After you finish decorating your house by the sea, sit on the veranda with a tall mint julep and watch the kids shrieking at the edge of the waves. You will deserve that respite, but first get the decor right to minimize upkeep and maximize lighthearted enjoyment of your seashore space. Aim for decor that's easy to sweep, wipe and mop; keep the palette light to enhance the sea and sky; and add your own personal style touches to make it feel like home.
1. Reef Madness
Treat your family to two shades of coral in the dining room for casual, cheerful meals that are friendly to your kids' wet bathing suits and sandy feet. Substitute seagrass mat for carpet under the table; it's easy to vacuum and kind to bare toes. Ring a shiny cream-colored dining table -- the color of bleached hard coral -- with a motley group of chairs in variations of pinkish-orange coral. Paint mismatched second-hand, wooden chairs in high-gloss enamel that gleams as if new with a quick wipe-down: true coral, peach-orange, apricot, salmon and pale rose. Then add a couple of molded plastic Eames-style chairs; orange, gold or warm white will blend right in. A capiz-shell chandelier diffuses the overhead light source. Paint one wall in orange-coral and sketch a giant outline of a coral branch on it in off-white. Paint remaining walls creamy white.
2. Sail-Away Sleep Space
Bunk the kids in a room that sends their imaginations roaming. Paint regular wood bunk beds white, light blue or the minty-green of an emerald lagoon. Decoupage world maps and nautical charts on white walls and arrange a collection of vintage globes on a low bookcase painted to match the bunks. Cover one bed with a pillow sham and duvet cover that feature an appliqued anchor, and differentiate bunks with seashell or sailboat appliques on additional beds. A large braided rug in faded denim, sun-bleached barn red and grayish-white will cover an imperfect floor and muffle the joyful sound of pounding feet. Hang model seaplanes and bi-planes from the ceiling and stick a constellation of glow-in-the dark stars on the ceiling to serve as a nightlight and twinkling enticement to far-ranging dreams.
3. Sea Glass Serenity
A house at the shore should be a place to relax, so design your space -- indoors and out -- to mirror the tranquil shades of flotsam softened by the sea. Sea glass is worn to frosty, pastel, rounded tideline gems by the constant abrasion of waves and sand. If you're lucky, a hunt for it will turn up palest lilac and amethyst, liquid turquoise and powder blue, ghostly pink and watery peridot. Color the main living room and the front porch in sky and cloud -- blue-greens and puffy whites. White rope hammocks and blue-and-white striped cushions on the porch give way to glossy white floors inside. The floors bounce light off turquoise-aqua-and-white striped upholstery, whitewashed wood slat blinds, and faded pink, turquoise and lilac down throw pillows. A shadowbox coffee table holds a beach diorama of white sand, collected shells and prized sea-glass specimens that inspired your decor.
4. Old-Fashioned Escape
When the seashore house is your vacation get-away, leave the modern world behind along with the job and the weedy lawn. Paint each room a different shade of pastel, framed with lots of white trim. Then add the colors and images of vintage postcards to define the space. A reproduction metal sand bucket painted with cartoon children becomes a bathroom wastebasket. A shower curtain covered in 1920s bathing beauties evokes days along the boardwalk. Hang framed posters of sunny vacation spots in the kitchen: Florida flamingos and orange groves, colorful Portofino cliff houses. In a seagull-gray and white living room, silvered cypress knees are table bases, and a lazy ceiling fan stirs the delicate palm fronds shooting up from movable faux-marble ceramic planters on wheeled stands.
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