Fresh Take on Coastal Interior Design

Coastal no longer means seashells in a beach home. A sophisticated approach incorporating mixed materials, a refined color palette and a performance aspect make the look a practical option nationwide. Enter Universal Furniture and its new partnership with Coastal Living magazine, answering the call with their new Escape Collection, debuting at High Point Market this month. 

Nicole Davis
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Universal Coastal Living living room
The Coastal Living Home Collection: Escape from Universal Furniture highlights mixed materials, like the wrapped rattan above, plus performance upholstery, a must for today’s consumer.

When you hear “coastal,” your mind may automatically go to the beach, but in home decor this style has migrated away from seashells and palm trees to an eclectic, casual vibe at home in the country or on the water. Debuting at High Point Market this fall, Universal Furniture’s new collection with Coastal Living magazine is set to be a poster child for this fresh and sophisticated look.

The manufacturer worked hand in hand with the magazine’s team, prepped with their editorial perspective, to create the Coastal Living Home Collection: Escape — a whole home assortment of casegoods and upholstery comprising more than 60 SKUs, 90 when you consider finish options.

Select buyers were invited to preview the collection in late August, and according to Neil MacKenzie, Universal’s Director of Marketing, the reception was excellent. “People commented that this was unlike anything they had seen from the brand before, which was cool. They really appreciated all of the details we put into it.” 

MacKenzie says that although the project was fast-tracked, it was a collaborative experience with both sides of the table bringing their ideas forward to create something that would resonate with consumers heading into 2019.

Breaking Boundaries

From what they were seeing editorially, in show homes and at the consumer level, Coastal Living editors narrowed in on several trends that resonate with a coastal feel, including resort-inspired style, mixed natural textures and sophisticated outdoor upholstery (see their other top coastal trends in the sidebar at the right). 

And despite preconceived notions, coastal is actually in demand throughout the country. 

Karyn Roed of Belfort Furniture in metro D.C. was one of the dealers who previewed the Escape Collection, and she says the coastal look in general is growing in her area. “Many of our customers want to feel casual and relaxed like they’re on vacation year round. There’s something about a coastal look that brings happiness to a room.”

“This collection is coastal enough for Florida customers but not too coastal for the people in Tennessee,” explains Universal’s Senior Vice President of Sales Sean O’Connor. “We didn’t want to go with bright colors that could be offensive to some people, so we chose neutrals instead.”

The assortment paints a “mixed materials” story, with five base finishes on casegoods: a linen-look finish offered in a navy called Marina and a gray called Sea Spray; a tan called Sandbar and a sun-bathed gray called Boardwalk that dresses distressed pieces; and a painted neutral white called Sailcloth. Another notable finish is a wrapped rattan, which is offered on a number of different beds and chairs and is a totally new look for Universal.

The collection is expansive — with five dining rooms, five bedrooms and multiple chair options, plus upholstered sofas, sleepers and sectionals — but blends well together. “We wanted to provide the ability for stuff to match, but it’s also very eclectic,” says O’Connor. “It’s not like only this one dining chair can go with this one table — it’s meant to be mix and match.” 

Roed says that’s what she loved the most about this assortment — its eclecticism. 

“A range of different materials was used in each room setting and it worked together as if you collected each piece over the years. It’s a designer look for our customers.”

The Differentiator 

New to the Coastal Living Collection is upholstery, which with previous partnerships was not offered. And of course, when you’re talking upholstery nowadays, performance fabric takes center stage as not “nice to have” but “need to have.”

The performance fabric aspect of the collection was a selling point for Leigh Murphy, a buyer at GDC Home in Charleston, SC. “We find more and more of our clients are specifically asking for performance fabrics. Fabrics like Crypton give clients the versatility to use light colors for upholstery (which is an important aspect of coastal style) with confidence. They also have a great hand so comfort doesn’t have to be sacrificed for cleanability and durability.”

Crypton fabrics are used on the sofas, sleepers and sectionals to provide durability and style. Base shades of white, tan and gray are accented with coordinating pillows. Slipcover options are also available. And one thing you won’t see? Novelty-type prints with sea creatures or birds. 

At Retail

The Coastal Living Home Collection: Escape is expected to be at retail by Thanksgiving, O’Connor estimating that it will be on 300 to 400 floors across the country.

And, for dealers making significant investments in the product, marketing tools and floor displays will be at their disposable. Advertising at the consumer level will encourage shoppers to find these stores as well.

“With this collection we tried to really create more than a mindset that this was going to be product that would go in somebody’s beach house,” O’Connor says. “It’s a lifestyle. The finishes are just as salable in Ohio as they are in South Carolina, and we’re proud of that.”

Trendspotting with Coastal Living’s Editors

Looks to watch for in coastal decor. 

1. Botanicals and botanical prints

Palm wallpapers, framed coral fans and colorful hibiscus patterns all remind us of the tropical landscape.

2. Resort-inspired style

From sophisticated black-and-white palettes to designing large, open-air lounges at home, we’re borrowing elements from upscale escapes for year-round comfort.

3. Mixing natural textures

Woven materials with tufted cotton, sea-worn driftwood with fine linen, shell mosaics with smooth stone — even wood finishes that mimic the look of linen — are big in coastal design.

4. High contrast color

Think deep red with light, icy blue.

5. Aged woods

Given the remoteness of island houses and the harsh conditions that age the woods, new furniture isn’t easy to come by, making washed, distressed furniture a timeless coastal design element.

6. Bright “culinary” colors

Bright, fearless colors like raspberry, watermelon, chili pepper and cayenne are making a comeback.

7. Artisanal tiles

Glazed terra cottas in interesting shapes, cement tiles with Moroccan-inspired patterns and even mod tiles in interesting geometric shapes.

8. Sophisticated outdoor upholstery

Innovations in outdoor fabrics give us outdoor materials that look as sophisticated as indoors.

9. Super-Resilience in furniture

As more beach houses become multi-generational or double as rental properties, and innovation improves the quality of furniture owners can get for the money, consumers are looking for pieces that can withstand moisture, kids and heavy use over a long period of time. 

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