Home and Design: Coastal design that doesn’t scream ‘beach’

June 22, 2011

When it comes to decorating beach houses, designer Erin Paige Pitts borrows a thought from New York designer Victoria Hagan: “I like to hear the ocean,” Pitts says, “not the decorating.”

Pitts, 39, is an expert in seaside style. She designs many coastal retreats, and she and her husband, Gregory, built a house near the water themselves, on Gibson Island, a private enclave in Anne Arundel County. The New England shingle-style home, which the couple shares with their three small children, has views of the Magothy River.

Pitts’s work has garnered accolades from the design world. Traditional Home magazine featured her house in a 2009 issue and selected her as one of the “Top 20 Young Designers to Watch” in 2010. This year, she was chosen to decorate a room in the D.C. Design House and was nominated as one of the Washington Design Center’s “Ones to Watch.”

Though her style would be complete without a reference or two to sand, shells and sea life, Pitts prefers to incorporate these elements using a delicate hand.

“I like to create very elegant, comfortable interiors that are livable for families,” she says. “And I don’t like rooms that scream ‘beach.’ ”

In her master bedroom, for example, a pair of Murano glass table lamps have bases that resemble sea urchins; simple, cream linen curtain panels are trimmed with tiny seashells. In the kitchen, Roman shades are fashioned from fabric with a small-scale sea-coral motif, and the blue-painted beadboard backsplash is reminiscent of the ocean.

The look is beach, not kitsch. And the interior design never eclipses the main attraction.

In beach houses, Pitts says, “the focus is always the view.”

Q&A about coastal design

What are elements of a coastal look?

Pitts: Neutral colors, especially ones with a gray base. All of Benjamin Moore’s OC colors are neutrals with gray undertones. Neutral doesn’t always mean white.

Texture. This doesn’t just mean sisal rugs. Ideally, it’s a mix of materials such as seagrass, bamboo, wicker, rattan and natural woven shades.

Color and pattern. Add both through upholstery, fabrics, artwork, window treatments and accessories.

Cues from nature. Subtly bring the outdoors in. This could mean picking your color palette from a seashell, accessorizing with shells, sea creatures or flowers, or choosing coastal-inspired textiles and artwork.

Why neutral walls?

Pitts: A neutral base is pretty, practical, has more longevity, and you can add color and pattern to it more easily. I tell people to think of a room in terms of a man’s suit: A man’s suit is monochromatic, and the pop of color is the tie.

What are your currrent favorite paint colors?

Pitts: All White, Borrowed Light and Clunch by Farrow & Ball; Van Deusen Blue and Revere Pewter by Benjamin Moore and Journal White by Ralph Lauren.

How can someone achieve a coastal look easily?

Pitts: Paint walls white. Add architectural detail (such as crown molding, paneling or beadboard). Bring in a color, pattern and texture. Accessorize, but be selective. Fewer, better things carry far more impact than lots of little things.

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