Relocated, renovated, redecorated,
and ready for the rest of its life ....WITH VIDEO AND SLIDE SHOW
the Hatteras Island beach house that has captured the imagination of
the public, started a new life this week on the seashore in Rodanthe.
It has been relocated, renovated, and redecorated.
The house, which was threatened with collapsing into the encroaching
Atlantic Ocean during many storms in recent years, has always
interested islanders and visitors, but it became somewhat of an icon
when it starred as the “Inn at Rodanthe” in the 2008 romance film,
“Nights in Rodanthe,” featuring Richard Gere and Diane Lane.
Hundreds of fans have made the pilgrimage to Rodanthe to photograph it
and have hoped that it could be saved.
The house has fascinated both islanders and visitors since it was built
in the Mirlo Beach subdivision in 1988 by Roger Meekins of Manteo.
It was one of the first big oceanfront houses built on the island,
though it is not all that large by today’s standards. There are bigger
and more impressive houses.
But Serendipity with its tall, narrow construction and towers was the
first house that people saw as they headed south on Hatteras Island
through the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.
It bordered the refuge with a breathtaking view of the Atlantic and the
undeveloped seashore to its north.
However, it was also located in one of the most rapidly eroding beaches
on Hatteras, and it has been pounded by the ocean in storms and
hurricanes in recent years.
Islanders and visitors would call or e-mail each other after recent
storms to ask, “Is Serendipity still there?”
It always was. Roger Meekins built it well and sunk its
pilings 14 feet into the sand and set them in concrete.
The house did not fall into the ocean, but was often an island,
surrounded by the pounding surf.
Ironically, a northeaster that arrived shortly after the Hollywood crew
that came to film the movie, which includes a dramatic hurricane,
damaged many of the decks and other enhancements that the movie company
made to the house for the filming.
A northeaster last November that ripped up the highway just north of
Serendipity led indirectly to the house’s new life.
Pounded by the storm, its decks, steps, and septic system torn up, the
house was declared a nuisance by Dare County. It had to be moved or
Owners Michael and Susan Creasy, who bought Serendipity in 2003, just
before Hurricane Isabel, could not afford to move the house, which they
had put up for sale several years ago.
That is when Ben and Debbie Huss stepped in.
In April, 2009, Ben and Debbie Huss were among the tourists who came to
Hatteras to see the house after they saw the movie.
“I was just like everyone else,” Huss said in an interview last year,
“wondering when I could rent it."
By then, of course, the cottage looked nothing like it did in the film.
All of the extras that the filmmakers added had to be removed since the
owners did not have permits for the extras. Gone were the decks with
their white trim and the shutters as deep blue as the sea.
Nor had the house been in shape to be rented in some months.
“We just had to save it,” said Huss, who has a bail bonding business
and furniture store in Newton.
So they called the owners.
He says they had been working toward buying the house in stops and
starts and that discussions became more serious after last November’s
Huss, who is 60, said his wife finally had enough and told him just to
go for it.
“She told me, ‘You’ve always been a dreamer’.
“I’m just an old redneck guy who has taken chances all my life….In the
bail bond business, I’ve taken a chance on people all through my life.”
The Husses bought the house and got the people on board they would need
to save Serendipity.
On the morning of Monday, Jan. 18, Jim Matyiko of Expert Houses Movers,
whose family company moved the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in 1999, moved
Serendipity not quite a mile down Highway 12 to a lot on East Beacon
Mike Price, a family friend and commercial developer in western North
Carolina, took over from there as the project manager through the
Serendipity’s new home is not an oceanfront lot -- not yet at
least. There are several lots in front of it that are
The house does not have that view of the unspoiled refuge to its north,
but it still has a spectacular and commanding view of the Atlantic
Price and Ben Huss went to work on the exterior of the house, while
Debbie and her interior decorator Rebecca Ennis went to work on the
We went to see the finished product last week, just two days before the
first renters arrived.
A husband and wife from Raleigh were outside the house, taking photos
of it. They are among the dozen or so tourists who show up
day, Huss said, to see the Inn at Rodanthe. Another couple were taking
photos when we left.
The house has returned to its movie-star status, complete with the Inn
at Rodanthe sign on one of its towers. The outside has been
spruced up and decks with white railings and those blue shutters have
From the outside, it looks just as it did when Hollywood came to
Inside the Husses set out to re-create the movie also.
Only the movie’s exteriors were actually filmed on Hatteras – at
Serendipity, the highway, the ferry, the beach, the Rodanthe pier.
The interiors were filmed in a Wilmington, N.C., movie studio and at a
beach house on Topsail Island.
However, that didn’t stop Ben and Debbie Huss from conjuring up some
movie magic on the inside.
Four rooms in the house were redecorated to resemble the movie set –
the kitchen, the “den” or living area, and two bedrooms – the Richard
Gere bedroom and the Diane Lane bedroom.
The six-bedroom house is not your average oceanfront castle and it
wasn’t meant to be.
