When Tricia Dabney first got involved in designing interiors for beach houses and condos, she toured a few to get a feel for the furnishings and art that other decorators were using.
“I saw a lot of houses that had pictures of shells and cheesy stuff,” she says. “I just was nauseated.” Dabney, 49, who’s based at the 52-acre Driftwood ranch she shares with three sons, five dogs and countless goats and llamas, has put her finger on the basic beach-house challenge: doing nautical without provoking nausea.
She seems to have succeeded with a tattered-chic aesthetic and a palette of natural seaside colors: sky blue, seafoam green and sand beige, with occasional splashes of bright color. Her rooms are playful, but not over-the-top zany.
“Tricia is fabulous,” says Austinite Bonnie Clipper, whose beach condo in Port Aransas’ Cinnamon Shore development was decorated by Dabney. “She made it feel like our own beach oasis.”
Dabney goes to Canton and Round Top and looks for vintage, quirky things she can incorporate in her rooms, such as bar stools with bicycle pedals and chains or an ottoman made from an old washtub set on casters. She topped it with a burlaplike fabric that she also used to upholster her own home’s dining room chairs.
“My signature is architectural pieces,” she says, referring to iron and wood pieces that lend a rustic air to the decor. “It makes you feel like you can relax.”
Dabney has a degree in accounting from Monmouth College in Illinois. She had trouble finding a job right out of college, so she moved to California and sold Fords. Then, she got a job as a sales representative for a window covering company. That piqued her interest. Four years later, she moved to Austin as a sales representative for the Blind Maker. She wanted to stay home with her children, so she started her own business selling blinds. At the same time, she was helping friends figure out what to do with furnishings and art in their homes.
A few years ago, a friend employed her to design his beach house in Port Aransas. The result, with reclaimed-lumber beams and chipped-paint furniture, “had soul,” she says. It drew raves — and referrals from builders at Cinnamon Shore to decorate more homes.
“My first paid job was referred by a builder,” she says. “They just turned me loose. They wanted to be surprised. From there, it just snowballed.” She has decorated eight houses at Cinnamon Shore. One woman was so happy with her beach house that she hired Dabney to renovate her daughter’s house in Dallas.
“We totally gutted it,” Dabney said. “I didn’t know anything about contractors, so we relied on Angie’s List.”
Her own house is a limestone ranch, with her shabby-chic touches such as weathered furniture, an old clock and, in a bathroom, a industrial washbasin copper sink. One room, originally conceived as an office, has a wall that’s the facade from an old general store, along with a barn door.
“I love barn doors,” she says, and that’s obvious from her beach house work. Many contain bunk rooms for kids, and they tend to have sliding barnlike doors at their entrances.
“This is what I always wanted to do,” she says of her business, Dabney Designs by Tricia.
Dabney also decorated her own beach condo at Cinnamon Shore, of course, and what’s interesting is that it’s far more funky than the work she does for others, with a little chandelier hanging in a corner and a big orange surfboard as the centerpiece of the kitchen. Dabney can definitely do restrained, clean lines in beachhouses for others, but what happened at her place?
“It was was going to be serene,” she says, “but the minute I ran into that orange surfboard, I just sort of derailed.”
Dabney Designs by Tricia