Thursdays are decorator Brooke Steuart’s special day at her Delaware beach house, a sunny yellow castle overlooking sand and sea. Less than three hours’ drive from the family seat in Owings, Maryland, the six-year-old Bethany Beach getaway is psychologically worlds apart. Daily chores and cares recede quickly after a few minutes under an umbrella on the upper deck of the beach house.
Upon arrival, Steuart parks in one of the garages neatly disguised by archways at ground level. Four young children—Ruby, 10, Talmadge, 9, Reagan, 7, and Rivers, 6—scramble upstairs to their fourth-floor loft, where a captain’s walk offers a picture-perfect view of the waves. “The children get the best view of the ocean,” says Steuart, who has entertained 14 kids on a single weekend.
With the youngsters safely ensconced, Steuart has the rest of the airy dwelling to fuss over and prep for the day. On Fridays, the usual crowd of 15 to 20 guests arrives to fill the rooms and decks with activity and laughter. “We built the house to enjoy and embrace friends and family,” she says.
Steuart established her decorating business seven years ago and works out of a studio in Calvert County, where she grew up. At about the same time, she built the 4,500-square-foot beach house “from scratch.” Steuart knew exactly what she wanted and proceeded to design the house herself “from the inside out.”
“I wanted a breath of fresh air, relaxation, color, stimulation,” she says. “I wanted it to affect all your senses.” Beach colors ranging from light sand to taupe are enhanced by “a multitude of blue hues,” including walls painted a delectable shade of aqua that responds to the ambient daylight. “I want you to feel like you’re in the sky,” she says.
Furnishings lean to natural woven grasses and linens. Floors are mostly bare white oak. An occasional calibrated blast of orange breaks through the decorative calm. The master bedroom is painted chocolate brown on all four walls and periwinkle blue on the ceiling.
“I really embrace color,” Steuart says. “It makes you feel rejuvenated. In this sometimes gray world, you work hard, then you go there and can relax hard.”
The home’s levels are organized by function. The children’s loft on the fourth floor can sleep 10 under a big ceiling fan amid tropical posters in lacquered white frames. The third level is reserved for living and dining spaces under two grand peaks in the roof. The master bedroom and four guest rooms are arrayed beneath, with services and garage space on the ground level.
Broad decks extend the width of the house on the second and third floors, giving residents maximum appreciation of the setting, which is just a quick stroll down a sandy path to the shore.
It was important to Steuart that rooms would flow from one to another, a helpful quality when the residence was opened for the 2007 Coastal Library Bay Cottage Tour and close to 2,000 people walked through. She also wanted a clear visual line, so that whether a visitor is seated on the deck or going up the stairs, the view is carefully orchestrated for maximum impact.
“Each room has its own flavor,” she says, noting that the master bedroom has a gas fireplace tiled with mother of pearl and a mantel finished in silver leaf.
The centerpiece of the main living floor is a spacious family room with 12-foot ceilings, a fireplace and what Steuart refers to as her “conversation pit.” The pit is more like an alcove overlooking the ocean with club chairs to draw guests for morning coffee or games at night.
In the gourmet kitchen, where Steuart likes to turn out lamb chops and osso bucco, countertops are fashioned out of thick slabs of pressed 1.5-inch-thick sea glass with waves molded into the bottom. The surface looks precious, but Steuart doesn’t hesitate to serve up juice to her youngsters. “Children have to be around all the beautiful things as much as I do,” she says. “I want them to want all that when they’re older.”
The furnishings take their cue mostly from the environment, but there are surprises. Steuart favors hand-painted, artisan-crafted wood furniture from Brazil. The dining table, breakfast bar stools and bedroom suite come from the Roberta Schilling collection; it is one of many lines that Steuart carries in her studio.
The dining room is lighted by artful but restrained crystal chandeliers. “I try to mix elements,” says Steuart. “I think it’s lovely to feel grounded but to look up and see the sparkle—like the sparkle of the ocean.”
On almost any Thursday, Steuart can be found arranging fresh flowers in every room. Though quiet time is increasingly at a premium—Steuart now has clients in Bethany and nearby Rehoboth—relaxation has not been swept out to sea. “During the afternoon,” Steuart says, “we’re all out on the beach.”
Linda Hales, former design critic at The Washington Post, is collaborating on a book about the landscape of the U.S. Capitol. Dan Mayers is a photographer based in New York City.
INTERIOR DESIGN: BROOKE STEUART, Brooke Steuart Interiors, Owings, Maryland.
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