7 Decorating Staples for Faking a Summer Beach House in the City (or Elsewhere)

published Aug 19, 2020
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Credit: Melanie Rieders

The writer Henry James once famously said that the two most beautiful words in the English language are “summer afternoon,” but I’d argue that “summer house” are two equally beautiful words. I’m talking about the creaky, passed-through-the-generations house that can take the beating of sandy feet and wet swimsuits—not some newly-built beach house where the central AC is always running (though, to be fair, that does sound pretty good, too). The summer house of my daydreams, however, is a place that feels like it’s full of timeless touches from another era.

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Whether it’s in Maine, on Lake Michigan, the coast of California, or near a swimming hole in Louisiana, there are certain qualities that are universal to the summer house: The slam of screen doors, the feel of fans whirring overhead, the faintest smell of mildew and moss, and the sound of cicadas at night. If you, too, crave that summer house nostalgia (even if you never had a summer house to call your own), it’s not too late to get in on that look and feeling wherever you live—even if you’re stuck in a city or positively land-locked. Consider these seven home and decor staples that can make your home feel like it’s always in a sunny summer afternoon, no matter the season. 

Ball-fringe curtains

Wherever they’re used, pom-poms bring a little spark of joy. Their round shape and repetitive quality brings to mind a feeling of buoyancy. I usually like a modern take on a classic item, but for a ball-fringe curtain, give me the original, something like the unadulterated curtain from The Vermont Country Store in cream or crisp white.

Buy: Classic Ball-Fringe Ball Pocket Curtains, Starting at $54.95 from The Vermont Country Store

Credit: Amazon

Rope hammocks

A true summer classic, the rope hammock was made for lazy afternoons. Pawleys Island Hammocks have been making their hammocks using the same methods in South Carolina since 1889. If you’re lucky enough to have a pair of trees, you can rig yours up there, but you can also order a standalone frame. For the apartment dweller, you might get creative and hang a swing seat indoors for the same kind of laid-back vibe. If you are looking for a budget option, Amazon stocks a classic rope 2-person model.

Buy: Best Choice Products 2-Person Woven Cotton Rope Double Hammock, $54.99 from Amazon

Credit: Walmart

Adirondack chairs

Whether crafted from classic wood or a modern weather-resistant material, the shape of an Adirondack chair is designed with relaxation in mind: You sink deeply into them, and the wide armrests practically beg for a book and a cold drink. You can play it safe with white or black, but I love seeing these in bright, candy-hued colors like Polywood sells. Walmart carries especially affordable options, too.

Buy: Mainstays Wooden Outdoor Adirondack Chair, $119.99 $87 from Walmart

Credit: Annie Selke

Matelassé bedspreads

A summer-weight quilt is the ideal bed cover for summer, and crisp, cotton matelassé ones hark back to an even earlier time. You’re not limited to past generations’ floral and fleur-de-lis patterns though. Modern matelassé quilts also come in simple geometric textures, like Pine Cone Hill’s white waffle, which will look right at home in a contemporary space while still having the air of a bygone summer.

Buy: Waffle White Matelassé Coverlet, Starting at $190.00 from Annie Selke

Credit: Rugs USA

Rag rugs

Originally made from salvaged scraps of fabric (literal rags), rag-style rugs are woven from strips of cotton. Because they’re made from cotton, rag rugs can be machine-laundered and feel cool and soft underfoot on hot, humid days. Willaby makes modern versions of this country staple in solid hues and fresh stripes, but you can also find multicolored styles, too.

Buy: Blue Chindi Area Rug, $527.79 $233.70 for a 7’6″x 9’6″ size from Rugs USA

Peg rails

Picture these lining the walls of a bunk room hung with wet towels and bathing suits, and you’ll understand why classic Shaker peg rails are summer house staples. A set of pegs, however, is useful in almost any room or home. Hang them in the entryway for coats and bags, in the kitchen for pans, or in the utility room for brooms, rakes, and other tools. If you crave a built-in look, the ones from the Shaker Shoppe can be ordered in six lengths and be cut on site to size. The Container Store sells 4- and 6-peg racks for a smaller installation.

Buy: Maple Shaker Peg Racks, Starting at $9.99 from The Container Store

Credit: Pottery Barn

Ticking stripes

a popular choice for upholstery fabric. Pottery Barn makes an organic cotton shower curtain in an antique stripe, which would quickly transform your bathroom into a summer-y spot.

Buy: Antique Stripe Organic Shower Curtain, $79.00 from Pottery Barn