Home Front: Beach house style

May 17, 2012

Erica Burns, who owns Erica Burns Interiors, recently renovated her in-law's house in Bethany Beach, Del. She'll be chatting with design columnists Jura Koncius and Terri Sapienza about decorating and renovating a beach house. Love coastal decor but not sure how to pull it off? Send us your questions!

Every week, Jura Koncius and Terri Sapienza help you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. Got a question about decorating? They're happy to whip out their paint chips and suggest the perfect hue, call a retailer to help track down a hard-to-find accent piece or offer some do-it-yourself (or call-in-a-pro) advice. They can even help you cope with the eternal pets vs. furniture battle. Built on years of reporting experience, Home Front is an online conversation about the best way to feather the nest. They invite you to submit questions and share you own great tips, ideas and, yes, the occasional complaint.

For the latest in decorating trends and DC retail, follow @jurakoncius on Twitter.

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Welcome to today's chat. We have Washington designer Erica Burns with us today.  Erica helped her in-laws renovate their family's Bethany beach house; read the story and see the beautiful after pictures in today's Local Living. Lots of questions today, so let's get started.

terrific work on the beach house! I have neutral colors in my living room, so seasonal accents change the "mood" . I really like the living room blue/white accent pillows used in the beach house,Erica. Would you please tell us the pattern? Thanks!

Thank you! The patterned pillows were made from a Duralee fabric, pattern 21001-59, and the blue linen with white trim were custom made.

I am searching for an outdoor chandelier to put over my front door on a gabled porch. Have searched the usual sources (HD, Lowes, C&B) but wondering what places I have missed. Any suggestions?

Try these online sources:




Good luck!

I would like to know more about the built-in charging stations you put in the closets. I am renovating a rental condo in Florida and would be interested in putting these stations in the closets. Do you have a picture of the charging stations? Did you have someone make them for you or did you purchase them and if so where? Thank you

I do not have a picture, but these can be an extension of the closet shelving - just a simple wall shelf or two on brackets to hold the computer/ipad/phones. Or even an inexpensive table from IKEA will do the trick. The key is to get an outlet inside of the closet, which an electrician can do. To reduce cost, try to line it up on a shared wall with another outlet in the room so the wiring is easy.

Saw some kitchen stools at World Market that I liked. They had been shown in a House Beautiful feature. Great price, similar in appearance to Rest. Hardware. Has anybody had experience with their merchandise? They are meant to replace two Ballard stools that keep falling apart no matter how many times we reglue them. Want sturdy quality.

I don't have any personal experience with furniture from World Market, so I'll throw this out there to see if anyone else does. However, I don't think their furniture would be considered better quality than Ballard. Can anyone chime in here? 

I would love to hire a designer for my beach house, but I am nervous that it will be much more expensive than if I do it myself. Any thoughts?

That is a great question that comes up a lot when I meet with potential clients. All design professionals are different, but in the end working with a designer typically saves a client time and money. Designers receive “trade” discounts on merchandise and I always pass along a portion of these savings to my clients, which offsets hourly design fees. Plus a designer will help you understand the correct scale, make things cohesive, and handle all of the little details that take time but make a project come together.

When you put up that picture of your sideboard/buffet/credenza you also have to specify its dimensions. No, just saying that it will take two people to move it isn't enough. I have a place I want to put it and I need to know how big it is. Oh, and for some of you that do provide that information height is from the floor to the top, wide and/or width is between the right and left sides with the functional part (like drawers or doors) facing you, and deep and/or depth is between the front and the back with the fuctional part facing you. If it has multiple levels, then multiple heights are probably a good idea. Length can be substituted for width if you insist, but not for depth or height (yes, I've seen it). Thanks. I really needed to get that off my chest.

Well, okay then...I'm glad you got that off your chest. But, yes, Craigslist furniture listers: better to include too much detailed information about what you're selling than not enough. 

Where can I see and get the woven livingroom chairs


I've decided to go with relaxed roman shades for my living room, where the couch backs up to the windows and prevents me from using floor-length panels. What's a good place to get these made, or should I try my hand at DIY? I've heard they're very easy to make if you can sew a straight line. I'm also considering G Street Fabric's home decorating service - have you all used this before?

First, have you considered pulling your couch away from the wall a little so you can hang curtain panels? Furniture should be pulled away from the walls regardless, so even if you do decided to go with shades, pull everything in a little; it makes things more intimate. 

As for the shades, I've never tried making them myself, but have considered trying based on instuctions I've seen. Maybe you could give it a try using an inexpensive fabric first. If you don't like the results, have them made. Anyone familiar with G streets's decorating services that could give a good rec? 

