The Beach House from “Sleeping With the Enemy”

by hookedonhouses on May 23, 2011

Sleeping with the Enemy Cape Cod Beach House

When Julia Roberts fakes her own death in the 1991 movie Sleeping With the Enemy, she flees this contemporary Cape Cod beach house where she had lived with her abusive husband, played by Patrick Bergin. Just like her marriage, this house looks good at first, but we soon learn that it’s a kind of isolated prison for her.

Tortured wife Laura Burney spends a lot of time looking out at the ocean. Later in the story, we learn that it’s because she is planning to escape in it.

This Cape Cod beach house isn’t really on the East Coast. According to several sources, including Elle Decor, the exterior was the Shell Island Resort Hotel in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. They say it was shot from angles that obscured enough of the building to make it appear to be a house.

However, when I looked up the Shell Island Resort Hotel, this is what I saw:

It’s hard for me to believe any kind of angles could make this look like the house in the movie. When I mentioned it on Twitter, a reader named Evie tweeted back to say that a single-family home was used for exterior shots, not the resort. She adds that it still stands on Figure Eight Island near her family’s beach house.

*8/11 UPDATE: A reader sent me photos of how the beach house facade looked during filming. Here’s the front:

Sleeping with the Enemy Beach House | hookedonhouses.netAnd here’s how it looked from the back, revealing that it was only a shell:

Big thanks to Mike in NC for passing these photos along!!

According to, the interiors were filmed separately: “Filmmakers created a 3,000-foot temporary structure on Shell Islanta, a man-made extension on the north end of Wrightsville Beach. The house overlooked Mason Inlet and nearby Figure Eight Island. After wrapping, 20th Century Fox demolished the house and restored the dunes to their original condition, planting sea oats and beach grass (from A Film Junkies’ Guide to Wrightsville Beach).”

An article in The New Yorker cites Cathy Whitlock, author of Designs on Film, on the topic:

A beach house was built from scratch for the film ‘Sleeping with the Enemy.’ Whitlock writes that the entire design concept for “Sleeping with the Enemy,” kudos for which go to production designer Doug Kraner, was centered on the notion that the film would be divided visually into two worlds: Laura’s secluded life at the beach house with her abusive husband, and her “new” life in a small town in Iowa with Ben, the painfully dorky drama professor.

Looking into the house from the outside, we see Laura sitting at the vanity in the bedroom:

The kitchen is gray, sleek, and modern. The whole house seems to reflect Martin Burney. Laura spends a lot of time in here preparing gourmet meals for her husband and hoping that they meet his approval. In her spare time, she arranges flowers in vases. There doesn’t seem to be much else for her to do, besides making sure all the towels are perfectly lined up…

Julia Roberts Sleeping with the Enemy Beach House Kitchen |

Looking from the kitchen into the living room:

Sleeping with the Enemy |

Everything is black and white, including the imposing painting that hangs over the fireplace:

Sleeping with the Enemy Beach House |

The black floors are so shiny you can see yourself in them:

Sleeping with the Enemy Beach House |

After Martin beats Laura up, knocking her vase of flowers to the floor, she scrambles to pick up the pieces:

Sleeping with the Enemy Beach House |

In the bathroom, we see that the hand towels aren’t as straight as Martin likes them to be, and that’s never good…

Sleeping with the Enemy Beach House |

After Laura “drowns” (or so he thinks), Martin closes up the beach house. In this shot of their bedroom, you can see the walls of windows overlooking the water:

Sleeping with the Enemy Beach House |

In Roger Ebert’s review of the film from 1991, he questioned a lot of the details:

I kept having questions, such as: (1) If the wedding ring is still in the bottom of the toilet, does that mean the toilet hadn’t been used for weeks? (2) How did the woman in the YWCA class get Bergin’s number at work? (3) How did Roberts pay her mother’s nursing home bill in the six months after she told her husband the mother was dead? (4) How did Bergin know where Roberts lived before she led him there? (5) How is it possible, in a small house, for a man to avoid discovery while slinking around rearranging all of the towels and canned goods? (6) Why would he bother, anyway?

Sleeping with the Enemy Beach House |

The movie was based on a novel by Nancy Price. Apparently the beach house in the book was kind of a ratty little shack. I’m not sure I would have enjoyed the movie as much if they had gone that route!

