How to create the beach at home

Judicious editing separates design from decoration

Beach house, interior design, Elizabeth Strianese Interiors, home makeovers

Beacon interior designer, Liz Strianese shares her decorating secrets and offers advice on beach house style.


In line with the casual living and easy upkeep, the floors in the cottage got a paint treatment as well. “Painted floors make sense; they just need a sweep and maybe an occasional wet mop.” A big fan of “Ben Moore” paints, Strianese covered the floorboards with the company’s Ironclad blend. “It dries to a porcelain-like finish. It is fantastic.” Because the house has seven skylights and fourteen-foot ceilings, it was important to look at the color chips in a variety of light conditions. Strianese set them out at 8am, noon, and again at 5pm. “I did not want a blue-gray, I wanted more of an oyster gray.” Although for clients she will often paint swatches of color on the surface to be painted, she can pick her hue from a chip at 50 paces. Don’t try this at home folks!


To accommodate a large dining table, an island was ripped out from the kitchen. “A big part of beach house living is you’re going to have family and friends,” explains Strianese, who has family on the Cape. “There’s always ten people for dinner.” To further open the space visually, the upper cabinets were replaced with Ikea shelving, while the existing bottom cabinets got a fresh coat of paint. Strianese says a lot of what a good designer does is edit. “You have to know what to remove from the space before you can add to it.”

Now her canvas was ready. “By unifying the space, bringing it all together, now I could pepper it with pattern and texture. Doing that before would have felt cluttered.” For the furnishings, Strianese blended ethnic pattern accents with vintage modern pieces. The living room features a Morrocan rug. In the studio, pillows were made from Suzanis. These are traditional tapestries often used as gifts for weddings in Uzbekistan. They contrast with the easy care neutral twill slipcovers chosen for the furniture. A pair of West Elm day beds serve double duty in the studio.


Throughout the house, Strianese took advantage of her husband’s business. He is the proprietor of Relic, a shop in Beacon featuring vintage furniture and lighting. The bedroom highlights a pair of nightstands and matching armoire done in a surprising mix of chrome, white lacquer, and rosewood. (The headboard, also rosewood, is not part of the set.) Tom Strianese has been in the antique and vintage business for many years, and has an uncanny ability to sniff out enviable finds. Following a hunch, he once went to see a light posted on craiglist without a photo as “avocado lamp.” As he had hoped, it turned out the light was the much more valuable PH Artichoke Pendant by Poul Henningsen. But be forewarned, it takes time, persistence, and a good deal of knowledge to get scores like this consistently. She picked up the easy chair from Goodwill for $25. A quality piece by John Stuart, she had it covered in S. Harris Fabricut fabric by her upholsterer, Westchester Upholstery in Portchester, NY.


Not your typical Cape


The vintage modern furnishings go well with the spirit of the house, which was designed in the 1970s by Nina Wolffe along with six or seven other homes in the immediate area. “She was an older woman who wore white go-go boots and had a really funky approach to design,” says Strianese, who still has some years left before her eccentric footwear phase kicks in. You can tell a Wolffe dwelling because modern homes are not the norm on the Cape, and she would often throw in salvaged materials. One trademark is her penchant for putting old windows into interior walls. The modern with a twist is a good match for the Strianeses, who will share the house with their two daughters. The plan is for the house to be a getaway location, then rented when not occupied by family.


A second home can be a great place to experiment with new design ideas, but the simple, clean look and easy-care living approach taken with this Cape Cod retreat can work equally as well in the hills and dales of the Hudson Valley. If you must, scatter some sand and set up a few beach chairs in your backyard. Ultimately, though, beach house living is equal parts design and state of mind.