Loved the article! I'm renovating a house on the water and already picked out the white cabinets, but need to finalize our counter decisions for the counter and kitchen island where we will be eating a lot of meals. It's going to be a weekend house, and we have small children (and lots of relatives with small children). I'm so torn between marble, white granite, or even soapstone versus honed black granite. It is an old farmhouse, so I don't want anything that looks too formal. I haven't seen that particular white granite used in the beach house? Is it relatively rare (and expensive?). If it's going to be expensive, I'm tempted to just do marble and live with the patina.

The granite we used is from Charles Luck Stone - they have showrooms in Georgetown and Sterling, VA if you want to take a look. It is on the higher end of the granite price range, but not much more than marble. Marble counters are gorgeous, and if you are fine with the patina I say go for it! But it's tough for many people to see the first red wine rings or acid stains... A few other options include White Fantasy granite, which has a lot of grey veining in it, or a Silestone/Ceasarstone (manmade stone). They both have a lot of faux "carrara marble" colors and there is no staining whatsoever, plus the cost is reasonable. Good luck!

It's hit or miss. We have a great dining set and buffet that is made of very sturdy wood. Some of their bedroom sets look to be flimsy. I'd try to see it in person first.


It's so difficult to find contemporary, plain vanities. Who is the manufacturer or were they custom made? If custom made, then by whom? You did such a beautiful job on this house. Congratulations!

Thank you! We purchased our cabinetry through Jennifer Gilmer Kitchens, based in Bethesda. The marble counters were from Charles Luck.

I love every room in the house! It is so beautiful. I did notice the cute crab prints in the bedroom, where did you get them?

Thanks so much! The prints are from Kellogg Collection.

Good morning. My MIL is looking for something to cover her sliding glass door. It is in the dining room, and the door itself is almost never opened. She likes the light that comes through the window but still wants privacy. It needs to be super easy to open and close (or raise and lower) and very low maintenance to clean. What would you suggest? Thank you!

Good morning! I did a story with local designer and window treatment expert, Claire Schwab a few years back, and she addressed this very question. See the story here.

I really like them; seems like a good way to add texture to a room. Would they go in a regular non-beach house? Also, how comfortable are they?

They would absolutely go in a non-beach house, specifically somewhere that you want to be more casual, like a sunroom. They are pretty comfortable too, we added a throw pillow on the back for extra cushion.

Also, please post pictures of your items. This is the Internet. It's visual. If you don't put a picture, I'm not even going to click on your post. I don't want to call, email, or send smoke signals for pictures. If you aren't technically savvy enough to accomplish this, find a teenager to assist you. Thank you!

Another plea to Craigslist sellers...

And would just like to state that here in the Florida Keys, we do love our waterfront tropical homes but, as any good native Conch will tell you, palm frons and sea shells are a no-no inside the house. The seashells are unlucky and only tourists decorate with palms, Jimmy Buffett items or anything that screams bad seafood restaurant (signs, buoys, life saver rings and wooden signs). Loved the house re-do. And hello to all from Key West!

Although this is not design related, I just wanted to share that my husband and I got married in the Florida Keys! Islamorada, specifically. The Keys hold a special place in my heart, perhaps that is why I love designing on the water so much. :)

I am searching for woven seagrass chairs just like the two wing chairs shown in the photos. Where and when did you get them???


You mentioned that it is important to use good quality outdoor furniture. We are looking for furniture for our ourdoor living area. Any suggestions where we should shop? We live in the DC area but are happy to order online also.

I am happy to recommend some brands that I feel are of high quality: Gloster (where the chairs from this house are from), Brown Jordan, and Kingsley-Bate are a few that come to mind. The Patio Store in Spring Valley sells some of these I believe. Frontgate is a good online source as well.

what was your source for the reclaimed barn wood flooring? Does it really hold up to spilled red wine and greasy fish fries?

We got the floors from the Old Wood Company based in Queen Anne, MD. They are from reclaimed barn lumber. We went with oak, which is more durable than pine, and so far no stains! A good coat of poly will handle wine/grease well.

Where did you get them?

Jennifer Gilmer Kitchen & Bath studios in Bethesda, MD.

Hi guys! I am a 23 year-old recent graduate living with my parents. I'm desperate for my own place but I know that on my current salary it's going to be a while before I get there. In the meantime, I would love to make over my bedroom, but I'm at a loss of where to even start. Since I'm in a transitional phase right now (hopefully I won't be using this bedroom for another 5 years), I'm not sure if I should buy some new furniture or just work with the (slightly childish) pieces I already have. Any advice for a someone who's new to updating a room?

Congrats on your recent graduation! I know you're anxious for your own place, but it will come; you just have to be patient. In the meantime, I would hold-off on buying anything new and wait to do that when you get your own place. You don't know what your place will look like or how much space you'll have, so whatever you buy now may not fit down the road. If you want to spruce up your bedroom, I would browse Craigslist or flea markets for cool, inexpensive pieces you like to temporarily replace some of the furniture and accessories that are  in there now. Mixing these pieces in the room will reflect your current (and more adult) style and taste and make the room feel more like yours. Good luck!

