Modern design and coastal design may seem like a bit of an odd couple. After all, modern design is known for its crisp lines, bold shapes, and sleek minimalism. And coastal design—with its vibrant colors, beachy prints, and kitschy décor—is known for just the opposite.
But, combine the two, and you end up with something truly special. “Modern coastal design is a fresh, simplified take on traditional coastal décor,” Ariel Schuster, sales and design consultant at Artaic, says. “It leans into the visceral experience of being in a coastal environment without being so literal.”
In other words, you end up with an aesthetic that feels like the beach, so much so that you don’t need décor telling you where you are.
What Is Modern Coastal Design?
Modern coastal design blends the sleek minimalism of modern design with the beachy feel of coastal design. The result is typically a space filled with clean lines, coastal colors, and subtle nods to the beachy surroundings.
“Modern coastal design evokes the feelings of that beachy lifestyle without the obvious kitsch,” Kate Shaw and Betsy Moyer, co-founders of the experiential design firm Retreat, say. That means fewer surfboards, fewer ocean photographs, and fewer fish-lined patterns. On the whole, you can expect to swap statements for subtleties. Focus on suggesting a sense of place to your guests rather than shouting it at them the moment they walk through the door.
Meet the Expert
- Ariel Schuster is a sales and design consultant at Artaic, a custom tile shop. She has spent years in the interior design world, and she currently works with designers and architects to design and install custom tile mosaics.
- Kate Shaw and Betsy Moyer are the co-founders of Retreat, an experiential design firm. Shaw is a short-term rental expert, and Moyer is an interior designer.
Of course, balancing two conflicting aesthetics is always a challenge, but there’s no need for overwhelm. Instead of getting intimidated, scroll down to see some of our favorite modern coastal interiors—and bookmark your favorite modern coastal design ideas from the bunch.
Simplify Your Palette
If you want to craft a space that feels both coastal and modern, a great place to start is with your palette. Though classic coastal spaces are often filled with deep blues and bright oranges, modern interiors demand a more minimalist approach.
That doesn’t mean forgoing color entirely, but if you’re trying to craft the sleekest space possible, it might mean keeping your base color soft and subtle.
Bring in Natural Textures
Coastal interiors are full of texture, and that’s because the spaces they’re evoking are also full of texture. Classic accents—like seagrass rugs, driftwood pieces, and seashell mirrors—come directly from the ocean, and woven pieces nod to some of the plants you’d find along the beach.
By bringing these elements into your home, you can make your space feel cozy and coastal, even if your walls are lined with exposed brick as seen above.
Put a Modern Spin on Coastal Favorites
One of the most recognizable patterns in coastal design? The “classic ticking stripe,” Schuster says. Take one look at that print, and you’ll feel like you’re at the beach. A classic way to incorporate that motif into your décor scheme would be to pair the print with some of your sleekest modern furniture.
If you’d prefer a less obvious approach, consider snagging a slightly different striped piece—one that nods to the ticking stripe, but puts a modern twist on it.
Favor Abstract Art
When decorating a coastal interior, it can be tempting to stock up on beachy photographs and realistic-looking art. But remember, these aren’t your only options.
“You can nod to the ocean or the sand without being literal,” Schuster says. “For example, the ocean does not have to be depicted by crashing waves and sea life.” Instead, you can favor abstract pieces that allude to the ocean without replicating it exactly.
Add Warmth With Woven Accents
No coastal home feels complete without a few woven pieces, and that holds true, whether we’re talking about a modern coastal home or a more classic one.
Of course, some woven accents are more versatile than others—jute rugs have no trouble looking contemporary, for instance. But, even traditional wicker chairs can look modern when paired with an elegant marble table and some sleek industrial lighting.
Give Your Home a Sense of Place
“Oftentimes with coastal décor, the urge to over-style is difficult to resist,” Schuster says, adding that starfish, anchors, and nautical décor abound in coastal design. “After all, you want to pay homage to the location.”
But, there are ways to give your home a sense of place without flooding a room with clutter. Consider simplifying your gallery wall to include just one category of décor and invest in a couple statement-makers that signal location without crowding your space.
