Latest posts by Jenn Flynn-Shon (see all)

You want to know a secret?

Coastal décor totally works in a desert home.

Some of you might be shaking your heads, no, but hear me out.

I’m not talking about full-on nautical designs like anchors replacing every light fixture, sea map wallpaper, a broken down dingy in your front yard flanked by 20 empty lobster traps.

Paint colors, materials selection, clean lines, bright spaces, and eclectic furniture groupings that lend themselves to a cozy cottage atmosphere. That’s how to get a coastal feel.

You might ask, can a home in the desert pull off some of the design elements of coastal regions? Not to mention, how can we do that without making our homes feel out of place?

Great questions.

What I’m talking about is an overall coastal feel without being entirely literal. There is a difference and most of the elements play well to our desert surroundings. So let’s talk about how to achieve a coastal vibe and why it can totally work for your home in Phoenix.

Proximity to San Diego and Puerto Peñasco

Phoenicians like to travel. We go everywhere and live in the perfect jumping off point to access different desert landscapes, mountains, and even the beach.

We sometimes like to escape the blistering summers and dip our overheated toes into the sea. With areas like Puerto Peñasco (Rocky Point) and the California coast within a day’s drive, it’s easy to get out of town.

It’s also worth a mention how many of us here in the Valley are transplants from colder, sometimes more expensive, coastal locations.

My husband and I moved here from Boston. I have many friends from the upper peninsula of Michigan. I even know a few folks who moved here from the California coast to lower their overall cost of living and warm up.

See my Phoenix homeowner’s blog here

We all came here to enjoy the sunshine and lifestyle that goes along with life in the desert. And, for the most part, we love our Valley homes!

But, sometimes, we miss our hometowns. Favorite vacation spots. Or maybe, we want to feel a connection to our haunts. Something that reminds us daily about the places we go to turn off our brains and relax.

As a gal raised on salt air and seafood, I’m the first to admit that there are times I miss waking up to 80 degree days in the summer. Experiencing a light sea breeze. Even though I can’t open my windows in August and inhale that smell, I can fill my home with a few of the elements that bring my mind back to those places.

 4 design elements that vibe as coastal but fit in the desert Southwest

Gray, blue, green, white, and other lighter interior colors

Here’s something fun to consider:

Psychologically, the colors blue and green will help you relax. According to Art Therapy, “These cool colors are typically considered restful. There is actually a bit of scientific logic applied to this – because the eye focuses the color green directly on the retina, it is said to be less strainful on your eye muscles.

And just because we live in Phoenix doesn’t mean we can’t get the same awesome paint colors as our favorite places by the shore. We have a number of great paint options such as Sherwin Williams, Benjamin Moore, Behr, and Dunn-Edwards readily available across the Valley.

Go for Sherwin Williams SW 9141 Waterloo, SW 7516 Kestrel White, and SW 6869 Stop to capture a New England coastal feel.

Sherwin Williams nautical seaside sea ocean coastal colors blue tan

Sherwin Williams paint stores offer these paint colors to incorporate a little bit of coastal whimsy into your home decor.

Is southern Cal more your speed? Ride the wave with SW 0025 Rosedust, SW 9085 Touch of Sand, and SW 7602 Indigo Batik, also by Sherwin Williams.

Maybe you left your heart on a white sand, tropical beach somewhere and want to capture that in your home. Check out DE5781 Tropical Lagoon, DE5365 Burnished Cream, and DE5111 Rose Fusion from Dunn-Edwards then get your steel drum ready!

A great way to use lighter colors like white or grey is on built-ins like kitchen cabinets, entertainment units, or large pieces of furniture. It helps break up the space and colors.

Wood look tile

Not only durable but beautiful, this tile is everywhere now! When my husband and I completed a renovation four years ago we’d been seeing the stuff all over the DIY network. It was the best of both worlds! We wanted it in our house. Luckily, it was a design trend that made it to the states from Canada.