Is marble a softer stone? So it not only soaks up spills and retains the stain but is more likely to show nicks? If you were redoing a beach house that was also a rental wouldn't a composite like silestone be a safe choice for maximum durability? I know granite is all the rage but what wears the best with high usage?

Marble is softer and more porous than granite, and granite is more porous than silestone. The granite we used at the beach house has an "antico" finish, which gives it some texture so a scratch would not be as noticable. However, I have not see a lot of issues with granite chipping. Silestone might be the best bet for a rental, as it is 100% non-porous and can handle the heat of a hot plate/pan that a renter might put down without a trivet!

OP from Roman shades question here. How do you keep your furniture from pushing back against the wall? The couch is pulled out about 4-6 inches (very small living room so can't afford more than that) but with people sitting down or dogs jumping on the couch, it slides back on its own. I've tried doorstops and anti-slip pads but nothing seems to work.

You could use area rugs that are large enough for the back legs of the sofa to sit. If that's not an option,  maybe using rubber grips on the back legs? I just found this link that will explain a little more.

Hello Erica! Could you please share with us some suggestions for practical beach house flooring for when you step inside the front door? Your article mentions concerns about tracking in various elements (salt air, houseguests, pet traffic, etc.). For an entry foyer, would you recommend linoleum, stone, tile... or what??

The downstairs foyer, not shown in the picture, is actually tile original to the house. This is where we come in off of the beach after washing off sandy feet. Tile/stone is the most durable for sure. But wood works too, just be sure to put down a small rug for people to wipe their feet and not slip (something inexpensive, as it will no doubt need to be replaced often!)

Please realize you are shopping on Craigslist?! I don't think you get to make demands when you budget for a couch is $25.

Oh, I don't think these are demands, just suggestions for making the shopping experience a little more streamlined and efficient.  

I'd like to put in a plug for them. We have bought a number of Gloucester chairs there and the people are extremely helpful.

Thanks for this! Here is the company Web site and their phone number: 202-966-9088.

It's Craigslist for goodness sake! I used to work at TJ Maxx and people would insist on keeping hangers for the $2.99 shirt purchase they just made. Geeze.

Tough times, right? But I have to agree. Because of the informal nature of Craiglist, one cannot be overly picky. If there are specific demands, it can't hurt to go through a second-hand retailer or market vendor.

Look for stuff labeled "solid wood" and definitely try to go to a WM store and look at the stuff first. Stay away from the upholstered pieces (you get what you pay for). I have a kitchen table & chairs made of solid mahogany which are super-heavy and very sturdy, and a couple of smaller tables which are less so. I've looked at the stools and for the most part they look pretty sturdy but you have to consider how they'll be used.

Great advice. Thanks for chiming in.

Warts and all. Just sayin'.

I do, too! Just sayin'...

I too love the chairs, and would love to use them in a family room in Chevy Chase. But that room has a fireplace, and I can't help but think that those chairs scream beach/summer. How would you warm up that room (visually) in the winter so that the chairs would be appropriate to sit by the fireside?

Since the beach house is used primarily during warmer months, the plan was to decorate it that way. I wouldn't suggest putting them in a ski cabin by a fireplace. But visually, the space could be warmed up by adding some cozy throw blankets to the chairs, swapping out the lighter accessories on the mantel with some books or heavier elements. We did not do this for the winter though...I think there is something kind of fun about sitting in a beachy space in the middle of winter by a fire! :)

We used shoji screens for our master bedroom with sliding glass doors, as well as a door to our sunroom. We actually followed this advice from a home chat several years ago.the company was in bethesda. it has lasted beautifully AND contributed to the sale of our house. Thanks!

Thanks for writing and letting us know. Glad it worked for you! Do you remember what company you used? The other chatters might appreciate the reference.

Love the beach house article and airy design!...I have an all-white kitchen too and love the kitchen stools with cushions...where can I purchase these? thank you!

The stools were at the house pre-renovation, and the cushions were custom made.

Can you recommend other "beach colors" for the house? I'd like a more "sandy" colored beige than the one in the featured house, and a truer blue as well. Thanks!

Sure! Try Benjamin Moore's "Maritime White" for the beige, and "Patriotic White" or "White Satin" for the blue.

Hi, Jura, Terri, and Erica! I was wondering what your opinion of Olympic versus the more expensive paint like BM is. I know John and Sherry swear by it, but I've used it before and found that it didn't cover quite like I wanted, but I was also going from deep pink to light purple, so that might have had something to do with it as well. I'm painting our living room soon and am not looking forward to the $100+ price tag that I'll have with the Benjamin Moore Natura line. Thanks!

