Mary Kay Andrews’s Thoughts of Home: A Place at the Beach

I’ve rented a lot of cottages to figure out what makes the perfect escape.
Thoughts of Home
Illustration by Claire Mallison

The beach house of my dreams—ah, yes. I can hear the slap of the screen door, the whisper of the surf just outside my bedroom window. Barefoot children with sandy bottoms are perched on the porch swing, sucking Popsicles they brought back from the corner grocery on their bikes. Their parents are sipping adult beverages after hauling all the gear back from a long day by the ocean, while that night’s designated cook starts dinner.

Between planning family vacations and running away for novel-writing retreats, I’ve spent much of my adult life questing for the perfect beach escape, renting cottages all along the Florida Gulf and up and down the Atlantic Coast—as far north as Nags Head, as far south as Key West.

It hasn’t always been pretty. I’ve stayed in summer rentals with mildewed carpet and faulty air-conditioning. Slept on lumpy mattresses with cheap, scratchy bed linens and sour-smelling, 1960s-era polyester quilts. I’ve tried to cook in kitchens with two barely functioning stove burners, a waffle maker, and one dented saucepan, then served meals on mismatched plastic plates while my family teetered on folding lawn chairs around a wobbly table for two. I’ve called the cops on frat boys partying next door at two in the morning. I’ve battled armies of ants and battalions of roaches.

And it all turns out to have been research for what makes a perfect beach house.

First off: location, location, location. Ocean views are lovely, but not mandatory, though I do want to be within walking or biking distance of the water.

My perfect beach town isn’t a fancy resort or glitzy planned community. It’s a place with a hometown grocery that has decent meat, seafood, and
a deli; a couple of ice cream shops; and a handful of good restaurants—where the island-wide dress code is “no shoes, no shirt, no problem.”

The house itself? No funky, sand-trapping wall-to-wall carpet! I prefer beat-up hardwood floors with rag rugs.

For furnishings, give me lots of squishy, nap-worthy sofas, and generous armchairs that can be pulled up to a big coffee table. Slipcovers are great because they can be laundered after those all-too-frequent sippy cup and red wine incidents.

My ideal beach house has bookshelves full of paperbacks that can tolerate a little sand, a DVD library that includes some Disney classics for the little ones, board games, and jigsaw puzzles. At least one big flatscreen television is a must.

I like a dining table that seats at least as many people as the house sleeps, plus a couple of chairs that can be pulled in from bedrooms when needed.

After long, hot days at the beach, those bedrooms need to have good mattresses, high-thread-count cotton sheets, and lamps for late-night reading.

My dream house has as many full bathrooms as bedrooms—and at least one vintage claw-foot tub for bathing babies and toddlers. An outside shower for rinsing off is nonnegotiable.

A good kitchen is key. I don’t need marble countertops or stainless steel appliances, but a kick-ass ice maker is essential. A big cast-iron skillet for fish fries, a stockpot with strainer for shrimp boils, and a blender for adult slushies round out the list of special equipment.

And there should be a law that all beach houses come with an outside lounging area—a deck or patio with a grill, rocking chairs, and picnic table.

The truth is that my dream beach place is pretty close to reality. After more than three decades of looking, two years ago my husband and I finally found our ideal: a circa-1932 Tybee Island raised cottage, complete with porch swings, gliders, screen doors, and enough beds for everyone. We named it Ebbtide, after the fictional beach house in my novel Summer Rental, and though it’s deliberately shabby, it’s turned out to be my
happiest ending of all.

Longtime Atlantan and New York Times bestselling author Mary Kay Andrews’s newest book, “Beach Town,” was released in May.

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2015 issue of Atlanta Magazine’s HOME, a special publication from Atlanta Magazine.