Are you a designer? Join our Trade program
Free Advice

Cape Cod Cottage or SoCal Surf Shack—Which Beach House Are You?

The Expert Team
a living room filled with furniture and a large window

Design by Cortney Bishop

Photo by Katie Charlotte Photography

Picture a beach house in your head: what does it look like? Is it a shingled cottage covered in climbing roses and filled with rattan furniture and blue and white pillows? Is it a tropical colonial bungalow surrounded by palm trees and peppered with pink and green accents? Or is it a contemporary cliffside structure à la Tony Stark?

The beauty of coastal living is that it is, in essence, without fuss. We shed formality, clutter, and clothes in favor of pool slides and hammock naps. This also means low-maintenance finishes and bare surfaces that leave room for carefree living and warm breezes. So if nautical tchotchkes and Gone Surfin’ signs are stil the first thing that come to mind, we’re here to prove there is much more to coastal style than ropes and boats—and it all starts with our favorite oceanside destinations…

a bathroom with a sink and a mirror

Photo courtesy of Meredith Ellis Design.

New England

Nautical style in its most ubiquitous form hails from New England where historic homes meet the shoreline, inviting classic details mixed with maritime influences. Old sailboats are a great reference for this look: think darker woods, glossy paint in moody shades, and unlacquered brass accents. Gracie’s Nantucket Harbor wallpaper—which Expert Meredith Ellis used as a starting point for this bathroom—ties the scheme together.

a living room filled with blue couches and a large window

Design by Neal Beckstedt

Photo by Stephen Kent Johnson

The Hamptons

Ah, the Hamptons: a dreamy blend of surf shacks, classic shingled cottages, and contemporary masterpieces, all peppered along manicured meandering roads. There’s one thread that ties all these bluechip homes together—they’re both a little extravagant and understated at the same time. This Neal Beckstedt-designed sunken denim living room overlooking a row of hydrangeas couldn’t be a more apt example.

a living room filled with furniture and a surfboard

Design by Martyn Lawrence Bullard

Photo by Douglas Friedman.


Life’s just better outdoors in Hawaii, and local homes reflect this casual nature: think palm prints, seagrass rugs, floor cushions, and low-slung furniture. Even AD100 Martyn Lawrence Bullard who loves a good dose of glamour more than anyone went with carefree barefoot simplicity and laid-back living touches in this Maui compound.

a living room filled with furniture and a large window

Design by Jeffrey Alan Marks

Photo by Trevor Tondro.

Southern California

If “coastal grandma” was a decor aesthetic, it’d be California casual. (If you missed the TikTok trend that’s taking summer by storm, just picture Diane Keaton in Something’s Gotta Give.) There’s a reason it’s become one of the more prominent home styles of the past decade. Effortless textures, light, neutral palettes, whitewashed woods, cozy throws—what’s not to love? But don’t mistake the hype for a passing fad: the look is inherently timeless. Expert Jeffrey Alan Marks understands the appeal all too well and has perfected the begging to be lived in feel for over two decades.

a dining room with a table and chairs

Design by Jake Arnold

Photo by Michael P. H. Clifford and Michael Stavaridis.

Palm Beach

Palm Beach’s backdrop is lush and opulent—so naturally, the interiors have to step up to the task. The Mediterranean revival-meets-Bermudian architecture could feel out of place, if not for the locals’ love for a botanical wallpaper and a raffia wall sconce. The aesthetic is tropical but with a casual elegance and a dash of prep. In this Florida project, the Expert co-founder and AD100 Jake Arnold understood the assignment to a tee.

a living room filled with furniture and a fire place

Design by Lisa Staton

Photo by Aaron Leitz.

Pacific Northwest

Nothing complements the rugged Pacific Northwest coast like a dramatic double-height wall of windows and low-profile furniture in organic textures and warm neutral shades of oatmeal and taupe. When you have a view like the one in this Lisa Staton-designed living room, there’s no point in competing with it. The cooler temps means an oversized fireplace is a must-have—just sink in the deepest sofa and enjoy the view.


Want personalized design advice from these Experts? Book a consultation.