Sleeping with the Enemy Beach House |

P.S. Julia Roberts’ Victorian Cottage from the movie is for sale:

Sleeping with the Enemy Julia Roberts' white cottage

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Sally May 23, 2011 at 7:37 am

Ha – don’t laugh at me Julia, but I may have the answer for #1. When I was a kid, our family went on vacation, staying in a hotel. When we arrived, there was a penny in the toilet. We got a good chuckle out of it — because — it never disappeared during our stay, no matter how many times the toilet got flushed. If a penny is too heavy to flush, I’ll bet a wedding band is too! =)

coffee mug in hand May 23, 2011 at 7:40 am

I hated that movie. Part of it is because I’m not a fan of Julia Roberts.

Tammy May 24, 2011 at 4:50 am

Amen! I don’t know if I’d hate the movie or not — I refuse on principle to see any movie with Julia Roberts, because I simply can’t stand her, her ginormous mouth, and her gigantic nostrils. Ick!

As to the beach house — definitely not anything I’d like. I prefer a Victorian-esque Cape May-ish looking house.

Beverly from Montreal May 24, 2011 at 7:06 am

I didn’t care that much for the movie, either; not because of Julia Roberts, though. It was just that there were, as Roger Egbert said in his review, too many holes in the plot. As for the beach house, it didn’t appeal to me at all.

cherylk May 23, 2011 at 7:49 am

I thought that was a scary movie and this beach house looks scary, too. The Iowa house is more my style. I remember wondering how someone could hide in that house without her knowing it.

I do like Julia Roberts, though.

Juani July 12, 2011 at 5:35 am

I also prefer the Iowa house – even though I like being near a beach,this house is wayyy too modern and clinical-looking for my taste.

Kristi @ Addicted 2 Decorating May 23, 2011 at 7:55 am

I loved the setting of this house, but the house itself seemed very dark and depressing. Of course, it was planned that way to set the mood. I’m always astounded that so much money goes into movies. They built it specifically for the movie, and then demolished it?! It seems like such a waste. This is definitely the type of house I’d love to get my hands on, and transform it from dark and gloomy to light and cheery.

Luciane at May 23, 2011 at 7:59 am

Wow! Still looking beautiful in so many levels. :-)

I hope you had a great weekend!


Luciane at

Amanda @ Serenity Now May 23, 2011 at 9:27 am

For such a beautiful setting, the beach seems so dark and foreboding (on purpose, of course). I much preferred Julia’s little cottage in the small town. :)

Becky @ Farmgirl Paints May 23, 2011 at 9:43 am

not my favorite movie of her’s. it’s so hard to watch abusive sitations. i liked the victorian house better.

Mary May 23, 2011 at 9:51 am

I thought the whole thing was really creepy – especially HIM!! The house looks very cold and sad :(

Juju at Tales of Whimsy... May 23, 2011 at 10:32 am

I’m with Mary, it’s too cold. But the view is amazing.

Maya @ Completely Coastal May 23, 2011 at 10:58 am

The outdoor shot is awesome. What a great space! The movie though, not so much my genre…, but I did watch it to the end anyways. Go figure.

Susan May 23, 2011 at 11:24 am

Can I get the cottage from Iowa on the beach???

Maaike Quinn @ Life with FlyLady May 23, 2011 at 12:34 pm

I haven’t seen the movie and the house doesn’t look spooky to me at all. But now I’m curious how that might change when I do see the movie! By the way, I do like the house since, well, what’s not to love about any beach house, but I don’t like everything about it. That floor is way too shiny, for example, and the place feels a bit too modern for me.

Kelly D May 23, 2011 at 12:57 pm

There is a book called “Cape Fear Beaches” that has a picture of the woman who owned the land the beach house sat on, sitting on the set of the beach house. It says that it is “at the north end of Shell Island.” I believe that the beach house was a set that was built right above the Shell Island Hotel and was torn down after the movie. Being as it looks to have been on a point of an inlet and the ocean (I studied the movie way too much when researching the other house), if the house still existed, it would have been an easy house to spot but I could not find any houses like it so close to the beach or waterway to have been it.

Lesley @ TheDesignFile May 23, 2011 at 1:04 pm

I thought the movie was scary and creepy and I thought the set folks did an amazing job creating that ambiance while still making the house seem realistic for living. Of course, I loved the little cottage, as comfortable is definitely my way of living!

