The 2015 Building Design Awards
When one thinks of castles, stoic kings and queens bedecked in furs and jewels certainly come to mind. While the new owners of Castle Point may not wear crowns per se, they certainly must feel like royalty every time they visit their beautiful new vacation retreat located at the easternmost point of Tucker’s Town.
“The clients—an American couple with four grown children and a large extended family—had been coming to Bermuda annually for over 15 years and loved the people, the architecture, the golf and the food, and had been actively looking for a home when Castle Point became available,” said Colin Campbell of OBMI Architecture. “They leapt at the opportunity to create a retreat for their family that could be intimate when it was just the two of them or work well with all four children, spouses and guests.”
Originally owned by Dr. Clay Frick, the largely overgrown site had been devoid of any significant upkeep or maintenance since the mid-1980s. Well known for its prominent Castle Folly overlooking Castle Harbour, the eight-acre property contained an abandoned main house, a guest cottage, ancillary buildings and an excavated lot at the entrance. “The team was challenged to carefully develop and enhance the property, a landscape that was already one of stunning rugged and poetic beauty,” said Campbell. “By definition the development would have to be sympathetic with the environment. Only two of the eight acres were available for residential development, and therefore very careful analysis of options within the development envelope was necessary.”
The environmental sensitivities of the site were not taken lightly by the team or the owners. A conservation management master plan had already been authorised and partially funded by a previous owner. The plan—which included significant landscape remediation on the north side—was readily accepted by the new owners who then took it a step further by removing invasives and planting endemics like cedar and palmetto. Also added to the site were over 100 longtail igloos, positioned and approved by David Wingate. “At this time Castle Point is the largest nesting location of Bermuda longtails and we believe the new habitat has provided a safe environment for the endemic skinks,” said Campbell. “There have also been random reports of Cahows investigating the shoreline around Castle Point.” For their efforts, the Bermuda National Trust presented them with the Environment Award for Castle Point Woodland Management Project in 2014 and the Preservation Award for the restoration of Castle Folly in 2013.
With all the environmental considerations in place, the team at OBM set out to conscientiously design a three-bedroom main house, two guest cottages and a caretaker’s cottage that met the owners’ needs while remaining sympathetic to the surrounding landscape. The main house features a master bedroom suite, a spacious kitchen with laundry room and pantry, a generous living/dining room with breakfast nook, two guest bedrooms, a media room and a downstairs basement/recreational room. A large covered patio off the kitchen on the north side of the house makes an additional outdoor room complete with fireplace, barbeque, a dining table and lounging areas.
“Primary consideration is always down to three things—engineering, design aesthetics and budget,” said Campbell. “Working within a defined budget keenly focused the extent of the design and drove the need for engineering excellence. The aesthetic concerns were crafted on developing a classic Bermudian contemporary home that would fit within the landscape, respecting and taking advantage of the natural design opportunities such as solar orientation, views, placement and local materials.”
Known for their classic Bermudian architectural style—with a twist, OBM kept to the local vernacular on the exteriors but added some innovative features like an environmentally friendly geothermal heating/cooling system and their unique “clam shell” shutters. “Colin Campbell first designed the OBM Bermuda ‘clam shell’ shutter system in 1990 for houses at Grape Bay and Salt Kettle,” explained Michele Smith. “Both homes had the identical concerns; they were west facing with beautiful views but the summer sun made the view unbearable. Shutters provide shade but often kill the view. With the new design, the top portion of the shutter was reduced and gave the occupants a view of the horizon while providing shade and the lower portion of the shutter fixed to the sill folds down against the walls. In the event of a storm or hurricane, rods on the upper portion of the shutter would be released to lower the shutter, and lifting the lower portion of the shutter up would allow the shutter to be closed near the centre of the window. The shutters at Castle Point are further enhanced with the classic OBM/Wil Onions shutter design that includes broader blades spaced further apart to capture the view as you look through the shutter.”
Along with the shutters, the team at OBM also created an equally unique sash window system. “The traditional double hung window system has worked fine for the past 200 years or so; however, traditional window design also includes a lot of moving ropes, weights, spirals or other devices which add visual weight, physical weight or complexity with the spring or rope balances,” said Campbell. “During the careful demolition and renovation of Castle Folly we were made aware of a sash window that was controlled by a thin brass tape spring fixed to the sash and the frame. As this window had been operational since installed in 1936 and was still functioning in 2012, it was clear there was a better option for double hung windows. Working closely with our window fabricator (Tischler Ltd) and design team, OBM designers have created a new sash window system utilising a stainless steel spring that reduced the weight of a traditional double hung window enormously, created an economical and quick-to-build frame and sash window system that allowed for more light and less timber for the same masonry window opening.
