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Second-Home Decorating Ideas

Create stylish rooms that say “relax and stay awhile” with these decorating ideas.

Written and produced by Debra Steilen
  • Werner Straube

    Decorating a second home? Forget formality and create rooms that showcase your carefree side. Pull these spaces together by having fun with color, blending old with new, and choosing durable furnishings that can take whatever guests (and kids) dish out during weekend getaways and seasonal vacations. Keep in mind: You’re allowed to create that warm, welcoming feeling in your primary place, too. 

    Bright floral fabric inspired the upstairs landing in this Hampton Designer Showhouse. “The colors are great for summer,’” says Elle Clymer, who styled the sun-filled space with Stephanie Woodmansee. Duck-egg blue linen covers a comfy Louis XVI-style banquette that hosts a bevy of cheerful pillows. A splashy photo print by Gray Malin imparts a peppy poolside vibe. Well-ventilated rattan chairs, Moroccan side tables, a ceramic garden stool, and a vintage blue rug complete the relaxing retreat.

    Design: Elle Clymer and Stephanie Woodmansee

  • Gordon Beall

    Laid-Back Island Living

    Erin and Gregory Pitts knew they would entertain a lot at their weekend home on an island in Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. That’s why Erin created an open floor plan that combines the great room, dining room, and kitchen—easing the traffic flow for guests as well as the couple’s three young kids. She chose a refined palette that lets the home’s classic architectural elements shine through—and easy-care materials to simplify upkeep. Wood floors sport a dark stain that anchors the all-white walls and handsome coffered ceilings. Chairs and sofas on the main level are covered in indoor/outdoor fabrics. The dining area’s dark chairs wear flirty skirted slipcovers. And a variety of blue-and-white pillows adds extra comfort.

    Design: Erin Paige Pitts

    Tour the rest of this weekend getaway.

  • Robert Brantley

    Fun in the Sun

    Some rooms in this seaside retreat shy away from bold colors. But not the bedrooms. Case in point: This guest bedroom combines cerulean-blue paint with juicy orange carpet and a playfully striped fabric used for the twin beds’ headboards, dust ruffles, and bolster pillows. A powerful floral adds its own energy via bed pillows, a footstool, and floor-length drapery panels. “Florida is about bright sun, and the palette needs to match that brightness,” says designer Gary McBournie.

    Design: Gary McBournie

    See more of this colorful beach home.

  • Werner Straube

    Dialed-Down Comfort  

    Clearly, this sunroom is designed for kicking back and becoming one with the outdoors. Sliding glass doors on three walls open to a yard that’s home to lavish gardens. Smooth bluestone floor tiles, which warm in the sun, continue from the sunroom onto outdoor terraces that wrap around the house. The room is anchored by two linen-covered couches from B&B Italia that face each other amidst all the glass and good vibes. Plush armchairs are covered in a large-scale floral print by Boussac that brings the garden inside. 

    Architect: James Crisp
    Design: Patricia (Trish) Samataro

    View more of this weekend home.

  • Emily Followill

    Cozy Character

    Warm hues transform the once dreary rooms of a 1928 log cabin nestled in the Appalachian foothills north of Atlanta. Designer Carole Weaks created the home’s fresh color palette by pulling out tones seen in the logs and hardwood floors. In the 10x14-foot dining area shown here, Weaks brought in a hooked rug in shades of melon, along with a coordinating bench and upholstered chairs. Pillow covers feature blue and tomato red fabrics from Cowtan & Tout. Botanically inspired draperies come from Manuel Canovas.

    Design: Carole Weaks

    Tour the rest of this comfy cabin.

  • William Stites

    High-Spirited Hues

    “It’s impossible not to feel happy here,” says homeowner Connie Nast about the winter retreat she and her husband, Chris, own on Florida’s Atlantic Coast. That’s because the home is decorated with joyful colors, casual furnishings, and a variety of whimsical collections—courtesy of designer Betsy Speert. Take this lively space, for example. Kitchen walls and cabinets are painted a vibrant coral that pays homage to seashells. Dining chairs are upholstered in matching coral fabric. Shelves on either side of the range boast a flock of flamingos found online. White-painted barstools and countertops create contrast while injecting cottage-style charm. Not everything is brand new, though; the farm table is a piece that Connie has owned for years.

    Design: Betsy Speert

    See more of this home’s happy hues.

  • Werner Straube

    Rustic and Relaxing

    Designer Kara Adam put her extended family first when designing their North Woods getaway in Bemidji, Minnesota. “We wanted it to live well and feel cozy,” she says. “You can walk in, put your feet up, and just take a deep breath.” 

