I have to admit, I am a little sad the Emerald Isle house my family rented this week is so tasteful. Oatmeal wall-to-wall, oversize blue cotton sofas, Pottery Barn plates. What is a beach rental coming to when the dishes are without fish? Sure, there’s a painting of a marina with a grizzled sailor on the dock above the fireplace, and I had to clear a number of rowboats and metal frog sculptures off the bureau before I could put anything down, but still, only one seahorse windchime?
Half the fun of a rental is making your way through the layers of other people’s stuff. When we rented here two years ago I think we reached the apotheosis of beach decor: Chocolate Thunder. The photos don’t do it justice. The marble-floored double-height entrance hall, already two stories above the parking, and with a one-sided curving staircase, seemed oddly formal. All the tables were glass, set on thick bases of fiberglass driftwood. Each bedroom had a theme, played out on bedspread, avian lamps, and throw pillows. Ours was parrots, over a foot high. In any spare corner, and on every flat surface, lurked dioramas involving resin parrots, dried and fake fronds, twisted coral, that reminded me of funeral flowers for a dead pirate. The pool had a cascading fountain.
The house had so many amenities—hot tub, pool table, huge TV—and yet the windows were all painted shut. From inside Chocolate Thunder, despite its beachfront location, you could not hear the sound of the surf. The blender worked, but there were only two pots and one glass cutting board. I decided the owners liked to fry on the beach all day, then retreat to a tropical cocoon for tropical drinks. Maybe they had a great trip to Jamaica in their youth. Maybe they missed their parrots at home. Half the fun is writing the story of their stuff.
My other vacation parlor game is redecorating. What would I do with a beachfront rental, on a budget? Probably go to IKEA and buy all the striped bedding, banded dinnerware, and aqua towels I could find. When I think beach I think preppy, blue and white and yellow, seersucker and bleach. But I wonder about all those people, flipping through the real estate catalogs in the dead of winter, comparing the photos of my house to everyone else’s. Which would you rather rent, Chocolate Thunder or Martha Stewart Lives On? Maybe we come to the beach to escape our own taste?