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Beachy-Keen Sensibility

Emmerling's keys to beach decor: lots of color and open storage.
Emmerling's keys to beach decor: lots of color and open storage. (By Carter Berg From "Mary Emmerling's Beach Cottages")
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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Mary Emmerling, a beach girl from way back, spoke with us about her take on decorating by the water.

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What are some appealing, affordable elements of beach decorating?

It's a clean, fresh look. I love a blue-and-white theme with sisal, pine furniture and white duck washable slipcovers. Lots of good books and rag rugs. It can be as simple as using your tote bag, your sarong and your bathing suit as part of the decor. Buy some colorful blowup beach balls from Orientaltrading.com and use them as shots of color throughout the house.

You've always been a fan of white walls. What paint do you use?

I like a 50-50 mix of Benjamin Moore's Linen White and Decorators White. You can use this for walls and woodwork. Or I also like using Decorators White on the walls and Linen White on woodwork. Otherwise, use a color taken from a bathing suit or a sarong: Pink or aqua is always good.

With all that sun, sand, spray and mold, what fabrics and furniture materials hold up?

Washable cottons and linens are what I use. If you put wood outside or on a porch, you have to make sure it has a finish on it to keep it mildew-resistant. There are great indoor-outdoor plastic rugs around now that you can hose off. I still love sisal, although a lot of people think it ages too fast.

You show a lot of open storage in the photos in your beach house book. How do you keep things tidy?

Well, neatness does count, but the good thing is that the more stuff you have out, the more you use it. Life at the beach moves at a fast pace. You're always talking about the next meal. Shall we grill? Shall we get corn? It's great to have all the things you need right out there so guests can see where everything is and help you. It makes it easy to put things away, too.

What do you think about painting old furniture?

We had a joke in the Hamptons: If you didn't buy your spray paint by May 15, all the hardware stores were sold out of black, white or dark green. People out there put their furniture on the lawn and give it a fresh coat of paint every year or two, especially what you keep outside or on a porch. It's instant gratification. Black is popular because it's sort of country modern.

What else creates a beachy mood?

Hang up big, colorful beach towels. And put flip-flops everywhere. I love those beaded door hangings that blow in the wind. Plant some mint near your outdoor shower. It's the smell of summer.

Jura Koncius


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