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Coastal Cottage Done Right

While I'm a huge fan of the ocean and the beach, I'm not generally in love with most coastal decor. It's just way too...literal. Sure, sea fans and coral are pretty -- and a few bits scattered about can bring a lovely, beachy touch of nature to your home. I have bits of both at home myself. But more often than not, your average seaside cottage is chock-a-block full of shells and sand. Yes, your home should reflect its environment (when watching HGTV, I've always find it odd when folks in, say, Seattle wants to give their house a Tuscan makeover), but -- and this is a big "but" -- that doesn't mean it should be a slave to it, especially if the result is that it veers from "referential" to all-out theme.

So if you're looking to decorate a beach cottage (lucky you) or are simply interested in bringing a few coastal touches to your land-locked abode, my advice is to take Amanda Nisbet's lead (never a bad idea, mind you) and keep your beach references more oblique by focusing on texture (rattan, grasscloth, seagrass, etc.).

I actually like that the dominant color in the living room is brown. The pops of coral and turquoise are really allowed to stand out against the natural rattan furniture, sea grass carpet and mocha sofa (made far more interesting with the contrast white piping). For me though the star of this room is the lighting: that coral bamboo chandelier is divine! Note too how Amanda made two different table lamps feel like a pair by having the white table lamp's shade trimmed out in a turquoise to match the other's base. The lucite console table is a great modern contrast to the more traditional, Pottery Barn-esque upholstery.

I'm not normally a fan of panelling, but I do love the casual, rustic touch white-washed panelling brings. It's a classic, "cottage" touch. I also like how Amanda used bamboo as a curtain rod. This is an inexpensive trick that would bring an organic touch to any space. If you're looking to up the glamour factor, I'd spray-paint the bamboo in a high-gloss color (white, black, red or coral would all be classic choices).

I love the watery blue backsplash in this kitchen -- it really breaks up all the natural wood. Touches of coral are carried from the living room into the kitchen with those large hurricane lanterns (also used to a similarly great effect on the front porch). The rattan element is similarly repeated here in the bar stools. Rustic, handmade-looking pendant lights are suspending with simple rope over the breakfast bar are another great, textural touch. When dealing with an open floor plan, it is essential to decorate cohesively. While you're dividing up the large space into different functions, you still need to decorate as though it were a single room.

Simple, floating shelves are a great way to maximize display and storage space in an awkward spot underneath the stairs. I know I said to back off on the coastal chotchkies, but a few of your favorite pieces, when displayed together as a collection rather than scattered randomly about, is fine -- especially when the rest of the house isn't drowning in starfish, coral and boats. I also rather love the mermaid perched on the lowest shelf.

This dining room is probably my favorite area in the great room. Not only are those dining chairs totally covetable, but the coral motif in their backs is such a great way to reference Amanda's coastal inspiration without being too obvious. The nailhead details on the seats are another sophisticated touch that dresses up the overall feel of the space. I also absolutely love the built-in bar area, with the turquoise countertops and glass-fronted cabinets. I only wish Amanda had painted out the cabinet backs in turquoise as well (though maybe that would've been overdoing things...).

What I think makes Amanda Nisbet such a talented designer is her attention to detail. Everything in this shot works together beautifully -- yet it's deceptively simple. The grasscloth's yummy chartreuse color (much more unexpected in a beach cottage setting than blue and yet still very breezy and coastal, I think when done with neutrals) is picked up in the contrast welt on the chaise (the oval shape of which I love), the striped lamp shade, and the trim on the curtains. The framed bathing costume as art is a great touch and easily replicated on the cheap.

Even though all the bedroom furniture is white, its disparate styles really give the room some subtle interest. I love the latticed side tables in particular, which allow for plenty of room for the stacks of magazines and books that I take with me on vacation. The palm frown pillows bring the walls' color down to the bed (and keep the white bedding from feeling too stark) and the abstraction of the print is a great modern elements here. Another great modern touch are the clear glass table lamps, which are an interesting shape and height, though their transparency means they don't compete with the grasscloth wallpaper (the real star here). The modern art is a great final touch here as it keeps the bedroom from feeling to country cottage -- and while a little beach-inspired art is good, there's absolutely no reason a coastal style has to limit itself to that. The key to successfully pulling off a coastal cottage look and having it feel current is (as always) to mix it up!

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