It’s rare for a design style to capture the attention of the design world so completely and so quickly, but that’s what has happened with the coastal grandmother look. The relatable, curated aesthetic is showing up everywhere just months after Lex Nicoleta coined the term on TikTok. Inspired by iconic Nancy Meyers movies, Nicoleta ballyhooed the laid-back, timeless vibe of the stunning kitchens where Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton were busy baking chocolate croissants, and the drum beat continued via bloggers, designers and influencers from Vogue to HGTV to Instagram.
Designer Brad Weesner of Forshew Design in Lancaster, PA, describes the style as “a refined look, the elegant aunt of farmhouse and beach house, but never pretentious.
“It makes me think of my parents’ home in Norwell, Massachusetts,” he muses. “It’s like Ralph Lauren and Martha Stewart getting together to design this lovely place, and then Norman Rockwell painting it.”
“The inspiration comes from all of our coasts,” he continues, “from classic Nantucket to chic Santa Barbara to elegant Palm Beach. The beauty is that it works on so many budget levels. You can put your client’s personality into the design and make it true and unique, but still be faithful to what this trend speaks about: superb function, but also familiar comfort.”
Coastal inspiration, a la grandma and otherwise, comes naturally to designers working along Florida’s Emerald Coast, and one exemplary example of the style is a seven-bedroom, nine-bath home in Seacrest. Designed by Lindsay Cannon and Karen Kerns of Lovelace Interiors in Inlet Beach, FL, the third-floor kitchen is the hub of the home.
“Since the home sits across scenic Highway 30A from some of the country’s most beautiful beaches, our design inspiration was a transitional look, designed with tone-on-tone neutrals and gulf hues,” tells Cannon. “We created an open floor plan kitchen that would flood the space with natural light and take full advantage of the expansive ocean views.”
The cabinetry is clean shaker painted Sherwin-Williams Pure White, timeless and classic, remarks Cannon, adding that the color is also used on the walls and ceiling trim. Backsplash tiles are hexagon marble mosaics, and countertops are white quartz to reflect the shimmer of the ocean. A 60″ Viking range anchors the space, and engineered hardwood completes the look.
The kitchen has plenty of room for family and friends, with two islands plus a dining table that can seat 12. Adding refined warmth to the space are rattan stools, Capiz light pendants, art, pottery and driftwood.
“It’s a kitchen for a fun family,” says Cannon. “It’s luxurious, but at the same time it doesn’t take itself too seriously. And, for such a large space, it manages to be cozy as well. Meryl would be happy to whip up a batch of pancakes here.”
AIRY FAMILY KITCHEN
Designer Emily Cathcart of Emily Cathcart Designs in Bend, OR is enthusiastic about the style. “It feels fresh, relaxed, simple, yet detailed,” she explains. “And, best of all, it makes clients feel like they are on holiday. It reminds them of good memories and happy times.”
The coastal grandma style hadn’t been identified when Cathcart designed her own kitchen, but that’s what she ended up with.
“I was aiming for a coastal style, though,” she tells. “I wanted to feel like I was on vacation in a really nice beach rental. I wanted the warmest light year-round, from the east, west, south and the roof, so tall slider doors, windows and two skylights were installed. I also wanted rattan pendant lights over the island, but how do you hang them when there is no ceiling? I solved the problem with a painted dowel perpendicular across the ceiling chute for the wire to cross and descend. The effect was just what I had envisioned – effortlessly light and airy.”
Cathcart designed cabinetry with lots of inserts and an Aventos lift system from Blum to eliminate clutter and maximize efficiency. Countertops and backsplashes are quartz, chosen for their pretty sheen. To avoid a look that’s too utilitarian, she included open shelves and capped the double oven cabinet with a wood top where she displays favorite art and pottery. The flooring throughout the space is solid blonde oak.
“What I ended up with was the coastal grandmother look,” she says. “And guess what? It’s a great style, even if your view is of a park rather than an ocean.”
In the Buffalo, NY area, award-winning designer Kendal Cavalieri of Kendal Cavalieri Design embraces the coastal grandmother style with clean-lined, simply detailed white shaker cabinets, baby blue textured subway tile on the backsplashes, quartz countertops replicating natural marble, and light wood floors.
“Warm and quirky touches are important for this style – succulents in the window, wood cutting boards, a basket of lemons, a polka-dotted tea kettle, that sort of thing,” she remarks, “but absolutely nothing too obviously nautical and kitschy like mini lighthouses or anchors.” Weesner agrees. “Kitchens should look lived in and used,” he says. ”I like a very large butcher block island, an open butler’s pantry, and a large wall-sized cabinet base with a high deck of shallow shelving to show off lots of creamware plates or a collection of oyster plates. And don’t forget art, with its own light.”