    That sentiment certainly holds true in the great room, where comfortable furnishings gather around a dramatic fireplace surround of dry-stacked fieldstone. A rustic 5x7-foot chandelier made from antlers provides illumination as well as woodsy appeal. Two large-scale camel-color sofas and a pair of leather-covered wing chairs set the stage for family gatherings, fireside chats, and overnight accommodations in a pinch. (Most of the pieces are easily moved to suit the users’ needs.) Terra cotta-color draperies and a striped area rug add warmth.

    Design: Kara Adam

    See more of this welcoming family cabin.

  • Werner Straube

    Lake House Hues

    "From the moment you walk in the front door, we want you to feel like you are on vacation,” says designer Elizabeth Schmidt about the light, airy interiors she designed for Betty and George Schaefer’s lake home. Appropriately, the room’s vivid blues and foamy whites reflect the beauty of Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay. White bullion fringe accents the ocean-blue sofa, while a Sister Parish floral fabric clads matching armchairs. A flat-weave rug designed by Jonathan Adler adds shots of lime green.

    The open floor plan reflects Betty’s insistence that the kitchen, dining, and living areas exist as one enormous space. “She didn’t want anyone to be left out of the fun when the [extended] family was all together there,” Schmidt says. 

    The next slide features a bedroom designed for the Schaefers’ granddaughters.

    Design: Elizabeth Schmidt

  • Werner Straube

    Pretty and Practical

    Bedrooms show the same devotion to color that the more public rooms at the lake house do. The Schaefers’ six granddaughters share a Tiffany-blue-walled room with a trio of matching four-poster trundle beds; all three are dressed in white coverlets with bright yellow scalloped tape trim. A hot pink Pagoda lamp calls attention to coral pillow fabric by Lilly Pulitzer, as well as an equally pink carpet made for outdoor use. The latter can be scrubbed down with water when the outdoors makes its way in side. The Schaefers’ four grandsons, by the way, enjoy their own nautical-inspired bedroom furnished with two bright red trundle beds.

    Design: Elizabeth Schmidt

    Check out the Schaefers’ lake home.

  • Werner Straube

    Cooking for a Crowd

    When Mary and Alan Hogg built their vacation home in Sun Valley, Idaho, they made sure to include a 15x24-foot kitchen where they can cook for their guests after a day of skiing or hiking. Two 8x3-foot islands anchor the space, which flows into the living room (with adjoining dining room) and a breakfast room. Placing the islands perpendicular to the living room encourages sociability between the spaces. “Often we’ll set out appetizers at the ends of the islands closest to the living room,” Alan says. “Then guests are part of the conversation, but they’re not on top of our work space.”

    The kitchen is outfitted with stained white-oak cabinets, Pietra Cardosa slate countertops, and charcoal-colored backsplash tiles from Waterworks. White fireclay sinks are paired with Tuscan brass faucets from Rohl. The slate-topped island that is part of the primary work zone houses a cooktop. The furniture-style second island, which was inspired by an antique chopping block, sports a thick hand-planed wood top.

    Design: Jennifer Hoey Smith

    See more views of this kitchen.

  • Jessica Klewicki

    Breezy in Blue

    It’s not hard to guess why designer JoAnn Barwick (author of Scandinavian Country) used a blue-and-white palette to decorate her beach cottage in Boca Grande, Florida. After all, the blue tones, pale aquas, greens, and turquoise all reflect the presence of the Gulf just across the street.

    But the beauty of this décor is about more than the happy hues JoAnn chooses. It has to do with the carefree lifestyle ensured by outfitting the cottage with durable water-color floor tiles, lightweight painted furniture, and low-maintenance textiles. "All of the fabrics and textures I used are extremely casual, from ticking and linen to seagrass and wicker," JoAnn says.

    This sitting room, by the way, includes recessed wall cabinets with glass shelves and built-in lighting to shine through JoAnn’s displays of coral, shells, and ceramics.

    Design: JoAnn Barwick

    Dive into this Florida vacation home.

  • Werner Straube

    Kid-Friendly Quarters

    When you have four kids under 15, you find creative ways to keep them and their friends happy. That’s why Matt and Teri Andresen designated the fourth floor of their Chicago row house as the kids’ floor. And that’s why the boys’ room offers such a flexible approach to sleeping arrangements. Custom-built bunk beds offer sleeping compartments outfitted with niches that hold reading lights and alarm clocks. A long window seat provides room to read by day, and extra snoozing space at night. Plus, the platform’s wide drawers offer much-needed storage for toys, games, and extra blankets. Easy-care carpet tiles from Flor can be rearranged to create multiple patterns.

