My Tybee IslandBy Mary Kay Andrews
A long-ago hot Savannah summer with no air conditioning first brought me to the beaches of Tybee with our infant daughter in tow, but the island’s many charms have been calling me back for nearly four decades.
These days, Tybee isn’t just my family’s home away from home—we own two fully-restored vintage beach houses here—but the island always supplies me with inspiration for my books.
What we love most about “our” island is the slower pace, the feeling of enjoying time in a bottle, the wide, sandy beaches, the Technicolor sunrises and sunsets, the happy, funky little cottages, even the narrow lanes leading to glorious beach vistas.
I first wrote about Tybee in 2002 in my novel SAVANNAH BLUES, about Savannah antiques dealer Weezie Foley and her friend Bebe Loudermilk. In the sequel to that novel, SAVANNAH BREEZE, Bebe finds herself the unsuspecting owner of a fictional tourist court called The Breeze Inn.
While writing that novel I stayed in a tiny guest cottage owned by a friend of a friend, and became convinced that my husband and I were destined to own our own vacation home here.
In 2007, ironically while I was writing THE FIXER-UPPER, a novel about a woman rehabbing a crumbling house in a small Georgia town, we found our “dream house,” a sadly neglected circa 1942 concrete block cottage painted in circus shades of blue and yellow. We spent a year gutting the house down to the walls, installing reclaimed heart pine floors, wide-plank wooden walls, a new screened porch and all new bathrooms.
Then I filled the house with vintage junk shop and estate sale treasures I’d been buying (and secretly hoarding) for years in anticipation of our someday beach house. When the project was done I named it The Breeze Inn, in honor of the fictional motel in SAVANNAH BREEZE. Because our full-time home is in Atlanta, we restored and furnished the house with the plan of sharing it with friends and fans as a vacation rental. Within a year Better Homes & Gardens featured The Breeze Inn with a multi-page article, and those beautiful photos continue to show up in magazines every year.
Readers loved Weezie and Bebe, and the Savannah-Tybee settings so much they demanded another book in the series, which is how BLUE CHRISTMAS, the third book in the series came into being. I wrote that novella on Tybee, in August, getting myself in the holiday spirit by playing my favorite 1960s-era Christmas CDs.
A few years later, I wrote SUMMER RENTAL, a novel set on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, about three old friends from Savannah who rent a rambling old beach house for a month-long reunion. I called that fictional beach house Ebbtide, and spent long hours plotting the book during run-away-from-home sessions at The Breeze Inn.
Within two years of moving into the Breeze, we welcomed two grandbabies to our family, and suddenly our beloved three-bedroom three-bath house was becoming a tight squeeze. We began looking for a larger house to fit our growing clan, and happily, in 2013, we acquired another old Tybee beach cottage, just two-and-a-half blocks from The Breeze Inn.
When we bought the circa-1932 wood-frame raised cottage it had been owned by the same family for three generations. We loved the space—nearly 4,000 square feet, but wanted to lighten up the gloomy heart-pine interiors and repurpose several ground floor rooms being used for storage. We subsequently painted most of the interior of the house my favorite shade of Benjamin Moore Moonlight White, installed a new kitchen and began the transformation of those ground-floor rooms.
I filled the house with my interpretation of a Ralph Lauren red-white-and-blue beach house. More estate sale and flea market finds and a large collection of vintage seascapes fill those newly-white walls. Then we christened the house Ebbtide after the house in SUMMER RENTAL, and turned it into our second vacation rental home. It was subsequently featured in a glorious multi-page article in HGTV Magazine.
In the nearly six years since we bought Ebbtide I’ve written five more bestselling novels, plus a cookbook, THE BEACH HOUSE COOKBOOK, all books inspired by, or written on Tybee, including CHRISTMAS BLISS, the fourth in the Savannah series, SAVE THE DATE, which is about a Savannah wedding florist, and THE HIGH TIDE CLUB, which is set in Savannah and the Georgia low country. My 26th novel, SUNSET BEACH, will be out May 7th.
And in the meantime, we’ve continued transforming Ebbtide, adding a dual master bedroom and bath to the second floor, a new enclosed entry, and most recently, a brand new nautical-inspired ground-floor bath, bringing us to a total of seven bedrooms and five baths.
At The Breeze Inn, we recently converted a twin room into a second master bedroom, and added a beautiful pool and hot tub spa to the back garden.
After all these years our family still loves spending time in our island homes-away-from home. We ride bikes, cook out, and hang out with our island neighbors. The grandchildren love crabbing off a friend’s dock. My husband and son love to fish in the inshore waters, and they cook what they catch. My hobby is what I call “catch and release junking.” The vintage treasures I don’t keep, I sell at my favorite Tybee shop, Seaside Sisters, (which is, incidentally, the only store in the country that I know of that always carries autographed copies of my two dozen books still in print.) We love to watch sunsets at AJ’s, eat shrimp and grits at The Breakfast Club, or sit at the bar and get dinner at Sundae Café.
We especially love sharing The Breeze Inn and Ebbtide with our vacation rental guests, who leave us sweet notes and little gifts, telling us how much they treasured their time on “our” island. I might write fiction for a living, but one truth I’ve found is indisputable: if you’re lucky enough to have a place at the beach, you’re lucky enough.