Look at photos of the beach you have in mind and note the color of the water, sand and surrounding vegetation, and the moodiness of the climate. Then determine what natural elements are present. Are there rocks? Shells? Dunes? Lots of driftwood? Wooden piers and fences? Seaweed? Also try to get a good sense of the culture of the beach. Is it all swim trunks and surfboards? Or is it windbreakers and campfires? Ggem suggests looking at historical buildings in the area of the beach you choose, too. “You can tour a historical sea captain’s mansion in New England for $6 and walk away with a pocketful of details,” she says.
All this will help inform your (and your designer’s, if you will be using one) choices of colors, materials and accessories.
“She was thinking of vintage Santa Barbara, a time from before she was born,” Ggem says. “So I pulled vintage advertisements from Catalina and Santa Barbara to see how they sold beaches as fun, wide and sandy. So that’s how this bathroom ended up.”
2. Durable finishes and a sense of service. A fully tiled wall gives the space a beach-changing-room vibe, which hits on a number of related elements. “Beach bathrooms need a service feel,” she says. “They’re hardy and easy to maintain.”
Ggem likes to use fake wood tile (seen here) in her beach-themed bathrooms, because actually being near the beach means the inevitable presence of sand inside her clients’ homes.
“Sand will scratch the crap out of wood floors,” she says. “So the long-plank fake-wood tile has been a godsend.”
Durable finishes lend a sense of casualness, which is also largely associated with beach lifestyles.
She also pulls color from driftwood, as seen here in a New York bathroom she designed. “It’s a wood color but with a grayer tone, just like wood left on the beach to gray naturally,” she says. The variegated glass tiles, meanwhile, feel like the “undulation of waves in water,” she says.
If you’re still stuck on figuring out a color palette, Ggem recommends starting with sea glass — shards of broken glass rounded and frosted over time. It includes many muted blues and greens.
4. Unpolished finishes. Just like sea glass has that timeworn frosted quality to it, so should finishes in a beach-theme bathroom. “Nothing high gloss or slick,” Kolb says. This means shiny chrome finishes are out, and satin and matte ones are in.
For this space, Ggem says, she looked to the wooden slat fences on dunes in New England and the grayness of the Atlantic for inspiration. “Everything gets dialed a little bit darker and moodier when thinking of East Coast beaches,” she says.
Here a small blue and white striped pillow and door curtain do the job. Also note the other elements here: raw wood, a service feel and muted sea colors. It’s a look befitting the shores of the English Channel, where this bathroom is located.
Kolb agrees. “Accessories are critical,” she says. Found beach objects, natural pieces of wood and dune grass are all good candidates for inclusion. “Even vessels that are reminiscent of found antique bottles that might have been in the water,” Kolb suggests.
Paintings and other kinds of artwork reminiscent of seascapes will add to the feel of being near water versus being in an urban environment, but many designers will recommend not overdoing the kitsch. “Life preservers push the limits for me, and anchors and sea horses,” says Ggem. “I get it, but I think it’s better to think in terms of natural materials you see at the beach.”
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