I've never used Olympic paint, so I can't offer an informed opinion about it compared to other brands. But, I have to ask: did you apply a coat (or two) of primer over the pink before painting with the purple? If not, that probably had a lot to do with the coverage problem.

if you use poly on the old wood, won't that make it new and shiny again and prone to scratching? I am very interested in this type of flooring for a beach house renovation at the Jersey shore.

There are different sheens in poly, so I would recommend a "flat" which will reduce shine/show scratches. This is what we did at the beach house.

Loved the article and the whole beach house! Can you tell me where to find the kitchen stools? Love the airy, all white kitchen too!

The stools were actually from years ago (before I arrived!), we reused them and had the pink cushions made to liven them up.

I rarely disagree with Terri, but now is the time to start searching for pieces for your "someday" place! Instead of trying to pay for a security deosit, 1st month's rent, and a whole apartment-full of new furniture & furnishings all at once, start acquiring pieces you like now, one at a time, while you're not responsible for a lease, utilities, etc. -- so that when you're ready to move you'll have the basics ready to go. Store in Mom & Dad's basement or rent a storage unit. I did this when I got out of college and it was a real boon to know that when it was time to move out of the 'rents' house I wouldn't be sitting on milk crates or eating from paper plates and gladware until I could afford furniture & dishes.

Well, I agree that he can be looking right now and getting a feel for what he likes and saving his money for when he eventually does move and need furniture, but I would recommend against buying anything big or expensive until he knows what his place will look like and how big/small it will be. For example: what if he buys something and it ends up being too big to fit through the doorways? Saving now for big purchases later is a much better plan.

I think the point is that sellers put stuff on craigslist in order to sell them. The posters on here were expressing how if they don't list properly, they aren't going to have anyone buy their items, which is kind of the point of craigslist.


Am building a beach home in MA and love your coffee table!! It looks to be 40 or more inches square - which is exactly what I am looking for but have been unable to find. Any info or suggestions you might have would be greatly appreciated. Your use of few colors and just a light and bright look is exactly what I am working on. Thanks.

You are correct! It is 40" square. This table was actually made to fit the space from a company I use that does reclaimed wood furniture called Custom Furniture Company. Try going to a local wood flooring company (that specializes in reclaimed woods) and see if they will make it for you, or ask any store owners if the tables they sell can be made to order.

I try to stay away from furniture made with MDF, no matter who sells it. It seems to me that it's the sign of a cheaper product, would you agree?

MDF has its purpose in certain spaces. When you need an inexpensive end table, desk, etc. for a more contemporary setting, it can be great. But I do agree that it is of lesser quality, as most of it needs to be assembled, so for pieces you would like to keep around for a long time - go with a wood.

Where did you get the light green bedspread?

Erica said the bed linend are from Pottery Barn. I believe this is the quilt.

My son stayed with us for a couple of years post-graduation, and spent his time gathering things for the kitchen, computer and desk, TV and stand, etc. He did get new mattresses and a bedroom set, but kept it minimal.

Great plan and great advice: keep it minimal. Thanks!

When I lived at home for a couple of years after college I started buying things to furnish my future kitchen -- pots and pans, appliances I saw on sale, etc. I filled up a closet in my parents' basement and was glad I had all of it when I finally did get my own apartment!

Very forward-thinking! I bet you're building the apartment of your dreams. 

We have a small single family home in OC. The carpet desperately needs to be replaced. What is the best type of flooring to put in its place that won't be cost prohibitive?

You could replace with carpet again, and look for something that is stain resistant so it will last longer. Another great option is tile - they have great tile planks that look like wood flooring which are a nice option for a beach house. More expensive than carpet, but not as much as wood I believe.

Beautiful beach house! For those of us that can't afford to buy all new furniture, rugs and accessories - and can't remodel every room - do you have any tips we could use to get this type of look?

Thank you! The best way to freshen up your spaces is by switching out the pillows and lamps. If you can repaint yourself as well, that will change the space dramatically make it feel newer.

Wow, that went by quickly. Lots of great questions and advice from everyone. Thanks for joining us, and thanks to Erica for sharing her beautiful beach house project and  answering all of our beach-related decorating questions today. Have a great weekend, and we'll chat with you next week.

In This Chat
Terri Sapienza
Terri Sapienza is a staff writer for The Washington Post's Local Living section.
Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering, organizing and DC retail.

Home Q&A archive
Erica Burns
Erica Burns is a residential interior designer living in Bethesda. In this week's Local Living section, she offers tips for remodeling and decorating a beach house, something Burns became an expert on after renovating her in-law's cottage in Bethany Beach, Del. Check out her firm at www.ericaburns.com.
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