A Force of Nature, Cayman Islands
Authentic, hip and cutting-edge, one Grand Cayman eco-abode starts a quiet revolution from the comfort of its own couch.
Words by Juliet Austin. Photography by Heather Holt.
Cocooned in its indigenous woodland setting, complete with mysterious limestone formations, agoutis, bats and woodpeckers, the Beach Bay eco-chic home of one progressive Cayman couple is turning heads – not solely for its stylish design, but for its resolution to touch the planet lightly. Situated on a high-lying tract of land, the environmentally savvy utopia has inadvertently thrown down the gauntlet as an agent of change for what Einstein would have called, “a substantially new manner of thinking.”
Nurtured by childhoods spent roaming the English countryside, the owners’ lifelong passion for nature lies at the heart of their home. “For us, nature is the ultimate link with spirituality – an easy way to access the miracle of the Universe speaking,” they explain. Settling in Cayman, building a home became an ethical extension of this green philosophy. “We were fortunate enough to be able to afford to make earthfriendly, energy efficient choices from the design’s inception. There was nothing we needed enough to jeopardise nature, so burning oil was simply not an option.”
Engaging the services of local contractor, The Phoenix Group, the couple worked holistically alongside Project Manager, Shayne Howe and Icon Architect, Tami Scott, to design an energy efficient family home that would incorporate well-developed vernacular solutions, integrate best design practices and utilise a bevy of environmentally responsible technologies. “There is a satisfaction that goes beyond the almighty dollar in undertaking a project like this,” observes Howe. “It proves that there is no reason not to develop in a sustainable way.”
Without a paradigm, and working with an economy of budget, dovetailing the construction and design processes fostered a collective understanding of need and ideology. “We invested time at the front end of the project – selecting the right systems, sourcing materials and ordering judiciously – to ensure we listened to and met our clients’ criteria,” Howe explains. The outcome is a compact 2,800 square-foot, three-bedroom contemporary home that embraces an eco-friendly lifestyle, reduces demand on the utility grid and succeeds wildly at balancing aesthetic, pragmatic and sustainable considerations.
Harmonising with the natural landscape, the approach to the property is an experience to be savoured. Clearing a minimal building footprint, there is a palpable sense of discovery – of having happened upon a secret cottage in the woods. Yet, despite feeling far removed from the maddening crowds of George Town, the property is a mere fifteen minutes away. Characterised by clean lines and an inventive interplay of angles and complementary elevations, the home asserts its unpretentious sophistication, conveying sleek, understated modernity through the authenticity of its features.
“We made the overall form of the building very simple,” recounts Scott. “Locating the largest part of the roof mass to the south ensured maximum solar gain, while combining rooms and incorporating ten-foot ceilings created larger, more open spaces with optimal airflow.”
Striving to reduce its carbon footprint, construction utilised locally manufactured materials, including trusses and non-toxic insulating concrete form (ICF) blocks, as well as locally sourced and fair-trade items including a two-hundred-year-old reclaimed Indonesian wood front door and awning-style Bahamian shutters that actively negate solar heat gain. A floating wooden shade trellis, supported on hanging metal rods, introduces a note of contemporary cool, while the textural groove and smooth of shiplap siding and white stucco underscores the balance of traditional and modern styles. Played out to dramatic effect in the roofline elevations, “the extruded portions rise to meet the sky to form a crowning effect above the entry,” explains Scott.
Oriented to take advantage of patterns of light and shade and to optimise passive cooling from prevailing winds, the property stays true to its mantra: less is more. A high performance, reflective metal roof seals the tight envelope of the house offering the perfect platform for the home’s twenty solar panels which provide hot water, run the cooling attic fan (the first of its kind in Cayman) and produce electricity to run the entire home.
"Functionality, rather than prestige, drove each of our decisions."
Scott recalls, “In order to maximise the efficiency of the solar panels, they needed to be placed at a very specific nineteen degrees facing directly south, so a simple shed roof form was the best solution.” A state-of-the-art water treatment plant purifies wastewater using a bio-fibrous peat medium rather than chemicals, while rainwater harvesting generates up to 3,000 gallons of UV and carbon filtered water – perfect for guilt-free baths.
Inside, interiors boast light-emitting diode (LED) and compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) lighting, along with Energy Star appliances and low flow fixtures. Painted with low/no volatile organic compound (VOC) paints, the open plan scheme promotes spatial flow and visual harmony between living spaces, including the climate controlled music room complete with baby grand piano. Twelve-foot telescopic sliding glass doors extend out onto a charming covered porch, sheltering the house from direct sun and allowing the natural surroundings to form an organic fourth wall for interior spaces.
Downstairs, cool porcelain tiles mimic wood. Hand-honed wooden benches, forestry certified wooden doors and sustainable wood cabinetry combine with neutral soft furnishings to deliver a striking east-meets-modern vibe. Equally suggestive, eye-catching glass subway tiles and reflective quartz countertops in the kitchen, courtesy of local company Kelly & Associates, exude casual sophistication.
Upstairs, carpets, made ingeniously from recycled bottles, betray no hint of their former utilitarian function. With views out across the tree line, bedrooms feature a mixture of vaulted and tray ceilings with windows located on opposite walls to maximise cross ventilation. It is, however, in the master bathroom that you find the brightest idea: a high-performance solar tube that uses advanced optics to stream daylight into the room direct from Mother Nature herself. According to the owners: “We had no desire to keep up with the Joneses, we simply chose not to be beholden to the standards and expectations of others. The house design is, essentially, very simple as we opted to invest in green systems rather than all the bells and whistles. Functionality, rather than prestige, drove each of our decisions.”
So it seems, the winds of change whisper through the trees in this soulful place. With its uncompromising integrity of form, function and spirit, all the proof one could want of the incontrovertible need to embrace green living, we too are challenged to become forces of nature: to turn revolutionary rumblings into affirmative action; to be the change. According to Scott, “Anyone can build a house like this, it just takes a committed client, lots of planning and attention to detail.” The pièce de résistance? Scott smiles, “The reaction of the public, when they realise they can get all this and an electric bill that is in credit. That is priceless.”
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