The Art of Living: Simply by the Sea

Designing Cottages, Homes, and Bungalows by the Sea

Story by Lyda Kay Ferree, The Southern Lifestyles Lady. Images reprinted with permission from “Simply by the Sea: Designing Cottages, Homes, and Bungalows by the Sea” by Tracey Rapisardi.

Perhaps it’s because I am an Aquarian, but like Tracey Rapisardi, author of “Simply by the Sea,” I am a lover of water. I never tire of walking by the ocean or viewing the barges and pleasure boats on the Mississippi River. Years ago I lived a half mile from the Pacific Ocean in La Jolla, California. I treasured getting lost in my thoughts as I walked the beach daily. I spent much of my professional life in Memphis, where I saw the Mississippi River almost daily. Since 1981 I have traveled to historic Natchez, Mississippi, mostly to sit on a hotel balcony in Vidalia, Louisiana and observe the skyline of Natchez; view with high powered binoculars the ever moving, ever changing river; and wave at the barge captains and deckhands. Several steamboats dock in Natchez, and they beckon me to go onboard. (I’m convinced that in a previous life I lived on a steamboat.) At dusk the Mississippi River bridge lights come on, and it is magical. While it is not an ocean, the Mississippi River has almost the same effect on me.

For years I have had a ritual of reading Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s “Gift from the Sea” and Rosamunde Pilcher’s book “The Shell Seekers.” The movie of that name is also an annual tradition for me.


Tracey Rapisardi’s “Simply by the Sea” is a book that covers all of the charms of living by the sea whether it’s designing your house, hosting a seaside gathering or just being a beach bum. Tracey has designed and styled all of the eight seaside homes featured in her book, and she also photographed the lovely interiors and exteriors of cottage, classic, modern, vintage, and farmhouse-style beach homes.

Having strong ties to the ocean and raising her children by the sea, Tracey shares her designs for a lifestyle that goes with the seaside mindset including designing a home, creating happy coastal interiors, entertaining, designing a seaside garden, and serving sweet and salty drinks. She covers the many details of a coastal home and way of life by the sea and shares the perfected feeling of “I don’t want this to end.”

The sea has always been a part of Tracey Rapisardi’s life. She and her husband grew up on the coast of New England, and they raised their children there. “We hoped that if their childhood was filled with sand between their toes, salt in their hair, and the sun on their skin, the sea would seep into their souls, and no matter what coast they were on later in life, they would always feel at home,” said Tracey.

With such strong ties to the ocean, it was only natural that the ocean shaped her design aesthetic. Tracey started out as an artist painting beach scenes. That transitioned into designing vignettes for storefronts. Then clients recognized her work and wanted the same look in their homes. Her love for relaxed cottage style, vintage finds, and the colors of the sea have become her signature look. Some call it beautifully carefree.

She has worked as an interior designer and magazine stylist for more than 30 years. As a family, they have owned two shops, Sea Rose in Maine, and now Summer + Company in Sarasota, Florida.

So, relax. Imagine a tropical drink in your hand, the quiet waves at your feet and the sun kissing your cheeks. In the pages of her book you can always live simply by the sea, no matter where you are.

I know a deep and boundless sea
That takes three fairy days to reach;
And if you’ll go along with me,
We’ll play forever on the beach....
— St. Nicholas

Tracey Rapisardi

VIP: Explain your fascination with the sea.

Tracey Rapisardi: I’m a water person. It doesn’t matter where the water is. It is the feeling you have when you’re near the sea—the salt air, salt water, and the sound of water hitting the beach. It’s just a wonderful feeling! You can get away from everything and enjoy your family or be alone walking the beach shell seeking. It brings you back to nature even if it’s for a day or an afternoon. There’s something about finding treasures on the beach that makes you feel good. It’s always exciting to find a conch shell, for example.

VIP: Do you live on the water in Sarasota, Florida?

TR: I live a few blocks from the bay. I’m definitely in a seaside world. There are five islands across from Sarasota. Each has its own personality. The islands are a 10-minute drive from where I live. My shop is in downtown Sarasota, which is one or two blocks from the bay.

VIP: What are the charms of living by the water?

TR: Feeling like you’re back into nature in a more serene world. It’s the smells and the sounds. Many people go to the beach or ocean or lake during their childhood. Those experiences bring them back to the water when they are adults.

VIP: As an interior designer, offer some decorating tips for homes by the sea.

TR: The biggest request I get from my clients who live near the water is that their homes be easy to maintain with easy-living fabric and furniture. The clients want their homes to be comfortable. Make sure your fabrics are all natural like cotton or linen so you can wash them.

VIP: What is your favorite pastime in those rare moments when you can sit and enjoy the fruits of your labor as you observe the ever-changing sea?

TR: Walking and finding shells and looking at the colors of the shells. I swim a lot too.

VIP: Did you grow up near the sea?

TR: I grew up in the Boston area. Then my parents built a home in Maine on the ocean. Later I built a house by the ocean in Maine for my kids. I’ve always been on the ocean. My parents had a beach house before they built their main house in Maine. We were always at the beach in the summer, and I brought up my kids from birth on the ocean.

VIP: What are some of your favorite seaside villages?

TR: Nantucket Island is one of those places that is precious in an authentic way. It was once the foremost whaling port in America, and it is home to three lighthouses that still serve as beacons to fishermen and pleasure boaters. Nantucket conjures images of gray-shingled rose-covered cottages, cobblestone streets, white picket fences, and proud American flags flying in the ocean breeze. On a sunny summer day, the brilliant charms of the island are intoxicating.

I also love Sarasota, Florida, where I live, and the five nearby islands including Anna Maria and Lido Beach. Sarasota offers everything I could want in a beach town. Prouts Neck in Scarborough, Maine where Winslow Homer painted, is charming with a very old inn. My husband grew up in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Kennebunkport, Maine, where President and Mrs. Bush lived, also is a delightful town.

VIP: Talk about entertaining near the water.

TR: I enjoy serving a cold drink like Prosecco or lemonade, lobster rolls and peppermint ice cream. Candles and twinkle lights, great company, and a warm breeze are also part of the mix. I absolutely love to entertain outside, especially at night. It can be very enchanting and magical.

The long days of summer should be spent sailing, swimming at the beach, making sandcastles, and riding bikes. It’s good for the soul to dip your toes in the water and feel the salt spray in your hair.
— Tracey Rapisardi