First, clear away the heavy blankets, comforters, dark pillows, and wintery decor (dark vases, leftover snowmen and reindeer that never made it off the shelf and into your Christmas box, winter or snowy landscape paintings, etc.). Pack all of that away into a storage chest or in an under-the-bed box. Take a few minutes to go through each room of your apartment and try to find at least one more thing to put away or get rid of. (This is a great way to get rid of the clutter, something that should always be done before bringing new items into your space.)
Go hunting! First, you’ll have to gear up – cool, comfortable clothing, tennis shoes, a GPS device, and a bag containing small bills and loose change. That’s right – you are hunting garage sale bargains. Be on the lookout for wicker furniture, shapely glass bottles, white dishes, driftwood, and anything else that says “beach” to you. (My most prized summer decor possessions are a set of iron egret statues I found at a garage sale – all three for a dollar!)
Beach-inspired decor usually involves vibrant colors (think beach: white sand, teal water, wispy clouds, blue sky, green palm trees). If you can’t paint (or don’t want to paint), keep these colors in mind while hunting up garage sale (or flea market) finds. Look for white slip covers to brighten up your couch, throw pillows in varying shades of blue and green, and glass vases that will reflect the light.
Natural light is an important part of beach decor. Switch out your heavy drapery for some filmy, lightweight curtains. If your apartment still looks dark, use mirrors to reflect the light and consider adding a floor lamp.
Bring the outdoors in – seashells, flowers, driftwood, beach glass, and pictures or statues of birds, lighthouses, and boats will give your space an outdoor feel. Don't overlook your kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom – adding a few touches throughout your space will carry the theme from one room to the next, making it feel more authentic (even if you live nowhere near the beach).
Don't go overboard. You want a beachfront cottage feel, but you don't want to get too kitschy. Sure, that fake palm tree fits the theme – but do you really want it in your space? Same goes for plastic flamingos and silk floral arrangements – use these things very sparingly, if at all. Instead, think about a bowl of seashells and a natural piece of driftwood on the fireplace mantel. And if you add nothing else, these things will invoke the seaside image you're looking for.