Sunbleached and Whitewashed
A simple trick to transform the cast-offs for the summer house: Whitewash everything. Uniform color -- or no color -- diminishes a sense of clutter, even when you're short of space. Painting mismatched old things white pulls the decor together and leaves you the option to add of splash of color here and there. Go for faded and bleached, like whitened seashells on the beach, to preserve the feeling of pieces with age and character. Creamy white and just-off-white milk paint will "chip" when applied a certain way, so that nondescript dresser, re-purposed as a sideboard, looks like a salvaged heirloom. White paint with a hint of gray in the entry leading to a warm white in the combined living-dining room and blinding white walls and fixtures in the kitchen gives each room a distinct identity.
Let There Be Stripes
The beach house is not a blur, so your decor needs a few sharp accents for visual energy. A striped dhurrie rug in the living room is an invitation to bare feet. Blue and white coordinate with the sky out the window. A pewter and bone combination is softer and can handle sophisticated modern furniture or a mix of "found" furniture and genuine primitive pieces. Whip up striped chair cushions and slip-on chair-back covers to pull together a random collection of dining chairs. Paint a single blue horizontal stripe a third of the way down a white bedroom wall. Then stencil white sailboats or starfish on the stripe all the way around the room. Vertical lobster-red or lagoon-turquoise stripes on cafe curtains lend a bit of a bistro feel to the kitchen. Cover the tops of the windows with bamboo roll-up shades.
Floats and Other Flotsam
Your dawn strolls along the tide line have yielded treasures cast up by the sea, tailor-made for display in your beach house. Okay, maybe you haven't seen a beach at dawn in decades, but that's no reason you can't enjoy daily reminders of beach living on the mantel or the walls. Glass globe fishing floats gleam from their perch over the fireplace or as they parade down the middle of the dinner table. A faded, peeling, pelican-shaped sign that once sat outside a snack bar or pub is trendy wall art. The antique pond yacht evokes childhood memories as it sails over the dresser. A glass canister of seashells is an always-interesting lamp base. Drag that sea-salt-encrusted driftwood branch home from the shore or the shop, wrap it in fairy lights, and hang it over the dining table. Indoor beach artifacts equal outstanding decor.
A Hint of Vintage
Classic ceiling fans, lazily moving the still air of a summer afternoon, set the stage for vintage props and the season's play. Find them at flea markets and estate sales or buy reproduction fans you won't have to repair or rebuild. Rattan love seats, chairs and coffee tables bring a little Casablanca to your beach. Reupholster rattan pieces in white, dove-gray or faded sky-blue linen, instead of tropical print fabrics, to keep it beachy. Surround every bed with a filmy white mosquito net, suspended from a ceiling hoop. Kit out the kitchen with appliances designed with a bit of Mid-Century flair -- an enameled, rounded, two-slice toaster, an old-fashioned hand-squeeze citrus juicer, a toaster oven for quick snacks between jaunts to the beach.