Home & Garden

Beach House Envy: A New Book Explores the Homes of the Outer Banks

Designer Lauren Liess documents the beauty of life by the sea

A wooden porch by the beach

Photo: © 2024 Helen Norman

Porches were made for slow living: naps, storytelling, guitar-strumming, reading, swinging, and watching the world.

Ask a Southerner which beach he or she goes to in the summer, and you’re bound to hear very different—and very passionate—answers. “We all have a beach town that’s unique to us and makes us feel a certain way,” says Lauren Liess, an interior designer in Great Falls, Virginia, and the author of the new book Beach Life: Home, Heart & the Sea. “We know it’s ours because even though we might only visit once a year, it feels like coming home. My book is about those connected experiences.”

For Liess, that special beach town is Corolla, North Carolina, a laid-back, old-school spot in the Outer Banks, just below the Virginia state line, which Liess has frequented since she was a child. Today, she makes summertime memories there with her family of seven. “I’m obsessed with the live oaks and maritime forests and the wild horses that roam freely on the beaches near our house,” she says.

A cedar shake house surrounded by a green yard; a beach walkway

Photo: © 2024 Lauren Liess

One of author Lauren Liess's favorite buildings in historic Corolla; Liess's path to the beach.

Amid stories of her love for Corolla, in Beach Life, Liess documents the transformation of her family’s beach house there—one that required serious vision—as well as a handful of her work projects, too. The hard work and creativity she and her husband (and business partner), David, put into their own house paid off—they even found a way to reconfigure a tiny bedroom to fit bunks for each of their five children. “I was at a loss when we first found the house, as to how we could make it work,” she remembers. “But I was able to reshape the tiny room to fit five beds. We’ve had so much fun reading stories and watching movies there at night.”

A black and white photo of a woman and two children walking on a beach path

Photo: © 2024 David Liess

Liess and her children wandering around their beach town.

Everything about the houses she shares in Beach Life, and her take on the historic and beloved beach town, feels equally inventive, fun, and authentic. The kitchens and porches sprinkled throughout the pages are particularly memorable and clever, including her personal kitchen, pictured below. Liess paneled the walls in untreated cypress and the ceilings in untreated cedar, evoking both a very specific look and scent. “The smell is one of the sweetest in the world to me,” she says. “I wanted us to be transported into beach mode every time we arrived.”

A wood kitchen with a white fridge; A bunk bedroom with a wood ceiling and bed frames

Photo: © 2024 Helen Norman

Author Lauren Liess’s “Big Chill” refrigerator makes her entire cottage feel like an old beach box; like a ship’s interior, every inch is utilized in the bunk room.

Decorating and design inspiration like this fill Beach Life, but the book is also rich with ideas for family traditions, wisdom about how to pack light for the perfect beach day, recipes for feeding a crowd, and panoramic imagery of a very specific place suspended in time.

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