East Coast or West Coast? How the Two Coasts’ Design Styles Differ

published Jul 26, 2019
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This may come as a surprise, but the rivalry between the east and west coast extends far beyond the basics. It feels like the two coasts go head-to-head on everything—and we mean everything. Golden Gate Bridge or Brooklyn Bridge? New York-styled pizza or cheesy, Californian burritos? The 212 area code or the 90210 zip code? And, as expected, which coast has the best interior design?

We love to celebrate design from all coasts and corners of the world—and do our very best not to play favorites. However, we can’t help but notice there’s a stark difference between the interior of a typical New York apartment and a California bungalow. So what’s the deal? How do the two coasts’ aesthetics compare? Let’s take a look.

Credit: Anna Spaller

According to Elizabeth Sesser and Patricia Cassidy—interior associates at Ike Kligerman Barkley, an interior design firm with offices in San Francisco and New York City—the key difference boils down to fabric and color choice.

“Overall, the east coast has much richer color palettes and materials, where the west coast tends to be lighter and more neutral,” Sesser explains. “Design styles tend to be more traditional or classic in the east, where the west coast feels more modern.”

While it’s virtually impossible to lump two coasts worth of homes into a defined design aesthetic, east coast homes generally feature rich color and more traditional finishes such as colored lacquer and American walnut. The west coast, however, usually has a penchant for weathered wood, sun-bleached linens, and organic patterns.

Whether you’ve jetted off to both coasts—or virtually traveled through our house tours—you’ve probably noticed this difference before. While many west coast homes boast easy, breezy linens and beige tones, east coast homes have ornate details and complicated prints. And from a historical standpoint, that makes sense.

“You have a lot of older homes from 1800s,” Cassidy says. “There a greater feeling of nostalgia when you think of a prewar apartment in New York City or Nantucket cottage.”

Credit: Nancy Mitchell

The west coast, on the other hand, has newer and more modern structures.

“There something very ‘cool’ about west coast,” Cassidy adds. “A west coast home tends to be more relaxed and bohemian than a buttoned-up strait-laced east coast apartment. There’s an inclination towards the beach and relaxation.”

But no matter where you live in the country (or the world!), the team at Ike Kligerman Barkley encourage all design enthusiasts to embrace both coasts.

“Be bi-coastal,” Sesser says. “Mix and match what you are drawn to and create your own space.”