Going coastal: Kara Miller marries livability with upscale design by the beach

This white kitchen is elevated with custom touches like a light turquoise on the coffered ceiling that coordinates perfectly with the subway tile backsplash. Over the island, two wicker pendants from Serena & Lily ground the space. Photos by Brantley Photography

Kara Miller

Interior designer Kara Miller is always on the hunt for the perfect wall. As she walks through new projects, she scans each vertical surface looking for a blank slate in a central location ripe for transformation, begging to be more. In the hands of Miller, the spaces take the form of life-size scrapbooks, albeit with a lot less stickers.

“People are always insecure about having their family photos out, but done the right way, there’s nothing better,” she explains of the gallery walls that she says are always an instant favorite of Kara Miller Interiors clients on reveal day. “What better way to create a nurturing space than to surround yourself with happy memories.”

For Miller, an LSU alum who discovered design as the logical marriage of her passions for creative expression and helping people (she minored in social work during her time in Baton Rouge), it’s these memories that inform the trademark light and bright style that has propelled her design business to heights she never knew possible. Growing up in south Florida across the street from the ocean and spending summers in the Bahamas, life’s big and small moments have always had a distinctly tropical backdrop. But, according to Miller, beach life is only one layer of the intricate web of influences that come together in her designs.

According to designer Kara Miller, layers are key in creating a cozy space. The perfect example is the window treatments in this living room. Pairing custom curtains in a light blue fabric with a bamboo shade underneath gives another level of warmth.

“All of my family is from the South,” she says, adding that her immediate family is originally from New Orleans. “Houses have always been important because they’re where people come together. There’s an emphasis on approachability and hospitality—spaces that are comfortable to be in.”

Approachable and authentic are two words that Miller uses a lot. For the designer, they’re more synonymous with her style than terms like “coastal” or “beachy” because they speak to a feeling rather than just a look. Miller’s spaces—despite ending up in the pages of magazines quite often—are not engineered for that purpose. Rather, they’re designed solely with the homeowners in mind.

“Our clients really drive the boat,” she explains. “You can see my hand, of course, but it’s about creating something that the clients can see themselves in. My goal is always to give them the best version of themselves.”

At the beach, it’s all about bringing the outdoors in, which this space does with floor-to-ceiling windows that are uninhibited thanks to simplistic shades and a low-profile couch.

And in a place like Palm Beach County where Miller does the majority of her work, that portrayal is all the more bright and beautiful. Many of her projects are second homes, where clients are more willing to leave their comfort zone when it comes to design; according to Miller, stepping just 7% outside of a homeowner’s safety circle yields the best results. She adds that a beach house’s status as a special destination means that its interiors will naturally become the setting of precious family moments.

“Family is at the heart of everything,” the mother of two notes. “I work mostly with families so I’m not just designing for beauty, it’s about functionality and comfort. Those are absolutely crucial, but I also think that’s why my designs have a broad appeal.”

In the age of Instagram, it’s never been easier to see just how many people agree with Miller’s outlook and find inspiration in her style. She has amassed more than 31,000 followers with her selection of curated interior shots and real-life updates that follow everything from install days to her family life.

This bedroom is a true tactile experience, with textural elements ranging from grasscloth
wallpaper and a seagrass rug to a woven seat cushion and even a textured lampshade.

“I’ve always run the Instagram myself because, for me, it’s a natural creative outlet,” she says. “It’s so important to me and my business that I have an authentic and sincere voice everywhere, especially my social media where so many people find me. There’s no rhyme or reason for my posts but I think that’s the beauty of it. Everything I post means something to me.”

Flipping through her photos, you’ll find spaces layered in patterned wallpaper, vibrant fabrics and plenty of texture. And while it looks effortless, Miller says it’s a delicate balance struck only through calculated design decisions that put a mix of new and vintage pieces in conversation with each other. A rattan chair adds interest alongside a simple upholstered couch. Grasscloth wallpaper forms a dynamic backdrop for a patterned headboard without becoming busy. And an acrylic plant stand makes a statement across from a rustic console.

Oversized white mats and the same simplistic frames are Miller’s keys to creating a gallery wall that showcases plenty of memories without becoming overwhelming.

“There’s a certain level of finesse involved,” Miller says with a laugh. But finding the ideal intersection of fresh and cozy has become Miller’s specialty over the years, as her brand has grown from the small side project that she had in her early days working for a general contractor to a large operation that catches the attention of clients and designers alike across the country.

“I feel like the Little Engine That Could,” she says. “Kara Miller Interiors is truly a grassroots operation. I have worked so hard to build it, and my whole heart is behind everything that we create.”