Inspired by childhood memories of summering on the Georgia coast, one interior designer created a tribute to the breezy style of old-fashioned island living.

By Susan Sully
March 31, 2003
Beneath a vintage bread sign, a British railway station bench and antique English chairs surround a table made from salvaged pine.
Richard Leo Johnson

When Michael DeLoach found an 87-year-old cottage on Georgia'sTybee Island, he fell in love with its beaded-board walls, cornercupboards, and wavy-glass windows. The wraparoundporches--including a sleeping porch furnished with an ironbedstead--took the Savannah native back to his childhood summers onthe island. "I had a certain idea of what a Tybee house should looklike, which is very undone," explains Michael, an interior designerwith offices in New York, Savannah, and Charlottesville, Virginia.

Unlike today's larger, upscale houses, the original Tybee Islandhomes were very basic. "Nobody spent a dollar on their beachhouses," Michael says. Yet, for him, these quaint, camplikedwellings had the kind of style money just can't buy.

Fueled by his nostalgia for an unpretentious way of living,Michael began renovating the house he named Yellow Cottage. To takeit back to its original bones, he had to undo previous owners'"improvements." First, he removed wall-to-wall carpeting and fivelayers of linoleum to expose the original pine flooring. He toreout drywall to reveal original beaded board, and he replacedpaneling that had been removed.

Then he painted the walls in what he calls "colors that feellike the water and the beach": pale blues and greens, sandyyellows, and sparkling whites. Damaged floors received fresh whitepaint. Together, the soft palette creates an airiness throughoutthe rooms.

When it was time to furnish the house, Michael set aboutre-creating the mix-and-match, hand-me-down style thatcharacterized Tybee beach homes. "I come from a family ofcollectors," he proudly says, citing a grandmother with a great eyefor country antiques and parents who are interior decorators andantiques dealers. Several family heirlooms serve as charming focalpoints in first-floor rooms. Among them is his grandmother's piesafe, which Michael helped refinish as a boy.

Other finds display the same second-hand warmth. In the kitchen,the large enameled sink, bought at a salvage store, looks originalto the cottage. "People always say, 'It's great that you kept thatsink,' " Michael relays, laughing. Green glassware, aqua-tintedpottery pitchers, and green-enameled metal tables from his mother'schildhood home add cool shades of sea glass to the butteryroom.

To contrast the farmhouse style, he mixed in antiqueChippendale-style chairs and a bench from a British railwaystation. This combination of formal and relaxed elements definesthe cottage's look. "Putting a 50-cent thing next to a $500piece--that's one of the ways I like to decorate," Michaelexplains.

In the living room, a $14.95 map of Tybee Island seems just asappropriate as old wicker and antique English bamboo pieces. Thenatural bamboo and a Parisian Art Deco leather-clad chair offerwarm brown notes that contrast with the room's overall whitescheme. A long sofa upholstered in a duo of plaid and solid fabricsbeckons family and friends to the sitting area.

Brightly colored tiki lights and a dry bar fashioned from aHoosier cabinet--originally used for storing meal and grain--givethe screened side porch a festive air. Ideally positioned to catchsea breezes, the outdoor living and dining space serves gatheringsthat last long into night. "We eat supper out here most evenings,"says Michael.

The Yellow Cottage, built before the advent of air-conditioning,was designed to make the most of mild winds wafting across theisland. Cross-ventilation cools the second floor's five bedrooms,office, and sleeping porch. High ceilings allow hot air to rise,while a central hall pulls cooler air in through a door that opensonto the front porch. Each room has several windows that invitebreezes to sweep across the beds, aided by the blades of whirringceiling fans.

Bedrooms boast antique beds that are tall enough to require arunning jump. One, a Colonial-era plantation bed, is painted afaded shade of haint blue--a color reputed to ward off evilspirits. A curlicued iron bed swathed in mosquito netting providesa dream nest in a serene blue bedroom. In the most masculine space,a spool bed creates a knobby silhouette.

For Michael, the home's cheerful colors, unpretentiousfurnishings, and gently aged patinas serve as talismans, invokingthe nearly bygone days of simple summer living on Tybee Island.While neighboring cottages have been replaced with modern villasfive times their size, this house stands as a quiet reminder of oldisland style--a mood as comfortable and comforting today as it wasa hundred years ago.