Bre May 23, 2011 at 1:35 pm

Great post! This house was so cold and overbearing. Very much like Roberts’ abusive husband. That being said I know a lot of people that like the OCD, austere beach house. Bethenny Frankel is one of them, and my hair stylist is another. I’m off to send him the link to this now!

P.S. Lined up hand towels and cans STILL freak me out to this day. Ebert raised a lot of excellent questions with his movie review.

Kim May 23, 2011 at 2:24 pm

I’m not a big fan of the Beach house at all. It does have that abusive feel to it and I haven’t seen the movie. I definitely like the victorian home so much more.

The Texas Peach May 23, 2011 at 5:54 pm

The setting/lighting for this part of the movie was perfect. The house seems very cold and creepy, just like her abusive husband. The one part about this movie that always bugs me – why couldn’t she just wait and dispose of the ring later or at least toss it in the ocean?

shelly joseph May 24, 2011 at 7:37 am

I was mad at that ring too.

I always thought why didn’t she toss it in the ocean or sell it a pawn shop on the road. Anything but toss it in the house of the physco she lived with.. I can’t tell you how that ring has bothered me.. Well I now I know never flush a ring or a penny cause they will stay right there… :-)

Mary Ann May 24, 2011 at 12:56 am

Mysterious…Roger Ebert’s questions are interesting. Great post. A little scary before bedtime though.

E. George May 24, 2011 at 1:17 am

Hi Julia hope you are doing well – lets see I’m scared of water and with a husband like that I would feel caught between a rock and a hard place so I like her home a lot more…… Regards Esther from Sydney

Lily May 24, 2011 at 3:01 am

It would be interesting for you to do a post on how production crews build an entire house just to destroy it after filming is done. So much work involved! I would love to see pictures of the process.

margie May 27, 2011 at 12:31 pm

My parents bought a cottage at the Cape 40 years ago, and when I saw this movie, I knew it was NOT the Cape. Can’t fake it…so why bother?????????

Barry July 11, 2011 at 4:49 pm

How did Julia Robert’s character know she would ever go out on a boat to put her plan into action? Some say she must have set the plan up with the neighbouring doctor. If so, I bet he was p***** off when she went to Iowa

Janna October 27, 2011 at 3:44 pm

I am a huge fan of Julia Robert’s so I don’t know why people are judging her..she is a great role model and she is not ugly or annoying….I have watched all her movies she had done and there favourite 2 movies were stepmom and pretty woman…….I have met her twice and she is so nice and I got to meet her children and her husband…such a nice family

Karen Loveless January 13, 2012 at 12:50 am

I live in Wilmington where this movie was filmed! Another interesting house is pictured here as well. If you look at the picture of the back of the fake house, look across the water and to the far right. The white house similar to this fake one was used for scenes from Weekend at Bernie’s. It is located on Figure Eight Island which is a private island where many famous people have vacationed!

Heather March 30, 2012 at 9:32 pm

I lived at Wrightsville beach when this was filmed. The “house” was actually built a few yards north of the Shell Island Resort. But Elle Decor might need a geography lesson, too. Wrightsville Beach is indeed actually on the East Coast. Who does their writing?

Vicky April 24, 2012 at 12:57 pm

Julia Roberts is stunningly beautiful and I enjoy all her movies. No need for haters to bash her. I live in NC just a short distance from Wilmington and Figure Eight Island and have spend many great times at Shell Island Resort located at the north end of Wrightsville Beach which about as far East Coast as you can get. Figure Eight Island is an exclusive island of very wealthy beach homes and is restricted from general public access.

Although I could live in either house, I would definitely choose the contemporary beach house. I would desire a housekeeper though to keep those floors shiny and dust free; and keeping all that glass crystal clear from sea mist could really be a challenge!

Vicky April 24, 2012 at 1:24 pm

It looks like a lot of expense went into building the set. I wonder why they didn’t just finish the house throughout then sell it after the movie was finished. I read above where the land was owned by a lady. I’m sure she was paid well for the use of the land but could have probably made millions selling a famous movie house.

Pat May 2, 2013 at 7:50 pm

The Victorian house was not in Iowa. It is in Abbeville,SC. I know. I watched the filming there. Beautiful historical town in the upstate part ofSC.

amy July 13, 2013 at 7:40 pm

Since when is North Carolina, which borders the Atlantic Ocean not on the East Coast?

hookedonhouses July 13, 2013 at 10:45 pm

I just meant it is not really in Cape Cod. Poor word choice on my part!

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