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Ask The Decorator

Thom Sweeney is founder and owner of Thom Sweeney Interiors, an award-winning full-service interior design studio specializing in contract design and residential business. With a well-trained and careful eye for quality, craftsmanship, and statement-making furnishings & textiles, Thom is recognized for his bold and elegant, yet timeless and classic styled designs.

Q. What are ways to incorporate elements from the beach, like driftwood or seashells as a part of your home décor, but in a clean, crisp, intentional way? Linda, Surf City

A. First of all, driftwood is a great element to use because of its sun-bleached color. Small pieces can be combined with each other and used as sculpture. Many companies offer driftwood as lamp bases, as well as assemblages as high as 6’ for a dramatic sculptural element in the room. Seashells are ideal because they can be collected in all sizes, and if you’re crafty, you can apply them to a simple mirror for example, and end up with a pretty snazzy mirror that could be worth hundreds of dollars in a chic store. For an interesting “tablescape,” shells and sand are great to put in hurricane globes, to which you can add a battery-operated candle. I’ve also used oyster shells as place cards for a great summer dinner party. Clean them up, apply a clear coat, and use your best penmanship and a calligraphy brush to add your guests’ names. And why not tie your crisp, linen napkins with a nautical looking square knot, and you’ll be sure to dazzle your guests.

Q. What are some alternative ways to plan a living room, that don’t include a basic sectional and cocktail table plopped in the middle? Are smaller seating units with random side tables and decorative end tables good enough for functionality (entertaining) or do you really need a cocktail table. Suzie, Holgate

A. Well Suzie, the smaller seating groups are ideal for entertaining. However, if the room has to do double duty (such as family TV viewing), most of us don’t have that luxury, and we need sofa type seating for watching TV. But the thing to remember is that everyone sitting in that room needs a spot to put down a drink or a snack. So, end tables, or nested tables function best. If you have a console table BEHIND the sofa, that can also function as a drink/snack holder, and could possibly eliminate the need for a cocktail table.

Q. What are some clever ways that I can house all of my kids’ “stuff” out of plain sight to keep the home clutter-free and conducive to a relaxing beach environment? Dana, Brant Beach

A. Of course, it depends on the volume of stuff that your kids have, but you could start with utilizing the space under their beds by using plastic tubs. That’s a start Dana. Then, consider lidded wicker laundry hampers. And if you have any spare bookshelves, you could paint them a beachy color, and use those thick rope-like baskets on them, which add a great texture to any room, and hide “stuff” beautifully. Then be sure to tell the kids that anything that can’t fit into all those new containers will have to stay at home. They can’t bring them to the beach. Try your best to explain to them that a beachy look is an uncluttered one, and hope they accept that as a reasonable explanation. Good luck!

Q. How important are area rugs in setting the tone for a beach house? I think I want them, but there are millions of options to choose from, and it’s completely overwhelming! Should I just keep my floors bare? Marty, North Beach

A. While bare floors ARE (for obvious reasons) practical at the beach, a great area rug can add that much needed touch in completing the look your going for, by adding color, texture and pattern to the room. Also, NOTHING looks better than a sisal rug at the shore…but they’re not very wonderful on bare feet! There are some flat, woven sea grass types that are more forgiving. Indoor/Outdoor rugs are also a great choice because you can basically take them outside and hose them down when they get soiled. Add that to the idea of slipcovers that can go right into the wash, and you’re on your way to the more carefree summer lifestyle you deserve!

Q. I love nature and the rustic wood trend. But there is something about the crisp white and clean lines that is synonymous with a beach house aesthetic. What are some ways to incorporate the outdoors “inside” without the ambience turning too dark and messy? Is there such a thing as a cozy, warm inviting surf shack aesthetic in a newer (and larger) home? Rene, Loveladies

A. Unfortunately, the larger your home, the farther away from a cozy, beach shack look you are going to be to start out with. But there are elements that you can inject into a room which conjure up the coziness that you want, to give you that feeling. Start by adding color to your white walls to harness the size of your rooms. Use surf colors, such as sea spray, spa, pale aqua, as well as linen or pale taupe. They make great background colors. For texture, add elements such as rope mirrors, rope wrapped lamps, sea grass rugs and of course white duck slipcovers and drapery panel that go from floor to ceiling. Now throw in a beat up old long board on the wall over the sofa, and you’re off and running to achieve your goal. Hang ten Rene!

Q. I’m at sea trying to decide what window treatments to select at the beach. Wood blinds? Delicate sheers? Full blown heavy curtains? How do you obtain privacy and still maintain that airy, beach-house feel?

A. In almost every case, when it comes to privacy, and a great, unfussy look, Plantation Shutters are the answer. They have that resort feel that no other window treatment can offer. Next in line would be “wood” blinds - or better yet, at the beach RESIN blind. They don’t warp and they’re less expensive than wood. Next would come pleated shades, which can tuck up under a simple Roman Shade Valance or cornice when not needed for privacy or light control. They also come in various shades of opacity for bedrooms. But whatever you do, don’t EVER let anyone talk you into vinyl vertical blinds. Especially the ones that “clatter” at the slightest breeze. They will drive you crazy before the summer is over. Guaranteed.

P.S. I have to admit, cloth verticals are SLIGHTLY less hideous!

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