Quick -- imagine a vacation beach cottage. Lots of white-on-white, sandy floors and jars of seashells pop into your mind. But beach-themed color goes beyond white floors, walls, ceiling and washable white slipcovers. Come down off your cloud and discover the subtle and smashing shades an errant seashore wave can deposit in your casual interior decor.
The Big Fade
A beach is a liminal place, caught between continent and ocean, sunrise and sunset, low and high tides. Colors are always intensifying and fading, so your beach decor palette can be as pearly as dawn lavender, as washed-out as flotsam in a tideline, as bleached as a cast-up shell. Pale gray walls, bleached wood floors and faded upholstery are worn, welcoming and restful -- like a well-used beach house. Try canvas slipcovers on furniture in neutral shades of bone, taupe, whisper gray and palest powder blue. A trick to fade the color on casual fabric and throw pillows is to dry-brush white paint here and there over them to simulate sun-bleaching and fading. Add interest with natural objects -- a basket of multicolored shells, a driftwood table base, a collection of glass fishing floats that gleam in translucent and jewel-like colors.
Sea, Sand and Sky
Use what nature provides to color your home like a day at the beach. Cover floors in camel flat-weave or sisal carpet like sand. Paint walls up to the chair rail in sea-blue or lagoon-turquoise. Then fade upper wall paint gradually to white as it meets the ceiling -- just as the horizon disappears into the clouds. Scatter more sandy colors around with upholstery and pillow cover choices. Beaches may be toasty-pink, sugar-white or volcanic black. Pebbles and water-worn stones are soft shades of browns and grays. Winter waves are gray-green or dark blue. Shells are creamy, freckled like baby deer, blushed from pale to deep pink inside, striped gray-and-white, the blue-black of mussels. Get graphic in a nursery with a painted sky-ceiling of cerulean blue sponged with puffy white clouds. Hang a mobile of swooping paper seagulls or tiny sailboats over the crib.
Hot and Tropical
All beaches are not alike. The red-hot tropics sport a paintbox of hues that capture the orange of sunsets, the electric blue of the Gulf Stream, the juicy yellow of a mango. Get some steel drum action going with a flamingo-pink bathroom with chameleon-green towels; a purple morning-glory guest room with crisp white bed linens and trim; vivid aquamarine walls in a family room with one mural wall of a curling wave at Waikiki. Keep it beachy by using matte paint for a chalklike finish that mimics the intense colors of beach-shack paint jobs oxidizing in the relentless sun. When you can't quite manage the Bahamas in the breakfast nook, use pops of color for a more subdued nod to tropical heat. Distress and whitewash a tangerine wooden table and paint mismatched wood chairs with woven seats in different colors: robin's egg blue, conch shell pink, key lime yellow, and oyster white.
A swirl of water around a jetty or over an inshore reef is a myriad of colors, hinting at secrets in the depths. Capture the complexity with faux painting to turn a wall into a glimpse of a coral habitat below. Verdigris, the irregular green-turquoise of reef water, is the patina that forms on exposed copper, and it is one of the simplest faux finishes to reproduce. Do-it-yourself kits give you a coppery base coat and a chemical topcoat that interacts with the metallic paint to oxidize into soft, uneven shades of green. Try it on a table base or a lamp. Do the same thing on a wall with paint, for the dreamy depths of a lagoon with its play of light and shadow. Sponge a mix of turquoise, teal, aqua, copper or aubergine, light grays and hints of white and charcoal on the wall, like a birds-eye view of the shallows. Protect the lagoon wall with a medium-gloss, clear-coat finish that glints like light on water.