Coastal Design: DUNN with taste

Coastal Design: DUNN with taste

Fellow Rhode Islander Patti Watson of taste delivers coastal design with refreshing, contemporary style. Learn how she pulls it all together, whether it be an oceanfront cottage or a luxury yacht.

Photos courtesy of taste.

Sometimes when you're looking for inspiration, you need look no further than your own backyard. For those of us fortunate enough to live in the Ocean State, our "backyard" is never far from the coast. After all, though Rhode Island only measures up to a skimpy 37 miles wide x 48 miles long, we manage to squeeze in 400 miles of coastline. For Patti Watson, Founder and Principal Designer of Jamestown-based interior design firm taste, the views of Narraganset Bay and the Atlantic Ocean provide an endless source of inspiration. 

Patti and her talented team contacted us to utilize our Kingstown Stools for a modern beach house kitchen. Patti is an expert in coastal design, drawing inspiration from the local seascape. If you hear the words "coastal design" and find your mind conjuring kitschy lighthouse paintings and predictable rope curtain ties, think again. Patti's style is sophisticated, tranquil, and approachable. Her design firm is aptly named; she has exquisite taste.

I reached out to Patti to share a bit about her work with our readers. While her portfolio showcases a wide range of projects from the city to the seaside, I asked her to hone in on the coastal design concept. It's a look she does so well, blending both the traditional and modern in spaces that are airy and effortlessly inviting. Read on to find out how she strikes this balance.

Q: Please tell us a bit about yourself and your work.

A: I first came to design in part due to my great love of color and the decoration of space. Over the last 15 years I have built a full spectrum interiors practice engaged with far more than décor.  We focus on the life changes that motivate clients to remake the most fundamental and expressive space in their lives: a home. Whether clients are facing empty nests as children leave, building a new home by the sea, or updating their living space to reflect new visions, taste brings a wealth of resources and a sophistication of experience to create balanced, future-oriented and respectful interiors. Our best work reflects a process of collaboration, analysis and design at every level from the function and mechanical needs of space to its aesthetic character. Change is what draws us; beauty is what we leave behind.

I rely on classical arrangements of rooms, proportion and scale to right a home. Then, introduce modern details like layered lighting and sink-into sofas. As a result, our interiors exude a timeless quality and deliver equal parts comfort and function.

Modern living room by taste design

Q: How do you define coastal design?

Coastal design is no different from other design styles that draw from nature and in doing so, create comfort and a sense of well-being.  Making this connection with the external environment grounds us and reminds us that we are part of the larger, natural world.  To achieve this on the coast, we rely on textural materials, references to water and a color palette drawn from the outdoors.

Dining chairs and table with blue flowers in front of open door overlooking a bay

Q: Can you share your favorite design/decor elements from past projects?

A: Natural materials, reimagined elements and original art are our trifecta we lean on time and time again when creating interiors for our clients.  Natural materials often come in the form of stone such as quartzite and bluestone (we rarely use manmade alternatives) and high character wood species.  Dunn’s Kingstown Stool is a favorite not only for its beautiful use of walnut, but its honest joinery and organic form. 

White kitchen island with walnut stools by Studio DUNN

Reimagined elements bring a sense of history to a space and evoke positive memories for its inhabitants.  For example, I’ll forever love the use of these porcelain art sink brackets on this kitchen island.

Kitchen with black and white stools and large globe light fixtures

Lastly, original art always brings originality and a personal connection to our interiors, like this photo that captures a natural wood floor, a repurposed antique chair and original art by Neal Walsh.

A wood chair with blue cushion in front of artwork by Neal Walsh

Q: Yachts! Tell us about designing for yachts!

A: We love designing the interiors of yachts – our newest design venture.  While there are many similarities to residential design, there are a few important distinctions.  

First, every element of the interior has a functional purpose on a yacht – some seen and some unseen.  A loveseat, for example, can double as a handhold through a salon and a way to safely traverse from the galley to the cockpit while heeling.  And the edge of a nightstand or table, referred to as the fiddle, helps to keep elements from rolling off surfaces while at sea.  Oh and the open base of the sofa you’re imagining?  Be sure it can incorporate the myriad of mechanicals that need to be hidden there.  

Second, every inch and every surface matters.  Creating a luxury interior in a space constrained, moving interior requires extreme precision and a hyper focus on the highest quality hard and soft materials.  While a residential home has endless spaces to exude quality, a yacht has far fewer, so make the most of every opportunity to convey quality luxury.

Lastly, the project timeline on a yacht provides little room for error.  When it sets sail and departs the shipyard after a project has been completed, its gone and you don’t have the chance to return to make adjustments or deliver that finishing element that was on backorder.  Project management is crucial.  (True story: We recently had a superstar window treatment installer agree to install during ‘sea trials’ when the boat was at sail and being tested to be sure it was seaworthy.  It was crunch time and every hour mattered.  Supreme collaborators like him help make the project timeline happen.)

Detail shot of interior of a luxury yacht

Q: What is one piece of advice you find yourself telling clients on a regular basis?

A: If you’re renovating a home, move out during construction.  If you’re building and renting a home while your new home is being built, rent a home with a flexible lease.  Despite everyone’s best intentions, project timelines get elongated.  There are far too many humans involved in the build process to expect otherwise.  Mistakes happen.  Shipments are delayed.  Products fail.  Completion dates slip.  Living out of the house during a renovation helps to move a project along.  It’s the best piece of advice I give, benefiting taste, our collaborators and our appreciative clients.

A couple in their dining room with blue glass chandelier

Q: What is the most challenging aspect of interior design work?

A: On any given day, our designers collaborate with 25-30 different builders, tradespeople and artisans. We need to know enough about each craft to maximize and often stretch its potential while always respecting the limitations. Communication and humility are key. 

Patti Watson with electrician hanging a light fixture

Q: What makes working in Rhode Island a unique experience?

A: Hands down, direct access to exceptional craftspeople, artisans and fellow designers.  We are so fortunate to have such talent in this state.  My particular joy is discovering when your favorite millworker is working with your favorite wood turner and your favorite furniture finisher to complete a custom piece you’ve designed.  There’s an active collaboration current always at work in Rhode Island that I’m proud to be a part of.

Q: Who do you admire today in the architecture and/or design fields, and what are they doing that you admire?

A: I’m a big admirer of Ilse Crawford’s work and design philosophy.  She believes design is a powerful force that is often underestimated, misunderstood and trivialized.  “It’s a mistake that [interior design] is considered a luxury to be applied if there is money left at the end, rather than an integral part of making and shaping new realities from the outset.”  I couldn’t agree more.

Cover of “A Frame for Life” By Ilse Crawford


I want to extend a special thank you to Patti and the taste team for sharing this wealth of knowledge and expertise with us. Though it's February, her bright, airy interiors have transported me to sunny, wind-swept days on Aquidneck Island. The salt breeze of summer is just around the corner; I can almost taste it...

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