Beach House Beauty

NoVa interior designer Erika Bonnell creates a sleek Sandbridge stunner.

There’s something to be said for summer: temps rise, and it’s hot enough to enjoy the beach, the water, and outdoor entertaining until the wee hours of the morning. If you have a beachfront or dockside property, all the better. But if you don’t, you can still bring the beach vibe to your landlocked abode. 

Varying paver patterns add interest to the driveway—from herringbone to running brick and horizontal stacked brick used as edging. The planting bed features grasses and palmetto palms with a wide river rock border. The home’s coastal contemporary style suits Sandbridge’s laid back vibe. Photography by Angela Newton Roy. Courtesy of Erika Bonnell

Erika Bonnell of Sterling’s Erika Bonnell Interiors explains that the key to redecorating
your place to encompass a beachy aesthetic isn’t about bringing in a bunch of seaside-inspired bric-a-brac and calling it a day. She says the key to capturing a vibe is clear aesthetic direction and big-picture approach.  

New Build in Sandbridge

One of her projects was a Virginia Beach residence on Back Bay in Sandbridge. It was a new build on bare land, and while it was supposed to be more of a weekend retreat, Bonnell explains that her clients “liked it so much that they decided to live there full time.”  

“They are very outdoorsy—a family full of sportsmen,” she continues, “and they wanted to support that as part of the design. As far as aesthetics, they were totally unsure of where they wanted to go. Did they want a strong, bold, colorful house? Or something more soothing?” Bonnell describes it as a “sophisticated, not-in-your-face beach house” and without so much as a whiff of beachy sayings and kitschy marine décor.  

She says comprehensive, project-wide thinking is paramount. No matter your home’s proximity to the Atlantic—or any body of water for that matter—accomplishing your goals requires a cohesive indoor-to-outdoor concept that helps kick-start the design process. Indoor-outdoor living is key for life at the beach, but it also works for urban living and rural retreats. A seamless, integrated aesthetic becomes a major design driver.

Pick a Design Direction

First, Bonnell created an aesthetic direction presentation for her clients that encapsulated the “vibes” they were looking for. “In this case, we provided a lot of visuals they could really understand, something they could look at and feel,” Bonnell says, who adds that her “inspiration boards” are a collection of images that not only help clients determine what feels right, but they also help Bonnell’s team direct their design. 

Once what feels right is identified, “you set a course
of action,” she says. “It’s a lot like working backwards from the end of the project to where you are in the design process. If you’re building, we pick out all of our products to make sure we stay in line with the end product.”

The Great Room capitalizes on the home’s natural light and open design. Chandelier is from West Elm; side table, upholstered chair, cocktail table, and side chair are from Bernhardt; sectional is by American Leather; floor lamp is from CB2; and sisal rug is from Fibrework’s Meroe Collection in Birch Pepper. Drapery detailing features bulkhead pockets to house the hardware for a clean, modern look.

It’s All About the Details

“Details like sisal, wood beads, or driftwood are all things that are an ode to the area but not in a kitschy, clinched way,” Bonnell says. Lighting, rugs, and accents with these materials will pay homage to the setting— from sisal rugs and runners to chandeliers dripping
with wood beads and driftwood accent pieces.  

Her clients stayed at The Cavalier in Virginia Beach when the project got underway. “They loved the quirky collection of Virginia Beach-esque art that’s scattered throughout the hotel,” Bonnell says. To honor their time there, art selection was a big part of the house. “We weren’t too serious but wanted to create a relaxed vibe with the art that reflected the location.” 

“The same goes for furnishings and décor,” she continues. “You have to have the flexibility to entertain while still keeping spaces intimate.” Bonnell notes the many different dining areas she created for her clients inside and out—by the pool on the lanai with the ability to expand seating; a large, open kitchen; and a bar space outside. She kept things a little earthy and connected to the home’s waterfront locale with details like natural-textured rugs, leather, a lot of cool wood pieces, and light fixtures with jute accents. 

The kitchen features a generous island with Uttermost’s Connor Counter Stools made of elm, with comfy scooped seats and metal footrests. Sconces and pendants lights are from Visual Comfort, hardware is from Top Knobs, faucets from Birzo, cabinets by Cornerstone Kitchen & Bath. Bonnell used Benjamin Moore’s Silver Satin on the cabinets and throughout the house.

Focus on Outdoor Living

Light and access help fully realize an indoor-outdoor living space that can work as easily for oceanfront property as it can for a mountain retreat. “The windows in the living and dining room totally slide all the way open so you get an amazing sense of indoor-outdoor living,” says Bonnell. The outdoor dining space has a big bar and an outdoor TV for watching football games, design details which suit her clients’ lifestyle. Ample lounge chairs surrounding the pool underscore the relaxing aesthetic and seamless flow from one space to another. 

Poolside features stunning Bay views, along with lounge chairs from CB2 and wooden end tables by Four Hands. 

Creating Connection

The feeling that Bonnell was working toward was connection. “There’s so much thought that goes into how people want to live,” she says. “We’re big picture thinkers, we think about the total package and how the smaller pieces come together and work to fit. Every single decision, inside or out, needs to work together. When people don’t honor their interior direction outside, you get a disconnected feel.” But it doesn’t have to be that way, Bonnell continues. “It’s really just thinking about the project as a whole instead of in so many bits and pieces.”


This article originally appeared in the August 2024 issue. 

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