Load Up on Linen
Few fabrics feel as synonymous with the coastal aesthetic as linen. The textile is sleek, soft, and versatile, and when rendered in classically coastal soft neutrals—like crisp whites and warm beiges—the fabric should be able to cozy up even your most contemporary pieces.
Resist the Urge to Get Costumey
There are plenty of blueprints for what coastal décor “should” look like—and many of them are filled with seashells, wicker furniture, and fish-covered curtains. But, don’t just dress your space in the costume of coastal décor you’ve seen before.
“The modern coastal design style is all about evoking the spirit of the beach without it feeling like a beach theme,” Shaw and Moyer say. So, focus on the motifs you associate with the beach. The color yellow isn’t in every coastal palette, but if it transports you to your childhood summer vacations, it should be in yours.
Sprinkle in a Few Dark Pieces
Dark colors and sleek metal accents may seem out of place in a coastal home, but they can add a touch of welcome and much-needed contrast. When balanced with the rest of your space, even bolder accents, like a striking black console table, can fit right in.
Turn Your Bathroom Into a Statement-Maker
When many of us decorate our spaces, we neglect one of the most frequently used rooms in our homes: the bathroom. This is a grave mistake. To start, your bathroom deserves as much love and attention as the rest of your space, and according to Schuster, bathrooms are a particularly great candidate for a modern coastal makeover.
“Bathrooms provide a great opportunity to simplify and brighten up the space with modern coastal design,” she says. Keep the focus on light coastal colors and minimalist accents, and you should have a statement-maker in no time.
Feature Less Obvious Baubles
One signature element of many coastal homes? Shelves lined with seashells, starfish, and other popular beachy knick-knacks. But as Shaw and Moyer point out: “It's hard to bring in the glass buoys, rope art, seashells, and seagrasses without leaning into a little kitsch.”
To stay true to the coastal aesthetic without abandoning your modern roots, consider putting some less obvious baubles on display. Shaw and Moyer recommend glass beads and a sea urchin or two.
Even regional books, family photos, and rustic ceramics can do the trick.
Edit Your Way to Classic Coastal Colors
If you’re looking for a surefire way to make your space feel more coastal, pare your palette down to two classic coastal colors. “Blue and white forever,” Shaw and Moyer say. “If you have the power to edit your décor and keep the color scheme tight, a blue and white home will be so obviously modern coastal.”
Of course, minimalism is key to pulling this off, but the designers note that you can sprinkle in some natural colors and accents to make things more dynamic.
Line Your Floors With Sleek Tiles
One of the first motifs that come to mind when Schuster thinks of modern coastal homes? “Cool, glistening tile,” she says. Tiles make a classic and easy addition to the floors of any coastal home. Keep your space modern by snagging tiles in a striking print and a sleek neutral palette.
Make the Most of Your View
If you’ve been blessed with a stunning beach view, put it on full display. After all, there’s no greater compliment to a beachy interior than a beachy exterior.
“I love the idea that you can throw open all of the doors and windows, and the beachy breeze will roll right in while you prop your sandy toes up,” Shaw and Moyer say.
Layer Different Neutrals
Coastal color schemes are often known for their crisp whites and nautical blues, but rest assured knowing these aren’t your only options—neutrals also play a key role in the palette. “I love the mix of neutrals and naturals in this particular style,” Shaw and Moyer say.
To keep things coastal, favor neutrals that evoke shades you’d find in nature: sandy light browns, soft cloudy whites, and blacks that mimic the darkest shades in the ocean.
Remember, the coastal aesthetic is incredibly place-based, so the closer you get to its beachy inspiration, the more coastal your space will feel.
Stock Up on Slipcovered Furniture
Slipcovered furniture is a mainstay in any coastal home, but to keep your space feeling modern, you’ll want to stock up on pieces with sleek silhouettes and clean lines. And remember, if a piece is feeling particularly traditional, you can always balance it out with a striking light fixture—or a little modern art.
