Tiny Florida Beach Shack Makeover
Escape to an Island
When Lora Kennedy was a kid, her mother told her there was nothing the ocean couldn’t heal. “She always said coming here could fix anything,” recalls Kennedy, who would climb into her parents’ Chevy Impala every summer for the three-hour drive from Orlando to Anna Maria Island, a seven-mile barrier island south of Tampa, Florida. Their destination: a 900-square-foot cottage across the street from the beach, with no insulation and no air-conditioning. Children far outnumbered bedrooms, so the kids slept on the porch. “We’d push cots up against the wall, leave the windows open all night,” she says. “There were fans everywhere, but you could still hear the waves, the occasional car whoosh by. That’s how you got to sleep.”
The cottage was rebuilt 12½ feet off the ground to protect it from storm surge.
From East to West...
This was the 1960s and ’70s, before Kennedy headed west and began building a career in Hollywood. She’s an executive vice president of casting for Warner Brothers now. The same girl who used to tiptoe out from the cottage at 6 a.m. with a cane pole to fish for Spanish mackerel off the pier has since cast blockbusters including Argo, Justice League, and Wonder Woman.
The original 1950s cottage
...And Back Again
And yet her most important project to date is thousands of miles from Tinseltown. A couple of years ago, she decided to rebuild the old family cottage. It had been a gift to Kennedy’s great-grandmother from her children, all of whom lived relatively close by: Her grandparents owned a curios shop at the base of the Sunshine Skyway bridge, and her great-aunt Frannie was a jazz singer who sang in local clubs. “I’d watch Frannie and her sisters sit around the cottage, smoking cigarettes and singing the old standards,” she says. “My favorite was ‘Red Sails in the Sunset.’”
(Re)built with Strength
After Kennedy’s great-grandmother passed, Frannie moved into the house. “She walked the beach every day right up until she was 95, and even went parasailing at 93, just so she could see what the island looks like from above,” Kennedy says.
But by the time Frannie left the cottage to move inland, years had worn on the house. The wood siding was weather-beaten, it had mold and asbestos, and though the family had added air-conditioning in the ’80s, the house was as leaky as a sieve. “In the bathroom, you could see the sand underneath the house around where the pipe connected,” Kennedy says. She hired architect Jody Beck of Tampa-based Traction Architecture to fix up the old house, but what began as a renovation quickly turned into a rebuild. “Strict storm codes made a rehab nearly impossible, and structurally, it needed a lot of work,” Beck says. “We decided to replace the house with something stronger, but similar.”
The midcentury-style sofa and ottoman in the great room are by Thrive Home Furnishings; Kennedy found the telephone table at a swap meet.
“Similar” might be understating it. “The footprint is exactly the same,” says Kennedy. She wanted everything in the same place as in the original home—the two bedrooms on the south end of the house, a kitchen in the rear, and a porch facing the ocean. And it still has just one bath. They positioned the windows in the same place, too; “we just added more of them,” says Beck. For the furnishings, Kennedy liked the idea of mixing oranges and greens. “When the sun sets, the green of the Gulf hits the orange sky, and the view really connects with the house,” adds the architect. The one addition? Beck’s team designed a loft bedroom overlooking the great room—so nobody has to sleep on the porch anymore.
The loft bedroom is an add-on to the original cottage’s two-bedroom design. The lounge chairs are from Pier 1.
Reused and Repurposed
They reused some materials from the original house, such as the beadboard from the porch (now paneling in the bath) and a pair of interior doors. “These doors were always special to me; I don’t know why,” says Kennedy. “Maybe because they are so solid. Even if that house had crumbled, these doors would have lasted forever.”
With so much family history here, forever was the plan. Beck and her team crafted the pilings and beams of poured concrete, used strong fiber-cement siding, and chose a metal 5V crimp roof (known for its strength in storms). “We chose every material for maximum durability,” says Beck. It’s been tested already, with September’s Hurricane Irma disrupting only the trees around the rebuilt cottage. Still, within days of the storm, Kennedy hopped a flight from California. “I knew the house was fine, but I needed to check on it for myself,” she says. “I spent a few days cleaning up around the yard. We designed it to be exceptionally strong, so it will be here for our kids, and it really is.”
It’s the same beach house in spirit. Black-and-white family photos grace the walls; old record collections stack up along shelving. Aunt Frannie’s voice even sails through the rooms, singing a song she wrote in 1946. Its title is “Florida Shack.”
The flooring is wear-resistant porcelain tile that mimics the look of wood. The lighting pendant is crafted of old crab trap netting.
Last year, Kennedy made the trip to the island nearly every month, often with her 14-year-old son, Orlando. Her family meets her there when they can. “When we arrive, we walk over and say hi to the beach. When we leave, we go say goodbye to it.” They pick up trash on the sand, stir up cocktails, and play cards on the porch. “It’s true that there’s nothing that water can’t heal,” Kennedy says. “Coming back as adults, it’s the same idea. I can stand in the water, climb in a kayak, paddleboard along the shore, and everything just melts away.”
The master bedroom’s iron bed is from Pottery Barn; the bedside lamps are male and female surfers handed down from a friend.