    Design: Michael Abrams

  • Eric Roth

    Family Affair

    Designer Susan Zises Green loves to keep her family close. So close, in fact, that she bought the house behind her Nantucket weekend getaway for her kids. When it came time to design the interiors, Green made sure to use of the Americana she had collected for years. As a result, the living room features dark wicker furniture covered in white outdoor upholstery—all gathered around an antique ottoman topped with a floral hooked rug. Folk art, including a portrait by Sally Avery and a painting by William Hawkins adds color to the striking black-and-white color scheme. So do pink pillows recycled from Susan’s New York apartment—a great way to bring a touch of home into a newly decorated space.

    See one of the bedrooms on the next slide.

    Design: Susan Zises Green

  • Eric Roth

    Artistic Touch

    Playful color and pattern enhance the cheerful personality of the grandkids' room—thanks to colorful antique quilts, striped fabric from Tillett Textiles, and blankets from Roberta Roller Rabbit. The green demilune table (along with the figures on top of it), bedside table, and area rug come from Susan Zises Green’s personal collection. Children's artwork on the walls lends a happy, personal touch. 

    Design: Susan Zises Green

    Spend time in this Nantucket summer home.

  • Werner Straube

    Light and Lovely

    More than just a place to change clothes, Bill and Amy Koman’s pavilion-style pool house provides a comfortable place to enjoy summer in St. Louis. Shown here: The Scandinavian-inspired dining area is wrapped in bleached poplar planking finished with a gray-white glaze that complements the light-colored furnishings. Tumbled limestone floor tiles offer a textured, waterproof surface that echoes the color of the wood. The banquette is upholstered in an easy-to-clean plastic-like fabric that stands up to wet bathing suits. Vintage chairs are covered in monogrammed periwinkle-blue towels from Restoration Hardware. The framed artwork is by Mary Judge.

    Design: Marshall Watson

    Soak in this pretty pool house.

  • John Bessler

    Sit-a-Spell Style

    "This is where everyone hangs out," says homeowner/designer Jane Forman of the light-filled family room in her Nantucket summer home. That’s because this space, along with other rooms in the shingle-style house, was furnished to be as comfortable for guests to gather in as it is for Jane and her husband, Charles, to be there alone. Plus, the sofa and club chairs are covered in fabrics that can stand up to kids coming straight from the beach.

    The room also showcases pieces from Jane's folk-art collection, each one chosen to reflect Nantucket history and culture. The stair’s newel is topped with a wooden bell. Woven nested Nantucket baskets come from a local craft guild. The large lamp behind the sofa boasts an antique stoneware jar as its base.

    See another view on the next slide.

    Design: Jane Forman

  • John Bessler

    Fireplace Flair

    Jane Forman designed the family room’s fieldstone fireplace and wood mantel to accommodate the TV and “signal that this room is informal,” she says. Thanks to its organic cladding material, the fireplace exudes warmth even when it’s not lit. Jane’s folk art collection is represented here, too; the corner of the room features an antique sailor holding a sextant, and redware plates from Nantucket Looms sit on the mantel.

    Design: Jane Forman

    Check out this charming summer place.

  • Courtesy of Betsy Speert

    Flea Market Finery

    Designer Betsy Speert is known for her masterful use of color and pattern to create welcoming interiors. She put that mastery to good use making sure her winter home in Florida sports a completely different feel from her residence in Massachusetts. “The fun thing about [second homes] is that you're starting with a blank slate,” she says. “You can go in any direction you want.”

    Here in Florida, the direction she wanted to go was tropical. That’s why all the rooms in the house (including this study) are covered in textured bamboo wallpaper. She enhanced the theme by furnishing the space with sisal carpeting, rattan furniture, bright tropical prints, and best of all, paint-by-number artwork featuring tropical birds. Says Speert, "I wanted this house to have a little bit of silliness in it because it's my vacation home."

    Design: Betsy Speert

    See Betsy Speert’s exuberant Florida getaway.

  • Eric Roth

    Collectible Chic

    Furnishing a second house? Don’t let the living room, family room, and bedrooms have all the fun. Get inspired by the second-floor landing of this Nantucket home; it displays a captivating personality thanks to a collection of vintage straw hats displayed on an American-made hat stand. Antique bird prints stand out against daintily-patterned wallpaper.

    Design: Susan Zises Green

  • Werner Straube