For smooth sailing at home, decorate rooms in nautical style

One of the most delightful ways to reinvent your decorating style is to head to sea -- in your imagination or on the pages of Sailing Style: Nautical Inspirations for the Home (Clarkson Potter, $30).

In this shipshape new book, designer and author Tricia Foley shows how much of our architectural and design vocabulary is linked to the sea.


"Think bunk beds and mother-of-pearl," she says. "Think deck chairs and hammocks and blue-and-white stripes. All have a seafaring legacy."

In Sailing Style, she journeys with photographer Michael Skott and writer Jill Kirchner Simpson to lighthouses and saltboxes, to "stone enders" and converted boathouses up and down the East Coast. One Rhode Island house even replicates a yacht interior, from the compass rose inlaid on the entry floor to the extremely compact galley kitchen.


As these neat and trim rooms show, the seafaring life is, to quote Foley, "a great inspiration for a clean-lined approach to modern living." Though Foley's personal style is simple, white and clutter-free, she hadn't thought of it as having nautical overtones until she started working on her book.

"The book opened my eyes to the fact that I was actually living with a lot of sailing influences," she says. "I just hadn't connected the dots."

For years, she had been decorating with hurricane lamps, fishing baskets and natural canvas.

Visit Foley at her snug house in a historic Long Island village and you'll find a conch shell propping the front door open.

In the bathroom, soap will be displayed in a clamshell.

If you're staying for dinner, you might find hors d'oeuvres set out in clamshells and nuts placed in a bucket with a shell as a scoop. At each place setting, there will be shells filled with salt, and down the center of the whitewashed farm table will be a collection of shells in lieu of a centerpiece.

Shells, Foley says, have a multitude of decorative uses. They can be glued around mirrors or picture frames. Holes can be drilled in them to make wind chimes or Christmas ornaments. They make wonderful holders for votive candles and interesting objects to display on a mantel or windowsill.

But no matter how you use them, they help preserve what Foley calls "a vacation state of mind."


Another simple way she likes to bring the "sailing style" home is to decorate with natural canvas.

Foley points out that cloth for sails was first woven from wool, then linen and hemp, and in the 1800s, cotton.

When the United States won the first America's Cup in 1851, it was partly because the U.S. sails were made of taut cotton as opposed to the more porous hemp of the British sails.

Today cotton sailcloth comes in many weights -- heavier ones for deck chairs, lighter ones for slipcovers and curtains. Hang your curtains with grommets at the top and you'll replicate the sense of line running through sailcloth. For a different nautical look at the window, use a set of triangular sailing flags as a valance.

"You can also make pillows out of sailing flags," Foley says. "Or applique them to a shade."

Sometimes all it takes is a change of accessories to put wind in your decorating sails. Try framing a sea chart or an old print of a clipper ship in full sail. Dust off an old silver sailing trophy and fill with a bouquet of hydrangeas.


If you find an old child's rowboat at a flea market, top it with glass and use it as a coffee table as one Sailing Style homeowner did. In the dining room, you could also follow his lead and turn a ship's steering wheel into a glass-topped dining table.

Even if you lead a landlocked life, Sailing Style will help you take a new tack, test your sea legs, and set sail for new decorating horizons.