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How Designing a Vacation Home is Different from Your Primary Residence


Designing a vacation home should be a breeze, right? White furnishings. A fully stocked kitchen. Outdoor spaces where you can relax. Isn’t that all you need?

Eeerch! — let’s stop right there. Yes, vacation homes are spacious escapes from your busy city life, but that doesn’t mean you should slap them together. 

Whether you’re making a break for Lake Tahoe or Nantucket, your vacation home should be ready to welcome you at a moment’s notice. It should be a fully functional space that allows for maximum relaxation, in body and peace of mind.

So how do you design this kind of vacation home? How is it different from your primary residence? Take a look…

Decide on Your Vacation Home’s Design Approach

There are two ways to approach the design of your vacation home. The first is for the design to reflect the location of your home and allow the architecture and outdoor inspiration to dictate the design. The second approach is to make your vacation home reflect your true self and fully embrace your own style and preferences in the design. 


Photographer: David Duncan Livingston

We find that clients usually dedicate one of their homes to each of these approaches, but of course, you can also mix them. It’s up to you. Let’s explore what these could look like…

Option 1: Reflect the Architecture & Location

Designing your home to reflect its location is the major difference between your primary residence and a vacation home. Often, our primary homes showcase our true style and accommodate our everyday life, while vacation homes are designed to feel like we’re in a new, relaxing destination.


To achieve the vacation vibe, you can embrace your home’s architecture rather than current design trends. Your designer will be able to identify your home’s architectural style, but in general, you can usually tell if it’s more traditional (will molding, beams, curves, and character) or more modern (clean-lined and minimal). 

If you have a traditional-style home, adding millwork to your home will make it feel custom and full of character, like we did in the Nantucket home below. If your home is modern, you could choose modern furnishings or sleek lighting to make the space pop. 


Our Cape Cod-style Beach House Project entryway gets a boost of dashing character with millwork. Photographer: David Duncan Livingston


You can honor the history of your home or the culture of the building’s location by pulling in local art pieces, colors from nearby nature, and fabrics with diverse textures. Material selection may vary based on where your home is and the weather in that location. 

For example, in Lake Tahoe, your home’s design will probably be more casual and functional to the surrounding landscape, which is snowy in the winter and hot in the summer. Think cozy fireplaces, indoor-outdoor living, and unfinished woods.


Photographer: David Duncan Livingston

The greens and blues in this dining room give away the location of this vacation home… you guessed it, the beach! We used millwork and grasscloth wallpaper to reflect the home’s traditional character while more modern furnishings create a relaxed, breezy feel. Sign me up.

Option 2: Make The Design Personal

Although your primary residence may reflect your own taste and style, that doesn’t mean it won’t manifest itself differently in your vacation home design. Your vacation home is more about where you can be yourself, fully relaxed, outside your busy life.

So… what are you like when you unwind? If you want to spend time with friends and throw parties, for example, you can focus on building a beautiful beverage bar, large indoor-outdoor lounge areas, and a chef’s kitchen for entertaining. Maybe even an outdoor kitchen. Why not?

But if your idea of relaxing is with a good book listening to the sounds of nature while you sip the local Pinot, entertaining areas might now be for you. Instead, you could have built-in bookshelves, a wine fridge, and a comfy custom sofa in front of your favorite window. (Get the details on selecting family-friendly sectionals.)

In other words, how you plan to use the space will dictate how you design it. And then, you can select the colors, materials, and styles that speak most to you.


This open, bright bedroom in our Beach House Project uses calming blue accents to create a relaxing getaway. Photographer: David Duncan Livingston

Select Hardy Materials for Your Vacation Home

Because your vacation home isn’t used as often, you might think you can invest in fragile, luxurious finishes and all-white furniture. We hate to disappoint you, but we believe the opposite is true: you should invest in furnishings and finishes that endure everything you can dish out.

The materials you use can make or break your vacation home experience. A beach, lake, or mountain home must withstand the sun’s UV rays, snow, humidity, salty wind, generations of kids and extended family stays, muddy dogs, and the always eventful holiday dinners. 

That adds up to a lot of wear and tear. What do we suggest?

  1. Stay away from materials that require annual maintenance and are susceptible to constant changes, like teak and marble.  
  2. Go with materials that are natural to the surrounding area. For example, desert homes made of stucco and adobe are common choices because that material is better for heat control. For seaside homes, use wood shingles and copper, brass, or bronze fixtures. They are the most corrosion-resistant metals.  


This kitchen is ready for large family gatherings and holiday meals. Photographer: David Duncan Livingston

Plan for Work & Play

Did you think vacation homes were only for relaxing? Noop. With remote working becoming the new normal, we are seeing a lot of our clients working from their vacation homes, too. 

You can prepare to make the most of work and play by designing a functional home office. We have several home office tips and picks for you here. If you have to spend time working, why not do it in style? And have a sunset nature walk waiting for you when you finish?


The Beach House home office is anything but boring. It carries the beachy theme with fun pops of color. Photographer: David Duncan Livingston

Do you have a vacation home that is ready to be upgraded? We can help you design a home inspired by its location and reflects your personal style. Our Online Interior Design Process guides you through the entire design process from start to finish… no matter where in the world your home is. 

Reach out to book a discovery call. We’ll get to know you and your project and see if we’re a good fit. 




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