7 Ways to Incorporate Nautical Decor in Your Home

nautical decor nautical decor

Today, nautical-inspired design centers around clean, modern decor juxtaposed with iconic objects from maritime history.

Inspiration for today’s nautical interiors can be traced back to the homes of early New England settlers. These structures were uncomplicated, often featuring white-washed walls, wooden floors, and neutral color schemes. After the American colonies were formed in 1607, domestic spaces began drawing inspiration from Europe’s Georgian and Neoclassical trends, but with a pared-down look. New England interiors eventually developed their own nautical flair, which was influenced by the properties of the region’s unique geographic location and proximity to the eastern shoreline. Today, this early style is regarded as traditional and remains popular among coastal New England interiors and beyond; synonymous with a relaxed, beachfront atmosphere.

Nautical Decor Ideas

Nautical decor and design centers around clean, modern decor juxtaposed with iconic objects from maritime history. Shades of blues, reds, and whites make up the traditional color palette for a nautical-inspired space. For accents and hardware, linen, brass, wood and rope are most commonly used, and gingham and striped patterns are also hallmarks of the style. Studded or embroidered furniture, shells or sea glass, and repurposed antique pieces are most popular for accessorizing a nautical-inspired interior space.

Colors frequently used in nautical decor:

  • Blue: primarily sky blue and navy blue hues
  • Red: including candy-apple red and a salmon (sunwashed) red hue
  • White: including creams and stark white

Hardware and textures frequently used in nautical decor:

  • Brass, often found in antique navigational tools and equipment
  • Wood, often found in sailing relics
  • Linen, an early material used in sailcloth
  • Canvas

Patterns frequently used in nautical decor:

  • Stripe
  • Gingham (checkered)

Below, explore 7 ways to achieve the look in your own home with unique objects inspired by the sea.

1. Set the tone with seascape paintings

What’s more nautical than an ocean vista itself? Use seascape paintings to set the tone of your space. Punctuate a large wall with a shore view to create the illusion of a window overlooking a vast ocean landscape. If an original painting is not in your budget, prints are an affordable option, and can be framed easily for display.

Clifford Warren Ashley, “Bark Canton Outward Bound from New Bedford,” 1931. $5,000 – $7,000 via Eldred’s (July 2018).

2. Repurpose antiques as nautical decor

Antique ship or dock lights can be repurposed as decorative objects to add character to a room. Use the piece as a standalone object, or try this DIY tip to rewire the object and create a custom table lamp.

Docking lantern, “S.G. & L. Co. Syracuse, N.Y.” $1,200 – $1,500 via Eldred’s (July 2018).

3. Hang nautical flags and pennants

Nautical flags or pennants can serve as unique home decor offering an eye-catching display. Hang flags singly or together depending on the look you wish to achieve. When grouped these items provide a splash of primary color great for brightening up a room.

Four wool yacht flags. $200 -$300 via Eldred’s (July 2018).

4. Rethink antique and vintage maps as wall art

As an alternative to artwork, vintage maps can easily be framed and hung on an open wall. Nautical maps and nautical charts come with their own stories behind them and add character to a room while offering a neutral color palette to blend well with other decor. Hanging vintage maps is an easy way to personalize a space by choosing a geographic location that holds personal significance.

Chart of Bass Strait, “Surveyed by Commander J.L. Stokes and the officers of H.M.S. Beagle,” 1843. $300 – $500 via Eldred’s (July 2018).

5. Anchor your dining room with nautical tableware

The dinner table often serves as the focal point of a dining space. Antique tableware with a nod to the sea is a subtle way to weave the nautical theme into your dining space. For a pop of color, consider blue-hued placemats or napkins to complement antique stoneware or to add color to tableware featuring a more neutral color scheme.

Left: Herculaneum or Liverpool shallow bowl, circa 19th century. $200 – $400.
Right: Liverpool pitcher, circa 19th century. $600 – $900. Both via Eldred’s (July 2018).

6. Add texture and shape with unexpected objects

Incorporating nautical antiques as accent pieces is a perfect way to weave texture and shape into your space. An object such as a ship wheel, antique anchor, life preserver, or vintage buoy can add individuality, unexpected texture, and unique shape to a wall or space.

Eight-spoke ship’s wheel, circa 19th century. $500 – $1,000 via Eldred’s (July 2018).

7. Consider storage that tells a story

A unique way to create decorative storage in your home is to seek out antiques once used in a coastal setting. Nantucket baskets are a popular collector’s item for New England sea lovers and can serve as a unique accessory for floral displays or store small household items. Vintage chests, lap desks and other items that once belonged to ship captains or sailors are another great way to keep small items organized.

Left: David E. Ray, Nantucket lightship basket, circa 1870. $2,000 – $3,000. Right: Captain George Douglas, scrimshaw and inlaid lap desk, circa 1840. $15,000 – $20,000. Both via Eldred’s (July 2018).

For more maritime art, explore The Marine Sale at Eldred’s July 19 – 20, 2018.