Life in the sea captain’s house

tamrawilson Uncategorized

While walking the dogs recently, I spotted an SUV out by the mailbox. I stopped and asked the driver if she needed help.

“No,” she said. “We’re studying architecture.”

The lady, perhaps a homeschool parent, was driving her teen-ager around the neighborhood to study various home styles. Until then, I hadn’t considered my street as an art project.

I pointed to my home. “It’s a Maine coast cottage,” I said.

“It does have that flavor,” the woman said. “Do you like living there?”
I told her I did, but I didn’t tell her how we agonized over details such as the color of the

roof. Who notices roofs unless you’re shopping for a one?

“The steep pitch is for shedding snow in New England,” I told her.

Obviously, we’re not in New England and don’t have much snow, but I think she got my meaning.

As I continued on my dog walk, the SUV stopped at other houses on my street: a Williamsburg colonial, a split level with half-timbered Tudor features, a mid-century contemporary, a Georgian-inspired two-story—a wide variety of American home styles.

In truth, my house wasn’t patterned after anyplace in New England. The real inspiration was the Sea Captain’s House Restaurant in Myrtle Beach, SC.  Maybe you’ve seen that house-turned-restaurant on drives along Ocean Boulevard. Maybe you’ve enjoyed meals there. Over time, this Grand Strand landmark has been threatened by development–high-rise hotels and parking lot. Somehow the owners have kept the bulldozer at bay, which is amazing considering how Myrtle Beach has abandoned any semblance of its history.

My husband and I had dined at the Sea Captain’s House over the years, and before we finalized our plans to build in 2007, we visited the popular restaurant to soak in the details. We admired the gray shakes, the shed dormers, the knotty pine paneling. I asked the manager if I could photograph the interior and exterior, and she agreed.  

The Sea Captain’s House was built as a beach cottage in the 1930 by the Taylor family of High Point. It was turned into a guest house in 1940 and a restaurant right before Hurricane Hazel barreled up the coast in 1954. The structure is classic, homey and obviously durable—qualities my husband and I admired.

In creating our own “beach” cottage, we came to invent a fictional sea captain who “lived” in the house. What would he choose? Certainly a ship weathervane and jelly jar light fixtures. Why not a ship-in-a-bottle on the mantle? Sea glass in a jar?

Anything that didn’t fit the nautical theme was cargo from the sea captain’s many voyages, we told ourselves.  Our “captain” was quite a shopper, but also an unpretentious fellow. He’d lived in our house for years, as our story went, so naturally such an “old” place would have a scuff or two on the floors, chew marks on the woodwork (thanks to the dogs), scratches on the doors (dogs again).  The sea captain liked the lived-in look.

Shortly after we moved in, a visitor asked, “Just how old is this place, anyway?”

It was the ultimate compliment.

In 2017 the Sea Captain’s House of Myrtle Beach invited Instagram followers to submit their favorite story about the restaurant.

“Your restaurant inspired our house,” I told them. I went on to explain how we’d patterned our house after theirs. I skipped the part about the “sea captain” being a fictional character we’d invented to settle arguments about how to decorate.  That sounded too kooky.

But whatever I told them worked. The restaurant posted my anecdote and asked me to send pictures, which was a pleasant reward for allowing me to photograph their restaurant in the first place.