It doesn’t have those huge living areas and wide expanses of windows
that you see in other houses on the ocean.
Instead it has its own character of rooms and nooks and crannies spread
over four floors and into a tower.
When you enter on the first floor, one of the first things you notice
is the overwhelming scent of cedar, not just any cedar, but Spanish
cedar that Roger Meekins bought in Brazil and had shipped to a mill in
Elizabeth City where it was cut into the lumber that would be used on
He told the new owners that if they sanded it slightly, it would bring
back the lovely cedar scent, and, indeed it did.
In recreating the rooms from the movie, Price and the Husses worked
from blown-up still photographs -- and watched the film many
times. Ben claims he’s seen it 28 times.
The walls in the kitchen have been covered with the 75-year-old
wallpaper that was used on the movie set. Debbie says they
it at a restoration company in New York and it cost $75 a
The cabinets have been redone with beaded-board doors and drawers and
painted an aqua color – as in the movie.
Swinging doors in one of the entries into the kitchen were replicated
from photos of the doors used in the movie.
Also in the kitchen is a small, old oak desk with a mirror above it –
the original from the movie.
In the movie, a beaded “curtain” leads into another room.
Serendipity wasn’t laid out to accommodate this detail, the beads
instead are part of a covering on one of the windows.
Outside the living area on the deck is a waist-high planter box filled
with shells – another detail from the film.
And just off the living area is an antique organ, again a replica of
the one that appears, however briefly, in the movie.
It is clear that Ben and Debbie prize this detail, perhaps above all
others. It is a 1918 Adler organ, built in Louisville, Ky.,
was given to them by their good friends, Jeanette and Gerald Ringley of
The organ still works just fine, Debbie says. She tells a story about
some tourists who came by to take photos of the house when they were
working on it. The Husses invited them inside. One
women had played an organ just like it many years ago in her
church. She sat down and proceeded to play old hymns on the
The organ is in the entry way to one of those nooks – a small sitting
area with a loveseat and table. On the table is an ornate
decorative lamp from the movie.
Also on the first floor is a small, cozy screened porch, a bathroom and
laundry and storage area.
A staircase off the living area leads to a second floor balcony with
railings of that Spanish cedar. Four bedrooms open onto the
One is the “Richard Gere” bedroom or the “blue room.” Its
are covered with the same deep blue wallpaper used in the movie and the
centerpiece of the room is an 18th century ornate Victorian bed that
Debbie found in Atlanta.
Ben tells the story of how he was dispatched to retrieve it in a pickup
truck. On the way back home, it started snowing and he had to
stop and buy tarps to cover Debbie’s prized find.
On an antique dresser in the room is a vase of orchids – another touch
from the film.
Across the hallway is the “Diane Lane” bedroom whose walls are covered
with a flowering pussy willow paper similar to that in the
The room is dominated by an antique white iron bed – just like in the
Also on the second floor are a twin bedroom and the master bedroom with
doors leading onto a deck overlooking the ocean.
Another flight of stairs leads to the third floor with another bedroom,
bath, a wet bar that is really a kitchenette, and a small sitting area
in a tower area with a vaulted ceiling. A door off the bar
leads to yet another deck with spectacular views.
Finally, another flight of stairs takes you into the tower and what the
Husses call the “honeymoon suite.” It's a room completely
shades of white, beige, and tan – with yet another terrific view of the
Ben Huss and Mike Price say that Serendipity was built so well that
renovating it was really not a problem.
“It was really just refreshing it,” Ben says.
The house was raised several feet higher than it had been and the
pilings were dug another two feet into the sand – from 14 feet to 16
Back in January, Mike Price estimated the cost of the project – buying
the house, moving it, purchasing a new lot, and renovations – would
cost about $750,000, depending, he said, on how much Debbie spent on
interior decorating. Ben says the project came in “about” on budget.
Just a few weeks ago, Ben said the project was perhaps more of an
undertaking than he anticipated and he wouldn’t be tackling another
renovation anytime soon.
But last week, as he led visitors through Serendipity, he was more
enthusiastic than ever.
Yes, he said, he’d take on another house “in a heartbeat.”
“This has really made an impact on our lives,” he says. “It’s
given us an appreciation for the old styles….I don’t much like change.”
Ben and Debbie are grateful, they say, to the people of Hatteras “who
rolled out the red carpet” for them.
They have enjoyed meeting and talking to all the many tourists who
still come by the house.
Ben says he doesn’t worry that the admirers will bother the folks who
have the house pretty well rented up until Thanksgiving.
“It is what it is,” he says.
And it is a house that is an icon now, perhaps the most photographed
beach house on Hatteras Island.
The first renters are in the house this week. Debbie says
are from West Virginia and she thinks they are celebrating a wedding
As we got ready to leave Serendipity after the tour, we sat at the
dining table with Ben.
Once more he says, as he did when I first talked to him, that he’s just
an “old country boy” chasing his dream.
“And,” he said, pointing his finger for emphasis, “that’s my story, and
I’m sticking to it.”