Home & Style

Celebrity Designer Lauren Liess Dishes on Finding and Fixing Up the Perfect Beach Bungalow for Her Family

Including how she plans to fit her five kids into one—yes, one—bedroom.

Photograph by Helen Norman.

With their blend of earthy neutrals and organic elements, Lauren Liess’s laid-back interiors seem perfectly suited for one of her latest passion projects: a beach bungalow for her family in the town of Corolla on the Outer Banks. The Northern Virginia designer and HGTV personality has been documenting the renovation on Instagram @thelostcottage. She gave us a progress update and tips on finding—and fixing—the right vacation home.

North Carolina is a little far from DC. Why Corolla?

My husband and I have been going there since we were kids, so it’s always been a special place. For the last ten years, we casually thought about buying a house there, and this past summer we decided to look out of curiosity. The process is a little like shopping for a puppy—you think you’re just browsing, then you end up with one.

Though small for a family of seven, plus three dogs, the cottage has a prime spot near the water.

What went through your mind when you first saw it?

I originally thought it was way too small. We have five kids and three dogs, and I thought it would never work, but the location is amazing. In a weird way, its size actually ended up being a selling point, since it was considerably more affordable than any other house in the area and we wouldn’t have to put as much into it.

Not many people would be able to look beyond the size. Any tips for spotting potential?

I always say look for houses with good bones. If a house doesn’t have any architectural integrity, you can create that, but you’ll spend a lot of money to do it. On the surface, this is a tiny bungalow—it’s just two bedrooms—but it’s well proportioned and it struck me as charming and timeless.

So five kids, two bedrooms—how’s that going to work?

All the kids will be in one room with built-in bunk beds and tons of storage. We’ll have our own room next door. It’ll definitely be tight, but we thought that by the time we could actually afford the quote-unquote perfect beach house, the kids would be grown. In the meantime, we’ll make awesome memories in the years we have, crunched into this little surf shack.

How are you handling the renovation, being five hours away?

The distance has been the hardest part. It would be considerably less expensive if the house were nearby because we could do more of the work ourselves. As it is, we don’t have a place to stay when we go down there because the house is gutted, so we have to weigh every cost to see if it’s worth DIYing or not. Sometimes it ends up being cheaper to have someone paint the house than to be down there for a few days and have to pay for hotels.

From a design perspective, how do you convey a relaxed vibe?

A vacation home should be pretty but should not be high-maintenance—things need to be functional, not untouchable. That’s why I use a lot of worn finishes and materials that can take a beating, such as woods that get better with age.

I love seeing how @thelostcottage is coming along. What are ways to create a memorable feed if you’ve got a vacation house to rent?

I share what excites and inspires me about the area, such as beautiful views, yummy food, favorite shops and restaurants—a little celebration of what life is like in Corolla. I also share updates on the house, whether it’s inspiration photos or renovation progress.

This article appears in the February 2020 issue of Washingtonian.