Stick With Strong and Simple Patterns
The coastal homes you’ve seen may be filled with tropical prints and fish-lined patterns. But if you want to keep your space modern, consider snagging something a little sleeker. Schuster recommends skipping out on the “patterns featuring marine life” and favoring “simple strong patterns,” instead.
This could mean sticking with classics, like stripes and plaids. Or it could mean experimenting with the occasional pop of paisley.
Pair Your Boldest and Your Beachiest Pieces
Ropes abound in classic coastal design, and while they’re not necessarily off-limits in modern coastal design, you may want to balance them out with some of your more contemporary pieces.
A sleek black canopy bed is sure to make a pair of rope pendants look sophisticated. And in return, the rope lights will soften what might otherwise be a domineering piece in your space.
Keep Your Woods Light
Many homes are lined with wood, and coastal homes are no exception. In order to keep your palette sleek and pared-down, you may want to opt for lighter woods wherever possible.
“Be careful with the woods you select throughout your home,” Shaw and Moyer say. “Think light and airy.” They recommend painting your woods white or sticking with lighter options. After all, coastal homes tend to be bright and light-filled, and a darker-stained wood could throw off that signature dynamic.
Add Pops of Pampas Grass
Pampas grass makes a natural addition to any coastal home. But don’t just put it everywhere: remember, modern coastal design is about scaling back the kitsch and the clutter. So, place your pampas grass thoughtfully.
“Be sure to look at inspirational examples for where to place a plume of pampas grass before you go too crazy,” Shaw and Moyer say. Consider pairing it with some of the less obviously beachy plants in your space.
Use Your Floor Plan to Your Advantage
Coastal spaces—modern or otherwise—tend to be airy and light-filled, and open-concept floor plans naturally lend themselves to this look. “I think any open-concept space complements the aesthetic of modern coastal décor beautifully, and it is in keeping with that light and airy look,” Schuster says.
But if you don’t have an open-concept floor plan, rest assured knowing you’re not out of luck. Keeping your palette light and your decor minimal will make any interior look more spacious, whether it’s open- or closed-concept.
Take a Risk on a Dark Shade of Blue
Classic coastal blues tend to be either light or vibrant. But technically, every shade of ocean blue is on the menu. If a room in your home is craving a darker color, sprinkle in a deeper shade, and remember that you can always add levity with more classically coastal pieces like woven chairs and blinds.
Go Nautical, but Modern
Nautical elements abound in coastal décor, but since they’re often incredibly kitschy, they can be tough to weave into a modern coastal aesthetic. “So rather than the blatant sailboat and seashells, the style might pull in naval and nautical elements with modern application,” Shaw and Moyer say.
There are a few different ways to do this, but one particularly great one is to snag a sleek—but unfinished—wooden console table. The table’s low-profile silhouette will nod to modern design’s clean lines, while its natural finish will evoke rustic driftwood.
Edit, Edit, Edit
Remember that Schuster described the modern coastal aesthetic as a fresh, simplified take on classic coastal décor, and editing is key to pulling off such a pared-down aesthetic. “If you want to transition your coastal décor to read modern coastal, clear out that clutter,” Schuster says.
Remember, decluttering isn’t just about getting rid of stuff. Removing unnecessary colors from your palette can also clean up your space.
Add Kitsch Carefully
All this talk of minimalism may have you feeling lost. Surely there must be some way to craft a sleek space without losing all the fun and personality of classic coastal décor—right?
The truth is, you don’t have to bid adieu to kitsch entirely. Just weave it into your space thoughtfully. “Think before you buy that seashell framed mirror at the local beach hut,” Shaw and Moyer say. “Actually, that mirror sounds cool. Just make sure you pick your statements carefully.”
If a printed backsplash tile has caught your eye, snag it—just consider keeping the rest of the room sleek and simple.
Focus on the Way Your Space Feels
“Modern coastal design leans into the visceral experience of being in a coastal environment without being so literal,” Schuster says. “So instead of loading up on patterns featuring marine life, bold tropical colors, and maritime tchotchkes, think of how being in those coastal environments feels.”
In other words? Play with texture, color, and décor, but keep the focus chiefly on what your space feels like—and you’ll end up with a truly transportive interior.