For over 80 years OBMI has been designing cottages and homes, many by the sea with vast turquoise views. Taking a traditional Bermuda cottage and modernising it while maintaining its original character has brought a new trend to Bermuda architecture, interior design and landscape architecture.


When a new homeowner purchases a Wil Onions house they invariably call upon OBMI to see if the original drawings are still in the archives; and invariably they are, catagorised by their original owner’s name or the name of the house. 


Original photographs of the interiors and exteriors of the house when first built may also be available. The excitement of renovating a 40-, 50- or even 60-year-old home   designed by a predecessor is supported by the confidence that it was well designed and tells a story of who the original owners were. This gives the current architect a mature landscape and neighborhood to work with and provides a sense of place for the new owner.


High roof pitches, rare in today’s construction, with traditional high tray ceilings helped keep houses cool during the summer days at a time when air-conditioning and ceiling fans were nonexistent. The quintessential Bermuda cottage was designed small in scale and characterised with high tray ceilings and windows placed to take advantage of the cross breezes to keep the interiors cool throughout Bermuda’s hottest months. This home, situated on a cliff site with a southern breeze most days, has a view that takes your breath away each time you walk through the front door, and is characteristic of many Bermudian homes designed by the firm in the 40s and 50s. It was, however, designed, as many were, with smaller spaces, separated by hallways, a design which has no appeal in today’s modern lifestyle. That “old cottage look” with cedar beams and buttery smooth walls is much beloved, but without the headaches that come from the maintenance. Cedar beams, white walls and high ceilings are all wonderful features to start with, good bones that will maintain the traditional Bermudian character by blending it with all the modern conveniences—resulting in a fabulous home ready for a new generation.  A modern twist on a traditional past does not have to mean all glass walls and stark white interiors. A modern take on tradition is much more.


In this design, OBMI provided the client with options for changing rooms around and re-planning the house in a way that the owner envisioned. The kitchen, which had no views to the south, was relocated within an open-plan concept allowing family time to spill out into the yard and pool area while entertaining in the family room. The structure of the house allowed for opening walls, adding beams for support and allowing the rooms to breathe. The Bermuda stone walls were re-plastered, introducing a waterproofing agent into the plaster, and structurally, the house was sound and ready for a new lease on life. If this house had been torn down to build a new one, the replacement would not have taken on the same characteristics. There were areas that were quirky, such as the front buttery (that used to be the pump room), which was turned into a bedroom closet as it was too small for anything else. The lower indoor patio, once damp and musty, became the gym. 


The living room maintained its symmetry as the centre of the house with views through its triple set of French doors. The entry of the home, characterised by a traditional fanlight and cedar door, was maintained but made wider, increasing the viewing opportunity through the living room to the ocean. To the west of the house, the bedrooms were maintained and renovated with en suite bathrooms, and to the east the living spaces and master suite were renovated and added to for privacy. The living and dining rooms, once heavily draped and chintzed-out, were redesigned using a soft palette of neutral colours that created the essence of the home.


The key to maintaining a traditional comfortable flair within a modern open plan is to balance your modern and traditional elements, so that the space feels flexible, not stiff.  Symmetry plays a large part in traditional architecture; in many instances the houses were designed with symmetry and balance of spaces. When rooms are opened up, that symmetry, once hidden, stands out more in an open-plan concept. Rooms connecting to each other bring harmony to the interior space while maintaining a feeling of intimacy.  When these rooms are opened up to each other with larger openings, the house is transformed from a dark, cozy house into a cool, light-filled home. Open-plan elements for today’s family living and future aging-in-place parameters can provide comfort into the retirement years.


Landscaping also takes on the same life as the house. The original asphalt driveways and overgrown invasive plantings of the landscape were stripped and endemic plantings and lawns were rescued. Pergolas, courtyards and pools also have their time and place. The original pool was removed and replaced with a fabulous beach edge/infinity pool while maintaining the shade structure on the cliff edge with built-in seating added for relaxation. Bermuda has tried and true materials with flora and fauna that can provide years of enjoyment and sustainability. If your home is lucky enough to have a decent amount of land with mature trees, those trees would have been planted in locations that would have provided a high level of passive shade to keep your home cool. Today when we build new homes, trees are typically taken down and homes and sites are not always designed to capture the cooling breezes or provide protection from the hot sun with trees used as passive shade. 


There is more to think about when planning a home than most people are aware of. A series of simple low-maintenance plantings that provide colour and aroma such as frangipanis, lilies and grasses were used and when allowed to multiply, will provide additional plantings as the landscape changes over time. Landscape planning is critical to a successful renovation and adds a full complement to the architecture and interiors.


There are so many surprises that follow a renovation on an old Bermuda home. It takes a trained eye, though, to catch those elements worth saving. If the front door leads your eye to a back door with a view, you have a winner. Just buy it and the rest will work itself out.



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