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In Lauren Liess’s fourth book, Beach Life, the designer goes coastal, particularly to North Carolina’s Outer Banks, where she and her husband stumbled across a run-down 1960s cabin that they couldn’t help but restore, even if they already had their hands full with another reno project. In this excerpt from Beach Life, Liess explains why they couldn’t just walk past the beach cabin of their dreams.

One of our most-walked wanders at the beach in Corolla took us past an empty green cabin built in the late 1960s. It’s one of the oldest houses around, from when Corolla was just a small hunting and fishing village. Surrounded by mossy live oaks and pines, the house feels as if it were meant to be in that forest. Built lovingly by the owner’s parents, the cabin had now sat unused for years, just waiting. Since I have an unceasing urge to fix things up and restore old homes to their former glory, I naturally had many daydreams about the cabin. I wasn’t the only one, though, as there were more than 12 offers on the little house when it finally went on the market. We heard that some of the bidders were planning to tear it down and build new, which made the situation harder to stay away from.

Photography by © 2024 Lauren Liess

We always told ourselves we wouldn’t get involved if the cabin ever went on the market, because we didn’t want to make going to Corolla about work, but the owner gave us a tour of the inside just before it went up for sale and told us all about how her mother had worked with an architect who had trained under Frank Lloyd Wright to build the perfect little cabin for her and her family. As I looked outside the back screened porch at the swaying pines and glanced into the house at the soaring ceilings, I recognized that scared, quiet feeling inside me…the one that meant we might be entering house renovation roller-coaster territory…again.

From the moment I saw the original cinder-block fireplace, I knew I wanted to cover it in seashells—a project I had been dreaming about. I sketched a wave on the cinder block and pressed seashells we’d collected over the years into brick mortar. The apparent motion of the wave creates a playful energy in the house. Photography by © 2024 Helen Norman
I played up the cabin’s mid-century vibe and added rustic, “camp” details throughout. An overscale linen orb light with mid-century leanings plays well with rustic woods and folksy furniture. Photography by © 2024 Helen Norman
Photography by © 2024 Helen Norman

I don’t really know why we made an offer. Our biggest fear was that someone would tear it down. There’s a lot of love for this little place around town, and many of us wanted to see it preserved. But it was more than fear that plunged us into our newest adventure; it was also the innate desire in me to see a vision to completion. I had already seen this beautiful vintage-inspired beach-camp way of living in my mind and just couldn’t get it out of my head. I wanted to make that for someone, though I didn’t know who. We were already knee-deep in the Dune House project—featured in the next chapter—which was going well at the time, and the last thing we needed was another project. Unlike our typical approach to buying rehab properties, we had no idea what we would do with the property if our offer was accepted. Would we rent it out as a part of our dream rental property business or sell it to someone who would love it as much as we did? This house has been a wander for us in every sense of the word, with no destination in sight.

Photography by © 2024 Helen Norman

When our offer was accepted, we set about fixing up the Beach Cabin, as we came to call it, with the goal of making it look as if we hadn’t done a thing. We let the cabin tell us what it wanted, which was very little. I spent time in the empty house picturing it ever-so-gently revamped. My plans evolved over time, unlike most, which are set from the get-go.

The cabin’s vintage summer camp vibe inspired an earthy palette of olive green, browns, and rust tones. I mixed lots of patterns together for a charming, collected feel. We removed a closet to be able to fit a king bed, which now sits under the original refurbished awning windows. Photography by © 2024 Helen Norman
Photography by © 2024 Helen Norman
Photography by © 2024 Lauren Liess
We conditioned the large attic, and it became our kids’ favorite spot to play in during the renovation and the following summer as we tried to figure out our plans for the cabin. I filled it with old treasures and curiosities that would be fun for the kids to find. The wallpaper is called Captains Log and features a sea captain’s log entries and findings while at sea. Stairs could easily be added up to the attic for easier access. Photography by © 2024 Helen Norman

So much of life is painstakingly planned—something highly recommended for real-estate deals—but sometimes, like a soft breeze drifting in through the window begging us to step outside, we are called to do something unplanned, something unknown. We are called to wander. 

Beach Life by Lauren Liess book cover
Beach Life by Lauren Liess, Amazon ($35)

Excerpted from the book Beach Life: Home, Heart & the Sea by Lauren Liess. Published by Abrams. © 2024 Lauren Liess.