Bring the beach home

Lessons for easy summer living from a beacon designer

interior design, beach house, decorating, house makeover


What are the quintessential qualities of a beach house? According to interior designer Liz Strianese, attributes would include light, airy, sun-filled, casual. She got a chance to work out her interpretation of this definition recently when she and her husband Tom purchased a house ½ mile from the beach on Cape Cod.


“Our Hudson Valley house is saturated in color, full of patterns, full of stuff. It has a womb-like, cozy feel,” says Strianese, who worked with New York City interior designer Peter Maase early in her career, then with renowned designer Juan Montoya for several years before opening Elizabeth Strianese Interiors in 2007. In between she spent some years as a construction manager, designing store interiors for brands like the Gap and J Crew.


The house by the beach would get a completely different treatment. “First of all, it needs to be wash and wear, without the need for constant primping,” says Strianese, who jokes that they bought the house to indulge the other side of her personality. It also needed to be pulled together into a whole. “It was very choppy. Every room had a different color. Even the floors were different colors. It had no flow.” To unify the space, she chose a palette of whites and grays. “In general, everything is pale and calm.” But perfection is in the details, and preparation is key.


Caulk till you drop


She spent a full week caulking-every window, every door jamb, all the baseboards. “For me, it’s visual as well as practical from an energy-saving point of view. It gives the house a clean, seamless look.”

Another place to spend some time is with primer. “I am a big believer in priming,” she says. Not only is primer cheaper, it gives surfaces an opaqueness not readily achievable with finish paint alone. It also helps the top coat to flow better. She advises using different primers for different situations. The house had some bare wood moldings with knots, and in these areas she used Kilz, a shellac-based primer that lets virtually nothing bleed through.


For Strianese, the choice of white was simple: Benjamin Moore Decorator White. “If you’re doing white, it’s always right. It’s one of the only whites that does not have any cast toward pink, blue, or yellow.” There are situations when you want a tint–she used the creamy Magnolia White in her Beacon house–but not for a beach house. “You want the white to be crisp and clean.”