This Couple Turned Their Tired Florida Cottage Around

St. Teresa, FL Beach House Exterior Before
Photo: Haile McCollum

"I drew a circle with a 200-mile radius around our home in Thomasville, Georgia. Anywhere with water would do—a river, lake, or ocean. We weren't looking for extravagance, just something that was down-to-earth and easy to manage," says Haile McCollum who grew up sailing in the Northeast. Her husband, Ben, a Thomasville native, had spent summers visiting family friends in St. Teresa, Florida, and the couple was seeking a spot where their sons, Parker, 14, and William, 11, could have similar life-on-the-water experiences. "Close proximity was the dealmaker. We wanted to be able to leave our house on Friday afternoons in time to catch the sunset."

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Seacrhing For Paradise

St. Teres, FL Beach House Front Exterior
Hector Manuel Sanchez; Styling: Frances Bailey

Just under 2 hours from Thomasville, St. Teresa was ideal. Located east of Apalachicola, this 3-mile stretch of beach maintains a rustic, genuine Panhandle culture—a slow counterpoint to many fast-paced, condo-laden coastal areas. St. Teresa still clings to an Old Florida lifestyle where everyone has a love for the natural world, shared fishing piers, and an appreciation for utter simplicity. This is also why it's nearly impossible to find property available.

"We checked the real estate listings weekly, but nothing was ever there," says Haile. Then, one day, a rare "for sale" sign was spotted. She remembers, "Ben called and said, "Haile, I found a house. You need to drive down and see it." So I went right away.

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St. Teresa, FL Beach House Exterior Before
Haile McCollum

It was a mess—dark and overcome with years of being forgotten. It needed a big effort, but when I walked down our skinny beach path and stood at the Gulf, I knew we had to be here."

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It Only Takes Vision

St. Teresa, FL Beach House Screened Porch with Teal Door
Hector Manuel Sanchez; Styling: Frances Bailey

Both old-house lovers, Haile and Ben fell for the history of "Why Knot," the 1939 cottage built and nicknamed by its original (and only other) owners, the Hannon family. "Some people said it was a teardown, but to us, it just needed vision," says Haile, who turned to her "white paint strategy" as the cure-all. The house was painted Benjamin Moore's Super White (OC-152) inside and out. The porch ceiling was painted in Embelished Blue (SW 6747) by Sherwin Williams. The only other paint color in the house is the screen door which was painted in Benjamin Moore's Oceanfront (660). "We did only what was absolutely needed," she says. Most of the furniture came from storage. The tile was bought at Lowe's. The back porch's farm sink once belonged in the McCollums' Thomasville home.

"The family before us really knew how to live right. Now, when I give our neighbors a tour through the house, everyone has an old tale to share. Usually, the story starts with rum cocktails on the back porch. We're certainly keeping that relaxed and festive spirit alive," she says.

Haile maxed out the home's 2,200 square feet. The first floor includes the guest room, kitchen, den, and living room. The primary bedroom, bunk room, and a bath are upstairs. The front and back porches are screened to keep out the area's infamous bugs.

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Before: The Porch

St. Teresa, FL Beach House Before
Haile McCollum

While it seemed overwhelming, we knew this space had so much potential. The couple knew this would be the place where they soaked in the views and slowed down.

05 of 20

Make Things Feel Right At Home

St. Teresa, FL Beach House Screened Porch Sitting Area
Hector Manuel Sanchez; Styling: Frances Bailey

"The rattan furniture is from my mom's collection of 'good stuff.' I redid the cushions in a Sunbrella fabric, so we're not dragging them in and out of the weather," says Haile. "The antique tarpon mount is a classic Old Florida relic and speaks to our good tarpon fishing off St. Teresa — a poorly kept secret these days."

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Enjoy Meals Fish-Camp Style

St. Teresa, Florida Beach House Outdoor Dining Area
Hector Manuel Sanchez; Styling: Frances Bailey

"Dinner depends on what we catch or what's in the local seafood markets that day," says Haile. To maximize space, this dining area is the only one in the home. In bad weather, the family eats in the entryway around a round table with chairs pulled from the den.

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Keep Things Handy (and Free)

St. Teresa, FL Beach House Screened in Porch Sink
Hector Manuel Sanchez; Styling: Frances Bailey

On the screened back porch, Haile hung a sign saved from the Hannon family, painted with the name of the house "Why Knot," over a cast-iron sink that she salvaged from her own 1850s home in Thomasville. "It's great for everything from cleaning fish to deveining shrimp to filling dog bowls," says Haile.

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Before: The Entry

St. Teresa, FL Beach House Entryway Before
Haile McCollum

Dark, dreary, and in need of a lot of TLC. But like the entire home, the couple was excited for the challenge.

