At Home at the Beach

A beach home is a delicate balance of light, sea air and design. 

Vail Design at Altitude column
By: Frances Karsh

The official start to summer is less than two months away, and since it’s snowy and rainy here, my mind drifts to long, lazy beach days… which then meld into sumptuous summer nights at home. Having a beach house to come home to is icing on the cake. But, designing a beach house is just rewarding as it is challenging. Nautical themes, dried starfish and everything dripping in kitschy ocean colors don’t create a beach house that is necessarily welcoming.

I’ve been lucky enough to design beach houses on both coasts and in Hawaii. Staying true to my clients’ design aesthetic is important for the overall feel of the house, to design a ‘beach feel’ into the design, to create a beach home they love.

When designing beach homes I try to use accent color palettes found in nature to keep the home light and fresh; think updated neutrals like sea-grass or rattan. Glass tile and opalescent tile accents give a sleek nod to the ocean but don’t go the theme route so heavily. Similarly, adding in rustic elements such as hand-hewn timbers or found objects, repurposed, add visual interest while bringing some of the sea and beach inside.


Since beach homes generally have natural light, that soft ambient light that shimmers off the ocean, more saturated colors offer a fresh perspective. I try to work in cooler colors—azures, blues and greens—that complement the more updated feel.

The bright ocean light that we crave can be too much sometimes. A set of sheers or layers of linens float through the breeze and add a dreamy quality to the afternoon light. Clients often hesitate to use window treatments but they keep the heat out and protect the furnishings and interior finishes in addition to looking sweet.

Strong design should always incorporate wearability and functionality—good looks with good design, which is why I tend to use porcelain tile in place of wood flooring in a beach house. It’s easy to clean and lasts better than wood flooring.


Try indoor/outdoor low-pile rugs. The rug manufacturers have really upped their ante in the past few years and these rugs feel good on your feet and have a quality look. Again, these are easy to clean and won’t mold, which is so important in the damp sea air.


Similarly, indoor/outdoor fabrics offer bright colors and are easy to clean. The sun won’t fade the colors, either.

For the patio, I love the look of sleek metal furniture, it adds so much to an outdoor patio or deck, but make sure it’s able to withstand the humid, salt air. Wood pieces are classic New England and as they weather they become more welcoming.


As if visiting the beach isn’t a treat in itself, coming home to a well-designed seaside home is well worth a plane ride.

Frances Karsh is a senior designer at Slifer Designs. She has created homes in the mountains, cities and on the coasts, where she brings elements of nature into the design.


Want to know about new arrivals, special offers and more?