I'm not sure I've ever come across a magazine that so delights in being fantastically, unapologetically precious. Check out the gaggle of mop-topped blonde kids in the piece about a North Carolina cottage revamp. Revel in the non-self-aware ostentation of quotes like "it makes you want to just sit back, drink a glass of wine, and enjoy the sunset" and "the camaraderie is astronomical" (that one demands some context: the speaker is referencing the members of a vintage-swizzle-stick collector's association). Who are these people, and why haven't they been pummeled until they spit teeth?
And yet I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Coastal Living to just about any shelter- or travel-book buff, not to mention anybody who has ever draped a sweater over his or her shoulders just so. For all its thinly veiled snobbery, the mag showcases a lifestyle coveted by many in a way that somehow makes it feel attainable to all comers. Most readers aren't likely to be able to afford a palatial abode overlooking the Maine coastline, but Coastal Living suggests that they can incorporate elements of its design pretty much anywhere. Fanning the flames of hope may be a little wrong, but hey, nobody's buying magazines that underline the mundanity of their day-to-day, paycheck-to-paycheck existence.
Where Coastal Living distinguishes itself from the 32,000 other mags with "Living" in their title is in its bright, clean-bordering-on-sterile design. The publication employs one of the largest-pointed fonts around and lets its stories breathe (wow, now I'm starting to sound like one of them) via the judicious use of space. Photo-wise, Coastal Living obviously enjoys ideal source material from which to choose, but the mag's photographers nonetheless attack it creatively: an up-close shot of Nantucket flowers, a from-above view of diners mingling in front of the three-story tank at California's Monterey Bay Aquarium, glowing paper lanterns floating in the Hawaiian surf (though I wish the headline monkeys hadn't passed on "Smoke on the Water" as a title for the piece that accompanies it).
On the words front, Coastal Living shoots for low-key storytelling over grand, verbose exposition. As dippy as many of the stories may be--an old guy with a beard painting shore-side scenes? This is notable how, exactly?--at least we're spared the menace that is a high-falutin', self-anointed home décor expert equipped with a thesaurus. Give me bland descriptions of "cheerful" kitchens and "thoughtful" furniture placement any day.
Coastal Living's organizational framework is similarly easy to digest. "Coastal Carpenter" passes along a wealth of tips for the do-it-yourself set, while the front-of-book "Currents" and "How to Make It Yours" sections point design enthusiasts towards bauble and festival alike. The features come across equally level-headed and user-friendly, whether a too-short guide to seafood dives or visits to newly resurgent Red Bank, N.J. and California's Navarro Coast. The latter features the issue's only windmill photo; going in, I had the over/under pegged at 6.5. Kudos to whoever's responsible for the rare restraint.
I don't have a whole lot more to say about Coastal Living. Maybe the look-at-this-house-and-that-one-and-that-one-too thing gets a little tired after a bit, but most readers won't inhale the entire issue in a single sitting like I do. Either way, your coffee table has housed far, far worse.