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Include (a Few) Beachy Touches

St. Teresas, FL Beach House Entryway and Stairwell
Hector Manuel Sanchez; Styling: Frances Bailey

"We removed the stairwell spindles and replaced them with hearty Manila rope," says Haile. "I was leery of going overly nautical, but to my surprise, it added a playful texture to the house."

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Add Collected Items

St. Teresa, FL Beach House Bar Cabinet in Entryway
Hector Manuel Sanchez; Styling: Frances Bailey

Placing a bar cabinet in the entryway maximized space and created immediate visual interest. "This spindled cabinet from Dunes and Duchess is a new piece I bought — the boys and I gave it to Ben for Father's Day one year," says Haile. The vintage map is a nod to Haile's collector's eye, while interesting liquor bottles, straw hats, beach totes, and shells add personal touches.

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Make Furniture Multitask

St. Teresa, FL Beach House Blue and White Living Room with Daybeds
Hector Manuel Sanchez; Styling: Frances Bailey

"Many new items we purchased stretch the space," says Haile. These oversize white sofas become twin beds when guests arrive. For everyday use, Haile covers the seat cushions in striped Serena & Lily towels that can be removed and washed after a messy weekend brought on by kids, dogs, sand, and wine.

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Before: The Kitchen

St. Teresa, FL Beach House Kitchen Before
Haile McCollum

This room would take some creativity and innovation. The couple knew the kitchen should be bright, airy, and functional.

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Charm With The Basics

St. Teresa, FL Beach House White Kitchen
Hector Manuel Sanchez; Styling: Frances Bailey

Haile wanted the kitchen to have an approachable spirit like the rest of the home. "The floor is blue schoolhouse linoleum. Nothing can hurt it!" White Formica countertops, circle finger pulls (no hardware!), and an analog range are all nostalgic and inexpensive.

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Design With A Purpose

St. Teresa, FL Beach House Game Room and Den
Hector Manuel Sanchez; Styling: Frances Bailey

When designing a place for relaxation, areas to read, nap, and reflect are essential. Haile says, "The pace at the beach is slow, but we intentionally invite slow things into our time here. We watch movies together and play a lot of backgammon — no cable at the beach!" The den is a great example of a high-low design mix — the sofa is Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, rattan chairs are Serena & Lily, the lamps are from Target and the trunk is from Haile's sister-in-law's home and gift shop, Firefly in Thomasville.

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Before: Guest Bedroom

St. Teresa, FL Beach House Guest Bedroom Before
Haile McCollum

The couple knew that in order to invite friends and family, this room needed to be warm and welcoming. Lots of work had to be done to brighten it up.

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Sleep A Crowd

St. Teresa, FL Beach House with Yellow and White Twin Bedroom for Guests
Hector Manuel Sanchez; Styling: Frances Bailey

"Choosing twin beds for a guest room is the only way to go. They accommodate any dynamic—my kids' friends, work colleagues—comfortably," says Haile. "We've had 12 or 14 guests spend the night. Kids usually end up on a blow-up mattress out on the porch when every bed and couch is full."

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Try Something New

St. Teresa, FL Beach House Blue and White Master Bedroom
Hector Manuel Sanchez; Styling: Frances Bailey

Haile incorporated colors and textures she has always loved but never fit in her traditional Thomasville home. Haile says, "I love the color blue and I kept adding it in. This indigo duvet is one I picked up at Home Goods — budget-friendly finishing pieces have really completed the house." The art is a commissioned print by artist Rebekah Webb and speaks to Haile's love of creative entrepreneurship. "I led a mentoring session at a Southern C Summit — an annual front-porch conference for Southern creatives — a couple years ago and Rebekah was apart of that. I loved her work and Gulf Coast roots and wanted her art to have a place in the house," says, Haile.

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Before: Bunk Room

St. Teresa, FL Beach House Bunk Room Before
Haile McCollum

A dreary place that had lots of potential. Before making any decisions, it was important for the couple to think about how they would spend time in this cottage and what would work for their lifestyle.

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Make Space For The Boys

St. Teresa, FL Beach House Kids' Bunk Room Bedroom
Hector Manuel Sanchez; Styling: Frances Bailey

"My boys don't play team sports, so many of our weekends are spent at the beach — we take the boat over to Dog Island, go for walks and just hang out together." Haile encourages her sons to bring friends along, but wisely designed the space to accommodate when those last-minute requests come in. "We had the bunk beds custom built — it gives the boys and their friends a place to pile in — to stay up late and sleep in. Our house is meant to be welcoming, so we have loads of extra blankets in the closet for a reason," says Haile.

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Enjoy The View

St. Teresa, FL Beach House View from Screened Porch
Hector Manuel Sanchez; Styling: Frances Bailey

Locals still gather to fish off "Hannon's Dock" (shown here), named after the home's original owners.

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