The sun-drenched colors and inviting textures of summer provide plenty of decorating ideas. The trick is doing it right: A summer-inspired interior can become a tacky, tropical disaster if it's done with too heavy a hand.
But with a light touch and strategic choices, your home can be brightened all year long by the fleeting beauty of summer.
Above all, "do not be literal with summer," says Los Angeles designer Betsy Burnham. Avoid putting up a sign that says, "Gone Fishin'" or displaying a collection of seashells on a table, she says.
Instead, try examining the colors inside a handful of shells, then decorating a room in those shades. Or upholster one piece of furniture in crisp, summery linen, rather than slip-covering an entire room that way.
Designer Joe Lucas in West Hollywood, Calif., agrees: A life preserver with the words "To the Beach" painted on it may not be something you want to hang up, he says, even if you really live a block from the beach. But a mix of sand-colored paint and ocean-blue fabrics can be a tasteful reminder of summers by the shore.
Summer is relaxation
"Summery interiors are best described as relaxed," Flynn says. "While autumnal and wintry spaces are packed with rich velvets and earthy palettes, summery spaces are super-light, unstructured and pretty darn casual."
Flynn uses deliberate contrast to point up that casual feeling: "I like to juxtapose super-relaxed elements such as slipcovers or bedding made from washed linen with super-tailored elements such as tailored tartan or pinstripe accents. The result is preppy but still casual."
Summer is distinctive colors
One option is a palette of muted summer colors (sandy beiges, soft driftwood grays, nautical blues) that can be used throughout a room without overpowering it.
Lucas is a fan of pale gray wall colors that include just a hint of green or blue. They look great alongside natural, pale wood furniture.
Flynn recommends "washed-out blue" wall colors, such as "Krypton" by Sherwin-Williams or "Drenched Rain" by Dunn-Edwards. "Blues with the perfect amount of gray in them tend to be timeless and also work as 'new neutrals' - colors with tons of personality, which tend to work well with almost every other hue out there, as opposed to boring beiges and taupes."
These muted blues pair beautifully with white, he says: "The mix of blue and white together is totally timeless, plus it can be mixed up in many different ways to update the look. Almost all colors accent blue and white well."
The other summery option is to go vivid, using grassy greens, geranium reds, deep corals and the teal of tropical waters. Done right, these colors can elevate the look of a room.
"I'm a huge fan of teal and coral," Flynn says. "I especially love them together, since it strikes the perfect balance of feminine and masculine."
But tread carefully. To balance these saturated colors, Burnham suggests bringing in plenty of crisp white.
Also, Flynn avoids using intense yellows, "probably because growing up in Florida, yellow was pretty much everywhere I looked, from the sun to home's exteriors to convertibles to swimsuits."
Summer is painted wood
"People always think that they have to have their wood finished in a stain," Burnham says. "Why not a painted finish? Paint your bookcases white. … It's summery but livable year-round. Or try painting a floor somewhere in your house, like a guest room floor."
Lucas agrees: "We're always pushing clients to paint out their dark cabinets," he says. "Everyone thinks their library has to be stained a rich mahogany or dark walnut," but there are better approaches. "Paint it an off-blue-gray or lacquer it a fun, brighter color."
Summer is natural textures
"Summery textures really make you want to curl up, kick your sandals off and just escape with a book or magazine," Flynn says. "I use tons of linen in summer-inspired spaces, as well as cotton and textured wovens." Also, he says, "sea grass and sisal are other summery textures which will never go out of style."
The key with these materials, says Burnham, is moderation. Materials like rope or weathered wood are great "as long as you don't have a room full of any of those items. One sisal carpet, a rattan chair or a rattan seat on a wood chair," is all you need, says Burnham.
Also, "glass is summery," she says, "but not cut glass. Not Waterford crystal. Just really simple, New England-looking pieces. Really simple glassware on a shelf."
Lucas points out that grass cloth is also both summery and stylish, as are faux bois (wood grain painted on a nonwood surface) and faux shagreen (artificial shark skin).
Summer is whimsical
Lucas suggests experimenting with just a touch of summer silliness. "There are some really fun wallpapers," he says, such as Katie Ridder's crab pattern in a pale salmon color, that are "definitely inspired by nature and the sea."
"Yes," he says, "it's 'theme-y,' but she does them in all sort of kooky colors" that bring a chic sense of irony to summer decorating. "You do a dining room in that, or a powder room in that," Lucas says, "and it's got a much more fun, light and airy look."
No matter your personal style or geographic location, Flynn says summer can serve as inspiration.
"Whether you're into the less-is-more approach and want to stick with muted blues, whites and sand tones, or prefer the high-energy, Caribbean-colored side of summer," he says, "there's certain to be something out there for you."