Walking into Breeze Inn or Ebbtide, two vacation rental cottages on Georgia’s Tybee Island, is like stepping into one of Mary Kay Andrews’s popular beach reads. And that is exactly what the New-York-Times-bestselling author of 32 books intends.
Literally the stuff of fiction, Breeze Inn is named after a hotel in her book “Savannah Breeze.” The two-story getaway channels coastal Florida in the 40s, with a palette of turquoise and hot pink, and paintings of herons and flamingos. Ebbtide, which features lots of rattan and wicker, is the name of a beach house where the action happens in her book “Summer Rental.”
An intrepid junker, Andrews found all the décor, as well as the furnishings for Squirrel Hollow, her primary home in Savannah, while combing estate and yard sales, and more recently Facebook Marketplace. “It’s a passion project for me,” Andrews said when I called to talk about her enviable life as a writer and remodeler. (Seriously, a best-selling novelist who restores old beach houses and shops for reusable furniture in her spare time?)
“My family accuses me of buying beach houses just so I have a place to put my finds,” she said. It’s not far from true. When she and her husband (of 47 years) bought their first beach cottage 17 years ago, he didn’t know she already had enough furniture stashed in their basement to completely furnish it. “I had been hoarding for years. Not being a designer, I didn’t know that you should never buy furniture before you have a place.”
Just as her books infuse her homes, her penchant for junking and remodeling filter into her books. “My protagonist is always a woman who while fixing up her own life is fixing up her surroundings.” Her characters are often antique pickers, interior designers, real estate agents, location scouts, house flippers, and those who go on junking trips.
“Early on an editor told me people love decorating porn. They eat it up. I wasn’t writing it on purpose. It just so happened to be what I do.”
In “The Homewreckers,” for instance, her protagonist goes to work for a company that restores old houses and marries the boss’s son, who dies in an accident. Determined to pursue their dream of restoring homes, she takes the life insurance money, buys a small house, flips it, and eventually lands herself a role in a reality TV show with a handsome but shady leading man. You get the idea.
I could have talked to this woman all day, but she had books to write. Here are some more outtakes from our inspiring conversation:
On how she got started junking. “I grew up in St. Petersburg, Florida, where antiques go to die. A lot of folks retire in Florida and bring their nice things that they no longer need. My mom used to take me with her to estate and yard sales. When I got married at age 22, we had no money, so I furnished our one-bedroom apartment with yard-sale finds. I love the treasure hunt and the aspect that old things have a story. I look for things that reflect me and make me smile. Nothing we have could be called a fine antique.”
On decorating with pets. “We have three English setters who get on everything including my bed. Slipcovers help, but they have been washed to the nub. I plan to have all my furniture recovered in Sunbrella fabric. Another secret. I love old dark, oriental rugs. You can’t ruin them. I know because my dogs have tried.”
On getting design help. “I have no formal design training, just a passion,” she said. To keep her on track, she consults with a designer friend she met years ago at a designer yard sale. She hired him to help her redo her kitchen, and he has continued to hold her hand and occasionally say, “No, don’t even think about it.”
On her writing space. At Squirrel Hollow, she has a “great home office,” but prefers to write in her sunroom, “a cozy nest” she and her husband added onto their 100-year-old home. Her second favorite place to write is in the adjacent carriage house, an apartment over a garage that she calls Squirrel’s Nest. “I sit in a slipcovered chair, light an aromatherapy candle, pour some tea and scribble away.” She writes her first drafts in longhand.
On furnishing her rentals. “Dumb it down. Make sure your basic pieces are super sturdy and neutral. Add color and interest with art, pillows, and bedding. Don’t put in anything you would cry over losing. I’ve made mistakes. I bought some adorable antique chairs that in a year were broken. Then I got commercial strength chairs from a restaurant that was remodeling. They are still going strong. On walls, I like to use vintage signs that reflect the area.” One reads: “No fishing, swimming or crabbing from any part of the bridge.”
A property rental company manages and markets the cottages as Mary Kay Andrews properties. “So I want them to reflect my aesthetic,” she said. That includes lots of red, white and blue, gingham check, Florida coastal colors, seascapes, and paintings with boats or birds.
On making fictional worlds come alive. “A little goes a long way,” she cautions. The goal is to capture the essence. She once saw a home where the owner loved “Gone with the Wind” and wallpapered a room with pages from the book. “Know the difference between inspiration and obsession.” Don’t take a good thing too far.
CAPTION: Though best-selling author Mary Kay Andrews has a “great home office,” she prefers to write in this sunroom, “a cozy nest” she furnished with flea-market finds. “I look for things that reflect me and make me smile,” said Andrews, pictured here in her home office. Photos courtesy of Mary Kay Andrews.