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Mabley Handler's 'Sophisticated Beach' Great Room

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In Why This Works, decorator and former shelter-magazine editor Alexa Stevenson looks point-blank at professionally decorated rooms and breaks down the elements that make it work. Have a suggestion for someone whose work should be showcased? Do let us know.

Jennifer Mabley and Austin Handler, the duo behind Hamptons-based firm Mabley Handler Interior Design, know just how to do up homes by the sea. For a great room in a house in Amagansett, N.Y., the designers' concept was "sophisticated beach." "The client loved all of our frosty grayish-blues tones, and she didn't want any yellow or brown in the house," explains Handler. "She also wanted the house to have a transitional feel, so we didn't use any traditional-style molding in the house, which made bringing character into the interior architecture a challenge." Break it down point by point, below.

1. "To give this room character that fit our design concept, we wrapped the double-sided fireplace with poplar wood," says Handler. "We used 12-inch V-groove boards stacked horizontally to keep the transitional feel, and we gave the boards a cool blue-gray paint wash to tone down the yellow in the poplar wood. We created faux-ridge beams, and wrapped them in the same washed poplar wood to help break up the ceiling and bring the wood design further into the room."
2. The coffee table has a rustic, cerused-wood top that evokes the look and feel of driftwood: "We used this material to subtly reference the beach. We didn't want anything to in your face."
3. "Many of our clients use their houses in the Hamptons to relax and escape the stress of the city," says Handler. "We often use a very soft color palette to create a calming environment. For the paint and fabrics throughout this house, we used soothing tones of gray and blue that are evocative of the beach on a foggy day."
4. A custom rug brings the room together and makes a quiet statement. "To bring in the suggestion of the ocean, we used a custom-designed linen rug with a semi-abstract coral pattern in our signature gray-blue color. The style of the rug says 'sophisticated,' the pattern of the rug says 'beach.' Perfect!"
5. "Instead of using a traditional mantel," says Handler, "we left the fireplace clean to give it a more transitional look. The blue Lagos stone for the fireplace surround continues with our soft beach palette, and we used birch logs in the fire to keep the look fresh."

· Mabley Handler Interior Design [official site]
· All Why This Works columns [Curbed National]