Growing up, my dad and I spent every available moment at my uncle’s lake cabin. From nearly anywhere in the house you could look east and catch a glimmer of water framed by weathered pine trees. Those views imbued the space with a stillness and tranquility. It was our waterfront sanctuary—except for the dark wood paneling and well-worn furniture.
Admittedly, as much as I love that home, I spent many a dreary afternoon on the screened-in porch, breathing in that sweet lake air and daydreaming about how I would redecorate it. Even then, I heard the siren call of neutral color palettes, cozy textiles, and subtly nautical furniture. As my mom would say, an anchor and a few fish-shaped pillows does not lake decor make.
In late spring, store shelves swell with this type of aquatic accoutrement: oars, fish, buoys, anchors, ships, compasses, and the list goes on and on. While I admittedly harbor a deep love for thematic accessories, authentic lakeside style craves subtlety— furnishings that enliven that beautiful vista waiting outside your window. Allow me to explain.
English essayist Joseph Addison once said, “Colors speak all languages.” So, what do you want your lake house to say? I naturally gravitate toward muted hues—pale blue, crisp white, lemon chiffon—colors that say, “Welcome to paradise. Here’s a mint julep.” Well, maybe they can’t say all that, but soft shades that complement the natural surroundings certainly exude a sense of serenity.
Try fresh oyster shell trim with coastal blue walls to accentuate the nearby water. Then, weave rich colors into your accessories: grass-green throw pillows poised on the couch, pink peonies perched on the end table, buttery yellow chairs positioned under the dining table. After all, even neutral palettes need a little flair.
Before you look out, take a minute to look up. Ceilings are often overlooked opportunities for brightness. Instead of placing an airy blue on the walls, try it up above. When you walk into the room, the ceiling’s calming color will draw your eye straight to the nearest view of the water.
Ever since I was a little girl, my favorite part of swimming has always been coming in the house, drying off, and putting on soft sweatpants and a sweatshirt. To be cocooned in warm, soft fabrics after a swim is a truly divine experience. In a lake house, the right textiles can conjure that feeling all the time. Think chunky, organic textured throws and cushy oversized couch pillows with machine-washable covers. Remember, you’re at the lake, which equals water and humidity. It’s critical that any creature comforts have durable construction. While windows are great for capturing those peaceful vistas, sometimes privacy is needed. I adore long, flowy sheer white curtains, or a breezy linen option, that provide a bit of a buffer but also allow the room to be flooded with light. Hang them well above the window frame, close to the ceiling, to give the illusion of higher ceilings. Well-chosen and thoughtfully placed drapery can offer seclusion without stifling the view.
Flooring sets the tone of a lake house. In high traffic areas, nylon carpet is known for its durability, resilience and easy maintenance. If you choose hardwoods or tile, add a soft area rug for comfort and function. Consider a nubbly jute rug in creamy khaki for a living room, a flat weave rug with thick blue-and-white stripes for the hallway, or a circular handhooked rug in a light coral ombre for the dining room. The possibilities are infinite.
Get creative with your accessories. Baskets woven from wood or rope add texture and storage to a space, while metal-and-glass lanterns placed in front of a stacked stone fireplace create an intriguing juxtaposition of materials. For a historic touch, print a large, black-andwhite map of the lake on linen, canvas or silk, and hang it in the dining room for a great dinner conversation starter.
Don’t forget about furniture! As the fourth generation of a furniture manufacturing family, I’ve heard more than once: Choose the right wood for the space. In humid environments, durable materials like wicker, rattan and teak evoke an earthy, seaside feel—think of a wicker couch with plush cushions, or a naturally brown teak table and chairs stained driftwood gray. These pieces are a great addition to any indoor or outdoor space. (Pro tip: Apply a coating of teak oil once a year and your pieces will look beautiful for generations to come.)
I treasure the sweet scent of lake air— fresh, crisp, inviting. To complement that aroma and keep things fresh inside, I recommend candles or an oil diffuser with crisp fragrances like linen or ocean breeze, or a delicate floral. It’ll be the finishing touch.
From the moment the door opens, enjoying a lake house is a sensory experience. You see the light, feel the softness and textures, smell the air. As you seek new additions for your waterside haven, remember: Organic decor engages the senses so you can be comfortable indoors while fully immersing yourself in your natural surroundings. Happy decorating!