Sea Style

Sea style themes have a special place in the decorator’s repertoire. The seaside is ever popular, while boats and shells, and fish and starfish make pretty, stylish design motifs, and there is something tranquil and restful about the thought of far blue horizons. 


The bathroom is the ideal place for a marine theme, making bathtime feel like a holiday. When gathering your ideas for a seaside look, think back to your last visit to the sea and remember the colours – blues, grays, aquamarine, turquoise – the briny spray, and the patterns made by waves. Then there are the clapboard houses, and the wooden decks with deckchairs in faded striped canvas. Brightly painted boats with their rigging and ensigns bob in the harbour, and fishermen’s nets and coils of rope lie on the quay. And underwater is the multitude of marine creatures, with their strange shapes and colours.

To achieve the effect, watery blue washes in different shades and hues are a good paint treatment, or splash out with really colour-saturated blues and blue-greens, teamed either with dazzling white or with sandy, seashore colours. Keep your basic sea style scheme simple, using hues of similar brightness, or one colour in different tones; then the addition of seashore accessories will complete the style, rather than becoming messy and over-indulgent.

Coastal village houses sometimes have a distinctive decorating style that suits many countries and climates. This cool, airy look instantly evokes summer by the sea: sunwashed rooms with cream or white walls and open windows with voile or cotton curtains billowing in the sea breeze.

Floors are bleached, painted, or limewashed boards, covered by rag rugs or seagrass matting. Interiors are simply furnished with white or natural wickerwork, scrubbed kitchen tables, blue-painted cupboards and kitchen chairs. Sail-canvas blinds match the sun-faded plain colours or cheerful stripes of comfortably upholstered sofas and daybeds. Steamer chairs, canvas-covered director’s chairs, and folding tables can be carried outside for sunbathing. Storage chests, antiqued or painted with seascapes, can stow away sailing gear to keep the place shipshape.

Walls clad with painted tongue-and-groove boards look neat and nautical. To complete the scene, meals are served on robust pottery in cheerful colours, on a gingham or oilcloth-covered table, and supper is lit by seagoing yacht lamps, or candles sheltering in lanterns.

Often the devil is in the detail. There are so many different home decorations that can be used to create a wonderful sea style look. Fabulous multifarious tropical fish of all shapes and sizes can float past on your plates and dishes, and flaunt their finny forms on wall plaques. Scour thrift shops for fish-shaped pottery plates of the 1920s and 1930s; cheap glass fish dishes are made by French manufacturers today; or have fun making your own decorative versions with papier mâché.

Booty from seashore walks can be turned into decorating treasure. Shells and coral, bleached by sea and the sun, have their own unmatched beauty (but never break off coral, which takes centuries for its minute living inhabitants to rebuild). Shell decoration has enjoyed a tongue-in-cheek revival; arrange, then glue your seaside finds around a mirror or picture, to cover boxes, or even to adorn a fireplace. Large shells can be displayed on windowsill or mantelshelf for a natural look; small ones can be piled together in a dish, or in a glass jar filled with water to bring out their iridescent colours. The same sea style effect can be done with smooth, rounded pebbles, which on a larger scale serve as handsome weights for papers, or as a doorstop.

Seaweed, shells, and fish are traditional decorative motifs in folk art: wavy-legged blue octopi on Greek vases and jugs, for instance. A painted and stencilled galvanised metal or enamel bucket makes a good wastepaper basket. Enamel mugs, stamped with a simple marine design, make practical kitchenware. Loops of ships’ rope or cord are threaded with shells or painted cork fishing weights for nicely nautical tiebacks.