Coastal Living

The bleached-out, bliss-inducing beach scene. The nods to "easy" style and "ultimate" coastal cabanas. The "magazine for people who love the coast" tagline. The cover of the May issue of Coastal Living induces in me nothing if not the keen desire to slap its creators silly.

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.

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