We’d like to welcome a guest blogger today! She just happens to be our favorite author too boot…please welcome Mary Kay Andrews!
Before we bought our own Tybee Island beach house in 2008, I conducted my own unintentional research on beach rentals over the space of nearly many, many years. Growing up in St. Pete, Florida, my family rented beach cottages at places like Indian Rocks Beach and Madeira Beach, for many years. Those were basic little mom-and-pop tourist courts, where all seven of us would crowd into a two-bedroom cottage for two glorious weeks at the beach. Then, beginning in the years when my husband and I were parents with young’uns, we returned to the Gulf beaches with our own children. Those cottages were modest–with butt-sprung old mattresses, formica dinettes, and a motley collection of sofas and chairs, worn linoleum floors and the ever-present scent of suntan oil and mildew.
In later years, when we’d retreat to Grayton Beach, Florida, renting beach houses with friends for our children’s spring breaks, we found grander places–three story homes with elaborate kitchens, decks, ocean views, heated swimming pools–and grander prices too.
We lived in Raleigh, N.C. for a few years not long ago, and explored the Atlantic Coast beaches, renting tiny motel-room like efficiencies at Topsail Island and Sunset Beach.
All along the way, I was hatching a scheme to someday own my own beach cottage. Our search narrowed in recent years to Tybee Island. It was only a four-hour drive from our fulltime home in Atlanta, and we loved Tybee’s small-town funky, spunky charm.
But when I met Diane Kaufman, who owns Mermaid Cottage Vacation Rentals, my search went into hyperdrive. Diane invited me to stay in several of her cottages for those “runaway weeks” when I’d retreat to Tybee to work on a novel-in-progress. I think the first one I stayed in was either Flip-Flop, or The Shrimp.
Those cottages were an entirely new experience for me. They were small, yes, but oh, so cozy. And adorable. Did I mention they were adorable? Decorated in bright, beachy colors, they spelled instant vacation. They were comfortable too, with lots of comfortable seating, good lamps, free wireless internet, new mattresses–and miracle of miracle–lovely thick, fluffy towels and high thread-count sheets. Seriously–I have stayed in so many beach rentals with nasty, threadbare linens, not to mention pillows that looked like the dog slept on them! Not every Mermaid Cottage I stayed in had a big kitchen–I was stunned to learn that some people don’t actually like to cook on their vacations–but they were all workable. And listen to this–when I opened the cupboards, I found full sets of matching dishes, flatware, glasses and silverware. The pots and pans weren’t the goofy assortment of banged-up thrift-store rejects I found in other beach rentals. I once stayed in a rented beach house on Madeira Beach in St. Pete whose sole kitchen equipment was a lemon juicer, an egg beater and an enormous cast-iron frying pan.
Knowing we would be putting our future cottage in Mermaid’s rental program, we sought Diane’s advice during the hunt for the perfect beach house. This one? Diane would discreetly shake her head. The block was too noisy. That one? Eye roll. Only one bathroom, no shower. How about this one? Too far from the beach. That one? No parking.
Finally, she gave the thumbs up to the stinky, rat-infested rundown wreck that became The Breeze Inn, and gave us advice throughout the year-long renovation process.
Bedrooms didn’t have to be huge, she told us, but they did have to be welcoming. Forget walk-in closets at the beach, use that room to add a bathroom–you can never have enough showers or toilets on vacation. Kitchens needed to be efficient–and fully stocked. Some kind of porch was mandatory–screened-in would be best. All building materials had to be sturdy and low-maintenance, but high quality. We put in all new plumbing and electrical, and paid careful attention to the capacity of the new heat and air unit. Who wants to be hot at the beach?
While we were renovating, and even now, three years later, we did our market research–by staying in other Mermaid Cottages. I’ve lost count now, but I think I’ve probably slept in at least a dozen different Mermaids, including Nora’s, Heron Hideaway, Castaway (our closest neighbor since they are right next door) The Enlisted Men’s Mess, Mermaid’s Tale, Blue Heron, Fiddler on the Creek, Fish Camp and Back River Bungalow. For St. Patrick’s Day this past year, while our son, Boomerang Boy, and his post-college crowd stayed at our own house, we bunked quite comfortably at Back River Bungalow, which easily handled the dozen kids who showed up for the Friday night shrimp dinner we served. On our most recent Easter trip to Tybee, when we didn’t act fast enough to reserve The Breeze Inn, we checked in down the street at Southern Cross, which fit our three generations–including granddaughter Molly, quite nicely. Everybody raved about the generous wrap-around porches and the delightful outdoor spa.
Every time we’ve slept with a new Mermaid, we’ve found great ideas worth stealing. One cottage’s extensive DVD collection inspired me to start my own movie library at The Breeze Inn. (True confession; I rarely pay more than $5 for a movie, buying them at yard sales and bargain bins at discount stores.) At another, I copied the idea of hanging a simple cotton curtain as a closet door, for another, we stole a detail for our outdoor shower. The daybed we tucked into our downstairs stair hall was inspired by daybeds we spied in other cottages.
At the start of our third full summer of summer rentals, we’re still thrilled to be able to share our beloved Breeze Inn with our guests. When people ask how we can stand to let “strangers” rent our beautiful beach house, we just tell them we don’t rent to strangers, we rent to guests who appreciate and respect our home as much as we do. Yup. We’re still proud to be amongst the Mermaids.