Sensationally Simple, Bahamas
Tom Scheerer doesn’t believe in keeping the weather out. He likes to let it in; to feel fully connected to the elements. That is why he designed and decorated Zanzibar, his home in Abaco, so that it could be opened up without fear of the effects of sun, salt and rain.
Words by Natasha Were. Photography by Francesco Lagnese/OTTO and Björn Wallander/OTTO.
When he acquired a piece of land at Schooner Bay, on the Bahamian island of Abaco, it was a remote and wild place where one could walk for miles along deserted beaches and windswept sand dunes without seeing another soul.
“It reminded me of the east coast of Africa,” Scheerer recalls, “and although I’d never been to Zanzibar, my idea for the house was what I imagined villages there might look like, blended with the sturdy white farmhouses with brown roofs that I had seen in Kerala.”
Keen to give the property a name that was neither twee nor clichéd, Zanzibar seemed a fitting choice: spare and rustic, but undeniably exotic.
Although designed before Hurricane Dorian ravaged the north of the island in 2019 (Zanzibar was mercifully unscathed) Scheerer was very aware of the need to build something that could stand up to extreme weather, so he designed the four-bedroom, four-bathroom house as a compound of small pavilions with hipped cedar roofs, connected by terraces and courtyards.
“The roofs are small and tight against the wind, the walls are solid concrete, and the floor is cement,” he says. Every aspect has been considered for practicality, durability and strength.
Rather than building a long verandah, which would not be structurally sound, he opted for a large living/dining room with four tall French windows on the ocean side, and huge barn doors – no glass – opposite.
When these are opened, the living room merges with the cloistered courtyard, to create a huge, airy central living space.
Between and adjoining the living and sleeping spaces Scheerer has created a variety of outdoor living areas – a beach-facing deck, a pretty pool, a covered dining terrace and more – ensuring he and his guests can relax, socialise and break bread together outside, whether in the sun or the shade, fanned by the breeze or sheltered from it.
“There’s no recessed lighting or ceiling mouldings and I used one paint colour (white) and one wood stain (brown),” he says. “The doors, shutters and windows were made in India and are really old fashioned: there are no gaskets or screws, no technical elements, so they really can’t fail.”
The rough terrazzo floor, with polished shells embedded into it, will stand up to storm surges and camouflage any sand that makes its way indoors, and the woodwork is all teak, so that it will not rot in the tropical humidity.
Pared back to the barest essentials, it offers up a kind of purity that allows the perfect proportions and the sparing selection of furniture and decorative pieces to do the talking.
In the living room, two matching white slipcovered sofas add crispness to the otherwise earthy tones created by rattan rockers, cane chairs and a natural fibre rug, with a scattering of teal and turquoise cushions adding a flash of tropical colour.
A stack of antique wooden chests – shipped from India along with the doors and windows – offer the merest suggestion of a division between seating and dining areas. Hanging on the wall above the circular Saarinen dining table – a perennial favourite of the decorator’s – a pair of kudu horns are a nod to the home’s moniker, and the curved glossy brown blades of the ceiling fans are equally suggestive of exotic wildlife.
In the kitchen, simple teak cabinetry, custom made in the Dominican Republic, and filled with similarly un-sophisticated kitchen equipment, stands out against green and white Cuban tiles.
Because the home sits on a lot of only 50’ by 100’, fitting four bedrooms, four bathrooms, and a garage into the 1,800 square foot footprint was not easy, but for an advocate of minimising waste it was the perfect excuse to do away with frivolities.
“The bedrooms have just enough space for a bed and a bedside table either side, and each opens to the outdoors,” he says. “But I didn’t want to lose precious space to built-in closets.” Instead, floating cupboards provide enough storage for simple beach attire, and by not extending them to the floor, create an impression of space.
In one guest bathroom, which is just three feet wide and eight feet long, with a toilet at one end and a shower at the other, there was no space for a vanity. His solution: a wall-mounted sink, dressed in a hula skirt to conceal the plumbing.
Next to almost every door hangs a collection of straw hats and baskets – a classic Scheerer detail – that is as much a practicality as an artistic feature: “I can’t go outside without a hat on, and I’ve certainly never worn a baseball cap in my life!” he declares.
As is typical of the decorator, it is the repurposed and reimagined objects that lend Zanzibar its inimitable style. A ‘cabinet of curiosities’ in the dining room features an assortment of sea fans, shells, barnacle encrusted bottles and other beach-finds, some his, some donated.
In the living room, what at first glance appears to be an abstract piece of art is, on closer inspection, a flattened and framed Japanese paper lantern. In the master bedroom, a huge vinyl print of the moon (chosen because it will not be affected by the humidity) makes a bold statement above the bed, and on the wall outside, a weathered sculptural wooden piece is, in fact, a mould for machine parts he found in a junk store.
Zanzibar is the third house Scheerer has designed for himself in the Bahamas. All the lessons he has learned – about the weather, durability and usability – in his previous homes, have come together in this one. Open, airy and unpretentious, it is a home that invites one to kick off one’s shoes, slow down and remember that the greatest pleasures in life are the simple ones.
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