Anyone living west of Burnt House Hill surely marvelled at the demolition and subsequent reinvention of an old fisherman’s cottage on the water side of Harbour Road when, after four years of construction, its graceful new rooflines arose from the white walls surrounded by the dramatically sloped property. The owners, a Bermudian couple in the reinsurance industry, had rented the old cottage for many years and had fallen in love with the property. When the opportunity arose to purchase it, they set out to create their dream home, hiring architect Mollie Bigley of Linberg and Simmons along the way.
“Their main objective was to maintain the traditional charm and natural feel of the property, creating a house that looked as if it had always been there,” said Bigley, whose design inspiration came from traditional Bermudian cottage architecture. “It was important the cottage look authentic so we made sure original details were not only accurately recreated but used correctly. For example, eyebrows were only used over windows and doors that were not already protected by an eave or verandah roof.”
Before attending to such details, however, the architect was first faced with the challenge of a difficult and unique site to build on—but this hardly daunted Bigley who set out to create an oasis for the owners.
“The steep site surrounded by woodland reserve was a challenge but it also allowed for opportunities to create unique features,” the architect said. “A spiral stair down from the lay-by to the front door effortlessly mitigates the quick elevation change from the road to the main entry. Once below the level of the road, the mature vegetation and the views over the Sound make you feel like you’re away from it all.”
The difficulties in building on this site were well noted by the judges. “It was an extremely challenging site for both demolition and construction,” stated one, while another commented that, “to go down vertically was a massive challenge.”
To truly appreciate the quality of architectural design, visitors to the 3,000-square-foot Kingfisher Cottage have to meander down the brick-laid spiral steps to the main entrance below. The whitewashed, softly rendered plaster finish on the exterior walls and the moulded eyebrows that gently lift from the walls add the sought-after authenticity to the new construction. In sharp contrast to the soft white walls, expanses of heavy, rich-toned wood were used inside and out lending an air of gravitas to the house, which otherwise might have appeared to be floating or perched precariously on the side of the hill.
“Warm and rich, merbau wood was specifically selected and imported to be used throughout the house for both its beauty and durability,” explained Bigley. Merbau was used for the doors, windows, floors and even the kitchen countertops, while ipe was used for the roof rafters, exterior railings, and the dock and pool deck—again for its durability. The owners also repurposed a portion of the cedar from the original cottage in the cedar pantry rafters and in a central cedar post on a spiral staircase off the pantry—as well as recycling a simple door from the old cottage for the coat closet in the entry which at first glance might seem out of place but, as a reminder of their original home, holds great significance for the couple.
Mix-matched doors aside, the entry hall sets the tone for the entire house, with a rustic, dry-laid stone floor, expertly crafted staircase and joisted ceiling adding to the sense of weight and solidity as it opens into the 20-by- 40-foot great room which incorporates the kitchen, living and dining areas. “Two massive exposed merbau beams structurally support the floor above and subtly demarcate the living room, dining room and kitchen areas below,” explains Bigley.
Three large sets of French doors with transom windows allow for light and gentle breezes to flood the space as they open onto a 12-by-40-foot verandah overlooking the Great Sound beyond. On the western end of the great room, two smaller French doors flanking the fireplace lead out to a sunny, bricked patio.
The design of the kitchen area was deliberately downplayed to better flow with the easy-living feel throughout the entire grand space. A French blue island, antiqued white cabinetry and smartly hidden appliances work well to keep the functionality of the kitchen unobtrusive, while a well-designed pantry off to the side allows all the necessary cleaning and storing functions to be subtly hidden from view. A custom-built wooden spiral staircase off the pantry leads down to a wine cellar and wet bar that services the house, pool and dock below.
On the lower level, a guest room runs parallel to the 60-by-6-foot heated lap pool under the verandah. A durable bathroom that services both the pool and the boat dock was finished with polished concrete by Concrete Works and balanced with warm wood accents, such as a custom vanity and Dutch door.
On the upper level of the house, visitors are greeted by a beautifully exposed frame roof over a large, bright and airy landing doubling as a home office. Two bedroom suites beyond are gracefully connected by a substantial built-in bookcase that would be the dream of any bibliophile.
In stark contrast to the busy road above, the master bedroom is a surprisingly peaceful retreat—its rich merbau wood floors lending a sense of weight and the views from the large traditional windows carrying the eye over the waters of the Sound. The vaulted ceiling with its exposed rafters provides the balance, making the room feel even larger than it is.
The exposed-rafter ceiling and wood floors maintain the open feel through to the master bath. “The master bath’s exposed roof framing creates a sense of space and interest while the custom vanity and blue claw-foot soaking tub keep to the traditional style without being too serious,” said Bigley.
Impressively concealed under the new lay-by, created for parking on the roadside above, is an equally detailed 900-square-foot studio apartment. The main room features a spacious living and kitchen area which extends to a porch overlooking the Sound, while a quirky teardrop-shaped bathroom and a laundry room flank either side of the bedroom area.
Rather than being meticulously manicured, the surrounding property has been deliberately left quite natural, so that over time, as the new plantings grow up and over the cut-stone walls, the loo
k will soften even more, creating an impression that the house has always been there. “The house and the landscape is terraced just enough to make it usable,” said Bigley. “The client wanted to maintain the natural, wild feel of the property so only rock-cut or dry-stacked walls were used. We always tried to be sensitive to the natural nature of the site and soften all the edges.”
Although the owners were seconded overseas before they were able to move into their new home, the architect says they are thrilled with the results, and she is thrilled to have met their requirements in such an award-worthy fashion. “Architecture is only successful if it meets the client’s needs functionally while fulfilling the client’s taste visually,” said Bigley. “The best designs look and seem simple, almost obvious, but they are usually the most carefully thought-out, planned and crafted.”