Getting that beach cottage look


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The slap of a screen door. That sound pretty much sums up what interior designer Tracey Rapisardi is inspired by when she sets out to do a beach cottage look for a client. With more than 30 years in the business of designing interiors for commercial and residential clients, she's worked mostly in coastal communities and has always enjoyed a big segment of the beach-cottage market.

Soft cotton slipcovers for easy beach living. Colorful accessories to add the perfect punch. (Photo provided by Tracey Rapisardi Design)

Soft cotton slipcovers for easy beach living. Colorful accessories to add the perfect punch. (Photo provided by Tracey Rapisardi Design)

Her career is based mostly in New England, but last year she relocated her design firm to Sarasota, which is also headquarters for family-owned companies that produce custom cottage furniture and accessories along with specialty bedding, table linens and drapes under the brand names of Sea Rose Designs and Sweet Summer.

"You don't have to live on the beach to enjoy a water-side cottage kind of design," said Rapisardi. "And there are many kinds of beach cottage looks. Think about a cabin on a lake in Minnesota, a shingle-style house in the Hamptons, a fishing shack on the Gulf of Mexico, a pool house, a bay-side house or one in a sub-division that has a view of a pond.

"Even a condominium in a high-rise building can be styled with a beach cottage attitude. It's about lifestyle and the relaxed way you want to live. And, of course, matching the color scheme and the particular kind of furniture to your local environment is important." By that Rapisardi means to key the color for walls and furniture and finishes to what's geographically appropriate.

"In the northeast, say for a coastal Maine cottage, I'd go with reds, rust, navy blue, even some plaids," said the expert.

"But, none of that works in southern coastal communities. And for beach cottage looks in southwest Florida, I encourage clients to explore the tropical colors - aqua, beach glass green, lime, citrus and the many colors of hibiscus, and the Gulf.

"And I always like to throw in some bright pink too. A Florida beach cottage is meant to be unfussy, cheerful and relaxing. And, of course, the look should be casual and evolved which is why I suggest slip-covered furniture, usually in white duck. Wash everything in the machine with bleach. A lot of people shy away from white slipcovers, but honestly they are the easiest thing going and they always look fresh and inviting."

For the beach cottage look in Florida, Rapisardi said there are three basic styles - classic, crusty (super rustic), and contemporary.

Easy living cocktail area. Mix up a drink for sunset. (Photo provided by Tracey Rapisardi Design)

Easy living cocktail area. Mix up a drink for sunset. (Photo provided by Tracey Rapisardi Design)

"Classic is the most popular," she says, "and includes casual furniture you might pick up at a flea market along with family antiques. Chairs or sofas might be skirted, table lamps in traditional shapes, an ottoman or two upholstered with pleats. The look is informal and collected, but polished with only a bit of distressed furniture. You'll see wicker and rattan with this look and also a lot of white paint on chairs, cabinets, trim, walls and ceilings.

"Usually there are wood floors and beadboard on walls and ceiling. Choose white cotton or linen drapes or plantation shutters for window treatments."

For the crusty look, Rapisardi says it's all about rustic furniture and more distressed pieces with peeling paint.

"Straight legs on tables rather than curved," says the expert, "and a lot of the furniture will look like its home-made or repurposed from something else. The paint will be chipped and peeling. The look says you've lived with this stuff forever and love it. They'll be shelves with pegs. Floors are bare except for natural fiber rugs. Think about mis-matched chairs and small cabinets with chicken wire fronts and funny little tables tucked into nooks and crannies filled with bowls of shells and other things collected locally."

The contemporary beach cottage look can be the most difficult and perhaps the most expensive to pull off.

"The color palette is restrained," said Rapisardi, "and includes driftwood and other shades of gray, black, white, taupe, palest blue and other neutrals.

"Texture is important, contrasting rough with smooth. There's less furniture in rooms than with the other two beach styles and the pieces are trim with straight lines. Chairs and sofas have low backs and look sleek."

Reflective surfaces are part of the contemporary beach cottage look. Think mirrors with simple frames or metallic table tops of stainless steel, nickel or chrome. A little Lucite would work. too.

"And be careful with accessories with a contemporary beach cottage look," advised the expert.

"You want a few big accessories and pieces of art, not a lot of small things all over the place. The look is calm, ordered and peaceful with wood or stone floors. Because every single thing matters in a contemporary beach house setting, everything has to be very carefully chosen. "

And how about that all important screen door?

"If you aren't able to use one on a front or back door of your house, think about using one inside," said Rapisardi. "Maybe on a pantry door or a linen closet. In my design studio, I have a screen door on my office. Clients who come here for meetings or to look at samples of furniture and accessories always fall in love with that screen door. I can't tell you how many we've custom made for homeowners. It seems to add that final touch of character to any beach house."



Tips for beach house essentials from Tracey Rapisardi.

• Find a way to use a screen door.

• Lots of white paint for furniture, walls, ceiling and sometimes floors. You can use many different shades of white throughout the house.

• Simple window treatments using cotton or linen fabric.

• Painted furniture.

• Chipped or distressed cabinets, tables, chairs.

• Wood floors.

• Beadboard on walls and ceiling. Beamed ceilings.

• Wicker and rattan furniture mixed in with wood and glass furniture.

• Slipcovers for most of the furniture.

• Built-in bookcases, display cabinets or china cabinets.

• Bring nature inside for accessories - driftwood, shells, coral, polished stones.

• Group collectibles on trays.

• Baskets everywhere - on the floor for magazines or beach things. Other baskets on tabletops or shelving can hold books, collectibles, towels in the bathrooms, fruit and vegetables on the kitchen counter.

• Vintage maps, paintings or prints of ships, sea creatures, seascapes or beach scenes will work for art along with old signs that reference historical beach places.

• Open shelving in the kitchen.

• Good colors for a southwest Florida beach cottage: white, driftwood, sand, turquoise, beach-glass green, coral, periwinkle blue, bright pink, lime, yellow and a touch of black in picture frames.

Marsha Fottler

Marsha Fottler has been a newspaper and magazine lifestyle, food and design writer since 1968 first in Boston and in Florida since 1970. She contributes to regional and national publications and she is co-publisher and editor of a monthly online magazine that celebrates the pleasures of the table called Flavors & More. (941) 371-8593.
Last modified: July 11, 2013
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