You Can Thank British Beach Town Nostalgia for the “Coastal Grandmother” TikTok Trend

The viral aesthetic associated with the leisurely, luxurious lifestyle in affluent beach areas made waves across the pond long before its recent internet moniker gained traction.

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As the rush of city life became less appealing during the pandemic, many people looked to coastal regions with curiosity, suddenly valuing outside space and a slower pace of life over the spontaneity and go-go-go of the city. The recently ubiquitous "coastal grandmother" trend came as no major surprise then, gaining traction in early March after TikToker Lex Nicoleta coined the term in a post that soon went viral. (The #coastalgrandmother tag now has more than 148 million views on TikTok and has inspired think pieces and explainers everywhere from The Atlantic to Vogue and The Wall Street Journal.)

Loosely defined by a laid-back but luxurious aesthetic associated with well-to-do individuals who "weekend" in affluent beach areas like the Hamptons, "coastal grandmother" style is all about neutral and nautical-inspired colors, light knits and linens, and ornate vintage pieces and heirlooms. Think of fashion and interior decor items that evoke "Ina Garten on vacation" vibes or remind of the casual-while-manicured settings of Nancy Meyers films like Something’s Gotta Give. The beach scenes from Grace & Frankie also fit the bill.

While TikTok helped push the aesthetic to the front stage in the United States this summer (so much so that Something’s Gotta Give star Diane Keaton even shared her own tribute on Instagram), the "coastal grandmother" wave has always had a stronghold across the pond, even if it’s more of an undercurrent. The United Kingdom’s coastal towns have long been origin points for blissful, seaside style—in fact, the southwestern Cornwall county might be the OG of "coastal grandmother" vibes, with its rows of chalky stone cottages with thatched rooftops, where residents can enjoy scenic beach picnics and clifftop strolls within minutes from their doorstep.

Much like in the U.S., a growing number of millennials in England have relocated to areas along the country’s (somewhat-affordable-compared-to-London-prices) coast—not including Cornwall, which hasn’t been "affordable" for quite some time—driven by pandemic restlessness. Realizing their budgets stretch further here, and that homes with gorgeous period features are suddenly within reach, these so-called "millennials-on-sea" are seeking out relatively time warped, in-need-of-TLC properties, then marrying the original Georgian, Victorian, and Edwardian features with a splash of on-trend maximalism. Huge bay windows and ’50s fireplaces splashed against electric blue walls, with neon picture rails; something like this. 

Earlier this year, London news outlet The Times explored the phenomenon in an article titled, "Millennials-on-Sea: Why Young Creatives Are Moving to the Seaside." In it, longtime New Yorkers Lizzy and Shaun Cooney describe their decision to move back to the United Kingdom during the pandemic. Wanting to be closer to family, and suddenly curious about what the British seaside had to offer them, they settled along the southeast coast in the Sussex town of Eastbourne in a large, ground-floor Georgian flat. "After four years in Brooklyn we were desperate for a bit of space and nature," Lizzy told The Times. "We were considering this sort of move in America." 

In the same feature, Who What Wear editor in chief Hannah Almassi explains how after the pandemic hit, she got her hands on a coastal Victorian semi with ’80s "pine-clad" rooms and dressed them up with eccentric shades of pink after moving in with her young family: "We can get out into nature quickly, and I live in a style of house that I could never have dreamt of in London."

A bit further along in Sussex, St Leonards-on-Sea is experiencing a similar revival, with "DFLs" (an unflattering term used for people relocating "Down From London"; the focus of another feature by The Times) snapping up large Victorians and going to town with earthy color palettes and unfinished walls that look like they’ve aged gracefully. West Sussex’s Honeybridge Estate (around 30 minutes from the coast) is a prime example of Edwardian preservation with a modern, coastal spin. Think: glazed, embossed wooden dining dressers with all the hand-painted display plates to match. The property also has a beamed cottage on-site with its own reading hammock and rose bushes.

To the east of Sussex, over in Kent, Margate is now dubbed "Hackney-on-sea" thanks to the swarm of hip East Londoners upping sticks for the town. (Previously, East London’s arts crowd headed to the coastal town of Brighton for cheaper housing and its alternative culture, with LGBTQIA+ creativity at the fore.) Margate’s updated take on British beach town style is more garish, with clashing neons and loud patterns; House of Hackney–style aesthetics involving busy William Morris wallpaper, animal prints, and extravagant velvets and tassels. Designer Amy Exton’s holiday rental Margate Location House is a prime example of this; maximalist color pairings are everywhere with an undertone of ’70s and ’80s sentimentality. (Exton’s Studio Margate is known for using rounded headboards, retro platform beds, and throwback glass brick showers in local renovations.) Here, the overall vibe is more "old money, eccentric granny" than "coastal grandmother." Maybe that’ll be the next TikTok trend to take over the fashion and interior design spaces.

Top photo by Education Images / Universal Images Group.

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