well as parenting.com.
While editor in chief of Florida Travel & Life magazine from 2006-2009, she covered the state’s real estate and home design market as well as travel destinations.
She’s held senior editorial positions at some of the country’s most celebrated magazines, including Latina, Fitness and Cooking Light, where she oversaw the brand’s “FitHouse” show home.
Ana’s expertise is frequently sought after for appearances on “The Today Show,” “Good Morning America” and CNN. She has interviewed the country’s top experts in a variety of fields, including U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and First Lady Michelle Obama.