De-sign of the times - a green dream, nestled into the coastline of the tiny emerald isle of St John, USVI. Michael Burgamy and Charlene Sloan Burgamy were tickled pink when Lady Luck handed them a golden opportunity to go green. Responding to an auspicious advertisement in the Wall Street Journal, they journeyed to St John, the smallest of the US Virgin Islands, to claim their destiny: a 1.25 acre lot in Peter Bay with their name on it. Secluded by the verdant hills and valleys of the adjacent National Park – home to mongoose, deer and green-throated hummingbirds – and encircled by the lapping tides of a breathtaking cobalt coast, was the promise of something remarkable: a tropical escape like no other.
Secluded by the verdant hills and valleys of the adjacent National Park - home to mongoose, deer and green-throated hummingbirds – and encircled by the lapping tides of a breathtaking cobalt coast, was the promise of something remarkable: a tropical escape like no other.
Aspiring to build a family home for entertaining friends and loved ones, “Where people could ‘spill out’ to a central area to be together, or retreat to private porches,” their paths crossed with local architect, Doug White, and their fate was sealed. Guided by the nuances of the land – natural water flow and drainage, prevailing winds and patterns of light and rain – owners and architect conspired to build a low impact home with high impact style. “It was,” muses Charlene, “quite serendipitous.”
The Lie of the Land
Stipulating minimal clearance and prudent orientation, White’s intuitive site plan for the 7,370 square foot property began by recognising the need to reduce energy consumption. Harnessing solar energy and the natural ventilation provided by cooling trade winds, concrete from nearby Puerto Rico was used to construct a hurricane resistant, U-shaped structure. The site’s natural elevation, combined with a series of terraces stepping down to the beach, afforded immediate protection from storm surges while maintaining the vital visual connection to the coastline via plentiful outdoor galleries and deep-set verandahs.
Based on nature’s innate cleansing processes, White incorporated a state of the art Wastewater Ecological Treatment (WET) system developed by former NASA environmental engineer, Bill Wolverton. A paradigm for blackwater recycling, terracing and decking integrate the system seamlessly into the surrounding landscape, and by using a drainage channel, sediment basin and manmade sandy area it filters pollutants and inhibits run-off into the bay. Retention of exotic native species, in keeping with xeriscape tropical landscaping practices, mitigates beach erosion resulting in a small-scale biological wetland where plants, animals, insects and micro-organisms work symbiotically with sun, soil and air to produce an environment in balance. “It’s just right,” states Charlene, “everything feels right.”
Revisiting traditional island wisdom that dictates responsible water management, collected greywater from the driveway, pool deck and galleries, feeds the landscape drip irrigation system, while potable rainwater from the roof is stored in a freshwater cistern to serve the Metlund D’MAND tankless hot water system. Consolidating its status as a leader in green design, power to the home’s Energy Star appliances, lighting and sounds systems comes courtesy of grid-tied utilities backed up by a photovoltaic system and net-metering (with a diesel generator thrown in for good measure).
Architectural design follows suit, working in tandem with green technology to deliver a distinct Caribbean flavour played out in the handcrafted retaining wall of local, salvaged stone and the preponderance of columns and arches. Authentic hurricane shutters adorn windows while secret courtyards, hidden amid the lush foliage, are accessed via meandering recycled brick walkways, adding whimsical West Indian charm and ingeniously reducing construction waste to boot.
Accentuating the natural ebb and flow of Caribbean life, rooms are linked by pocket doors to expansive, shady verandahs allowing for the free flow of breeze, light and camaraderie. Characterised by vaulted, tongue and groove ceilings and, what interior designer, Laura Hooker of Designs by Laura calls, “breathable fabrics”, interiors boast a vibrant palette of nature-inspired tones: turquoise to seafoam; rich greens and subtle shades of sand, resulting in backdrop of understated, seductive luxury
A far cry from the fiery fury of its volcanic birth, St John can now boast an eruption of a new kind – gentler on the environment, but not without enduring impact: a paradox of luxury design where less is more and myopic short-term thinking is banished to the dark ages in favour of a future that is bright and green and full of the prophetic wisdom of visionary architect, Frank Lloyd Wright who said: “The good building is not one that hurts the landscape, but one which makes the landscape more beautiful than it was before.”Photography by Daniel Nadelbach. Styling by Gilda Meyer-Niehof.