Hardwood is a common flooring found at the beach because it can hold up to the humidity, salt air, and change in temperature without much maintenance.

In the desert, though, we have a few different needs. Daily humidity doesn’t plague us, but gravel and sand definitely play a part. Not to mention, the heat in the summer. Wood look tile feels cooler underfoot and cleans up far easier than carpet or laminate.

Aequa Silva color wood look tile plank Ceramiche Castelvetro Italy Italian porcelain tile grout 1/8" Sherwin Williams SW7554 steamed milk

Wood-look porcelain tile like this Ceramiche Castelvetro “Aequa Silva” can add a light and low-maintenance coastal appeal to your floors. The 8″×32″ tiles were purchased from Arizona Tile in Scottsdale. Grout is set at 1/8″ and tile pattern is randomized.

To capture the coastal feel, go with a mix of whitewashed and other “nature-faded” wood tones. Ones that complement the grays, blues, and warm tones you chose above. Tile won’t get destroyed in wet rooms like a bathroom or kitchen so this look can run throughout your whole home and tie everything together.

Light gray or white exterior house color

Something I’ve noticed popping up in multiple neighborhoods across the Valley is a leaning toward lighter exterior house colors. It seems tan and brown are on the way out while white and gray are on the way in.

Lighter colors reflect heat so Phoenicians are smart to paint their homes in colors that slightly contrast the colors found in the natural landscape. A light gray house with white trim will reflect more summer heat where darker homes absorb the passive solar.

Not only will you keep your home cooler, but it will evoke the air of a seaside cottage.

Sights of the ocean and furniture choices

Balancing elements is always nice and with so much earth surrounding us, even a picture of water can add a sense of calm.

Blow up a photo that you took on a trip and frame it, find an artist and commission a painting, or pick up an oversized canvas print available at a box store and hang it in your house.

Vary wood grains in your furnishings, look for furniture with a lived-in feel, install hardware shaped like a starfish, paint an accent wall in your living room bright teal, even the accessories in your bathroom can evoke the coast. A soap dish made from a real clamshell is kitsch but functional.

We picked up our patio set at The Dump for a great price and the style is white painted metal. Very beachy. Also, very durable against harsh Phoenix weather (without the singe on your skin after leaning onto a hot, dark metal patio set).

The fabric on the cushions might not make it too many years with the sun, chlorine from the pool, and dust impacting them almost daily but that’s okay. The frames are fantastic and cushions can be changed out as needed. Sturdy outdoor fabrics, like Sunbrella can hold up to even our tough climate.

Check out AtHome, Living Spaces, even The Dump for a larger selection of coastal styles. And, don’t forget, people move to Phoenix from the coast all the time. Some of them might change out their style when they get here. Check thrift stores or consignment shops like My Sister’s Attic, iConsign or Luv-to-Save.

Don’t go “overboard” with coastal décor

If you’ll pardon the pun, the advice is sound. There is a point where you can have too much of a good thing. Even a beach bum like me can admit that point! After all, we do still live in the desert.

I mentioned a clam’s shell as a soap dish. Try pairing that with a framed photo of the ocean and maybe place a few small glass jars wrapped in twine up on a shelf to hold things like cotton swabs or toothbrushes.

Just find your inner editor before also adding actual fish-netting as a shower curtain (held up by real fish hooks), a piece of ship rope to hold your toilet paper, a nautical window converted into a mirror, and actual sand on the floor (even in poured epoxy).

The desert is the perfect place to incorporate a little bit of coastal whimsy. Through color, furniture, and materials, we can design our homes to incorporate some of the nostalgic elements of our favorite shorelines. And, maybe, feel like we’re on vacation in our own homes every day.


For me, the reason why people go to a mountaintop or go to the edge of the ocean is to look at something larger than themselves. That feeling of awe, of going to a cathedral, it’s all about feeling lost in something bigger than oneself. To me, that’s the definition of spectacle. – Diane Paulus, American director of theater and opera