SOPHISTICATED, BUT SOFT
Cindy McCarley, CKD of Cindy McCarley Designs in Florida’s Santa Rosa Beach, has won numerous awards for her coastal-inspired kitchen and bath designs. Way before the coastal grandmother term was coined, her kitchens epitomized the style, with ocean and nature-inspired elements and palettes.
“I did a remodeling project where the client asked me for a coastal cottage look and it turned out to be true to the grandma genre,” she reports. “We replaced everything except the island countertop because the client liked the dark wood. Interestingly, that island is almost identical to the one in the kitchen in the movie ‘Something’s Gotta Give,’ which featured Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson.”
“We brought the new cabinetry up to the ceiling, which is something I always do, up to 12′ high,” she continues. “We also included glass-front cabinets at the top and a new wood hood, and ramped up the sophistication and custom appeal by bringing the marble backsplash up to the ceiling. It’s a clean, uncluttered look, but also warm thanks to soft colors and personal items like a vintage breadbox, old wooden rolling pins, and herbs growing on the window sill – to wit, the perfect coastal grandma look.”
McCarley’s own kitchen also works as her office, so it’s designed to demonstrate cabinetry techniques and the ways of marble, but it’s also very much a lovely place to hang out with family and friends. “It embodies the coastal grandmother look,” she relays. “The classic white cabinets, the custom perky cypress hood, and my built-in china cabinet all have the grandma aura. Added to that is greenery and many personal items, including my mother’s clock on the wall and a very old sampler crafted by a great-aunt.”
Scott A. Stultz’s kitchen, bath and product design firm, Scott A. Stultz & Associates, is headquartered in Castine, ME, so he can certainly claim coastal inspirations – and he knows how to make them work inland, as well. An airy, modern house in the Finger Lakes region of New York attests to that.
The focal point of the new kitchen is the cabinetry, Stultz’s “Prairie” series that was designed for Rutt Cabinetry and featured at a trade show in New York. Acclaimed for his cabinetry design and innovations, Stultz explains that Prairie’s fronts feature sloped and straight elements that create the visual effect of gently undulating movement, not unlike the rippling waves of water.
“Thoroughly modern, but warm and nuanced, this was the perfect cabinet for the Finger Lakes house,” he reports. “We transferred the show cabinetry to the house and added a few more units and, yes, it worked as well as I thought it would. Quietly elegant, it anchors the large space and is the right foil for the homeowners’ collections of fine and folk art. Chairs are Frank Gehry, Charles and Ray Eames, and other notable architects. Metal sculptures are by Albert Paley and other renowned artists. A Rais wood-burning stove was chosen over a traditional masonry fireplace.”
Meanwhile, Stultz continues to strive for cabinet innovations. “I think that contemporary styling aimed at presenting ‘a clean, transitional vibe’ is coldly minimalistic,” he offers. “The conspicuous absence of detail too often leads to rooms that sacrifice warmth and character for that feeling of uncluttered openness. For livable, relatable design, this is something to consider.”
Helping clients make the most of waterfront living in Annapolis, MD was a challenge that designer Sandra Steiner-Houck, CKD of Steiner-Houck & Associates in Annapolis and Lancaster, PA says was “a lovely experience.”
“The remodeling project involved creating a more open plan with better flow for the kitchen, dining and breakfast area while also providing more visibility to the water,” she notes. “These clients enjoy everything good in life – fine wine, cooking, fun with family and friends – along with living on the water and boating. So, of course, it all had to be elegant and functional.”
To accomplish this, Steiner-Houck – working with Alt Breeding Schwarz Architects – opened up the walls between all areas of the space, created a breakfast area that faced the water, and incorporated a custom-curved banquette to integrate into the back of a wine storage and display area. A custom bar with Shagreen leather inlays and pewter top was created for entertaining. The open plan kitchen features a central island and tall built-in cabinets with antique mirror doors from Premier Custom-Built Cabinetry that house the television and additional storage.
“The kitchen is now full of natural light and provides great visibility from the front to the back of the house, which overlooks the water. It doesn’t get any better than that,” Steiner-Houck adds.
But, will the coastal grandmother look have staying power? McCarley says she isn’t sure this is what it will always be called, but she feels that a clean, sophisticated look with a soft color palette will always be a desired aesthetic.
“A house only becomes a home when personal items are added, so that is always a must in my work,” she says. “I never want my projects to look like the whole room was bought off the store floor. Mixing and matching creates a lovely, lived-in place, and I think this perfectly sums up the coastal grandmother look.”
Weesner is on the same page. “Like all styles, it will probably evolve over the years, but its elements are such classics that it will always be relevant. And, here’s a reminder: you needn’t be a grandma or even live on the coast to enjoy the style,” he stresses. ▪