“We anticipate these windows to have as similar a useful lifespan as the 75-year-old original castle windows. The window design and varying sash sizes are based upon a classic proportional system and the relative height of the client so that no matter where they are in the house or the cottages the view will be framed without extraneous woodwork and st
ructure in the view.”
According to OBM, the cement-washed exteriors—that look as if they were built years, not mere months, ago—were chosen to both minimise upkeep and help the buildings blend in with the surrounding landscape. “While demolishing the original house, we found that a scratch coat/topcoat system was the existing method of plastering,” said Campbell. “Despite a lack of habitation and maintenance for over 20 years, the house was perfectly dry inside and out. The new plaster finish includes a scratch coat layer of plaster and then the top antiqued finish layer with waterproofing additive and numerous coats of cement-wash finish. We studied some of Wil Onions’s most notable homes to achieve a similar finish appearance. The cement wash allows the houses to visually blend in naturally with the landscape and cliff edges while reducing the need for continuous painting upkeep.”
The landscaping at Castle Point—done by Landscape Gardeners Ltd—was kept equally minimal in design but extremely detailed in consideration. The road leading to the entrance, originally cutting through the centre of the property, was replaced by a new road designed to wind up the southern coastline and through several majestic Caledonian pines. “Moving the road to the south created a large meadow surrounded by hedges and trees,” said Campbell. “Pedestrian and vehicular traffic flow is simple and not overbearing, allowing foot travel on grass and vehicular travel on permeable surfaces to maintain natural drainage and growth for a minimal hardscape impact.”
Much like the minimal upkeep needed for the cement-washed buildings on the property the landscaping was also designed to need little maintenance. “All plant materials chosen are sustainable, hardy and salt-water/wind resistant, which allows for minimal maintenance and irrigation,” continued Campbell. “A natural multiplication of several species will provide privacy and protection of the property over time.” Also included in the design were several pathways and walking trails with lookout points that, according to the architect, provide “fun outdoor activities that link the landscape to the main house.” Lighting was also kept minimal as the owners, who had visited the site many times at night, felt the stars and moon cast enough light for them to see. “Lanterns and candles assist with nighttime walks, and entry sconces are sufficient to light the entries,” said Campbell.
With access to the ocean via a dock on the Castle Harbour side and beaches on the southern coast, the owners decided they didn’t need a large family swimming pool and instead chose to build a lap pool and Jacuzzi. “The lap pool is to accommodate all the exercise swimmers in the family and for use during the winter months when the ocean is too rough or cold,” the architect explained. “The ocean is the main swimming pool for the property with several beaches and coves to explore.”
The pool is in line with Castle Folly on the coastline for a visual treat while swimming laps,” says Campbell. And the folly was another part of the 24-month renovation and restoration project. Originally built in 1936, OBM’s Michele Smith first renovated the castle in 1986 when Dr. Frick still owned the property. Due to general disrepair and hurricane damage dating back to Hurricane Emily, the recent renovation was quite substantial according to the firm. “The windows were all remade out of Spanish cedar and the interior lower level was redesigned to accommodate a full changing area with separate shower and bathroom facilities and exterior shower,” said Smith, who explained the extent of the work done. “The large stone pavers were added to allow for lounge chairs off the main beach. Custom day beds were constructed inside for a bunkroom-style getaway. The upper patio and exterior were brought back to their original glory. The upper lookout patio was finished with limestone while the stone facade was regrouted, waterproofed and enhanced with original corbels.”
According to Campbell, in keeping with the castle theme and the understated simplicity of the property, the owners did not feel the need to have imposing columns or gates to keep people out of the entrance. So the architect sought the advice of Dr. Edward Harris of the National Museum for scalable cannons that could be copied for the entrance. “Dr. Harris forwarded a copy of an 1805 Royal Navy standard specification cannon and a recommendation of a foundry in Bristol, UK, to cast a modern version,” he said. “Irons Brothers Ltd cast two bronze/aluminum cannons with the property name and address cast into the metal. A thick rope hawser (made by Jack Pittman at PW’s Marine Ltd) is secured to the inner facing cannon trunnions and hung across the entry.”
Campbell and Smith credit the entire team for the successful completion of this award-worthy project. “The design programme brought all stakeholders into the project from the very beginning and built a common and deep respect for all the wonderful ‘hands’ that participated in creating the project,” said Campbell.
And he concludes: “Our clients are very happy with the team, the adherence to quality and schedule and the final product. They now have a place that welcomes, invites all to relax, share fun experiences and be swept along by ever-changing enigmatic and romantic scenery. Family and friends enjoy the best of what Bermuda has to offer—its kindness, beauty and tranquility.”