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The beauty of interior design is its ability to transport you. If the place you want to be is on a beach near the Pacific Ocean, you’re going to want to familiarize yourself with the California coastal design style. Also known as California casual, it’s a popular interior design style that makes you feel like you just walked into an elegant Malibu beach house overlooking the cliffs and waves.
More elevated than coastal cowgirl, more modern than coastal grandmother, and not as nautical as good ol’ coastal style, the California coastal design style really encapsulates a “tailored yet casual” feel, explains Chaney Widmer, the interior designer behind Mix & Match Design Co. Widmer says that besides the obvious inspiration from the breezy California coastal lifestyle, the aesthetic was formed by “people who really want to embrace casual living, but they appreciate tailored, nice things,” as well as the surrounding environmental aspects like palm trees, the sea, and the sand.
A longtime fan of this design style, Widmer appreciates the work of Amber Interiors and early Studio McGee for popularizing the aesthetic that so many of her clients long for. Though it definitely would work in anyone’s beach vacation home, the California coastal style is polished enough for your primary residence—whether you’re landlocked in or have sand outside your front steps. To learn more about this peaceful aesthetic, read on for our expert guide to California coastal design and how to style it in your own space.
What Is the California Coastal Design Style?
California coastal design leans into the world of quiet luxury in a more natural way. Incorporating touches of rustic and farmhouse styles, it transforms your home into a tranquil escape. Unlike the farmhouse aesthetic, California coastal is more tailored and has a more modern look to it—think less shiplap and more clean lines with a slight Zen feel. California coastal interiors feature calming color palettes, natural finishes, neutral furnishings, and organic materials.
According to Widmer, your home has to feel approachable to truly capture the California coastal style. “[The style] feels like it pulls together this really beautiful and elegant way of living,” she explains. Homeowners opting for this aesthetic “are coming off the beach, but they also love a pulled-together look, and they’re inspired by their surroundings as well,” she says.
The pillars of the California coastal design style according to Widmer are:
- White walls. “[A white wall] just gives you this really clean, bright base to start off with,” Widmer says. Plus, it makes the space look brighter. Lots of natural light is a characteristic of this style as well.
- Earth tone color palettes. Think terra-cotta, beige, brown, and creams, with an emphasis on greens and blues. Don’t be afraid to mix cool and warm tones.
- Various wood tones. The organic textures help establish the earthy color palette.
- A combination of old and new. “I think that it mixes in the sort of—I’ll call it old world, but not in the old antique style—vintage furniture that has a little bit of patina to it, so it feels worn in that really good cozy way with more modern pieces,” says Widmer. This is where some of those rustic influences come in.
- Organic accessories. From wood to earthenware to linen to rattan to living plants, natural elements are extremely important to California coastal.
How to Decorate in the California Coastal Style
“There’s some more clean lines, there’s straighter furniture pieces, but there’s also a little bit of organic kind of whimsy to it,” explains Widmer. “So you’ve got bright white walls, you have slipcovered but tailored furniture, and lots of warm woods kind of pulling everything together and making it feel really cozy.”
Go for decor that looks elevated but not stuffy, and choose natural materials. If choosing between a lamp with a glass base or one with an hand-thrown ceramic base, choose the latter. Mix metals (ideally antique brass, polished nickel, and some black here and there) as well as wood tones to give your space a “more of a collected, organic look,” says Widmer.
Patterns should be fairly simple and not too flashy, such as repeating blocks prints. “You have some simple stripes or things that feel like a stripe but aren’t, so you could have different variations of texture that imitate some of the simple patterns like stripes or tweeds,” suggests Widmer. While lines are common in California coastal, you shouldn’t shy away from organic shapes.
When it comes to furniture, choose neutral colors and add in the color that’s absent from the walls through accessories.
Speaking of walls: Ditch the gallery wall with California coastal. Instead, Widmer suggests choosing one large landscape print, possibly an abstract or an outdoor scene, to take up wall space.
And you can’t forget about the plants. “I feel like plants are kind of ubiquitous in all decorating, but I do think that you see them a lot in California coastal,” says Widmer. “You’ve got your big fiddle leaf fig in the corner or an olive tree…. And then you have just collections of plants on different surfaces. So I think just mixing that in adds a little bit of greenery, adds that coastal outdoor kind of feel to it.”