A best-selling novelist offers tips for decorating your home

A best-selling novelist offers tips for decorating your home

Walking into Breeze Inn or Ebbtide, two vacation rental cottages on Georgia’s Tybee Island, is like stepping into one of Mary Kay Andrews’ popular beach reads. That’s exactly what the New York Times best-selling author intends.

Literally the stuff of fiction, Breeze Inn is named after a hotel in “Savannah Breeze,” one of her 32 books 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 in her book “Summer Rental.”

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. “My family accuses me of buying beach houses, just so I have a place to put my finds.”

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,” she said. “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 home decor filters into her books. Her characters are often antique pickers, interior designers, real estate agents, location scouts, house flippers and those who go on junking trips.

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.

Here are some more outtakes from our 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.”

On decorating when you have pets: “We have three English setters who get on everything. Slipcovers help, but they have been washed to the nub. I plan to have all my furniture recovered in Sunbrella fabric — (and) 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 stay on track, she consults with an old designer friend. 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. “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. “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.”

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A property rental company manages and markets the cottages as Mary Kay Andrews properties, “so I want them to reflect my aesthetic.” 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.

Marni Jameson has written seven books, including the newly released “Rightsize Today to Create Your Best Life Tomorrow.” Reach her at www.marnijameson.com.