James Tory doesn’t want his lifestyle to be dictated by the elements. That’s why he designed his home so that external conditions, whether hurricane-force winds or blistering heat, would remain just that – external to his experience. At home, he controls his environment rather than his environment controlling him.
Fortress-like in construction and raised 12 feet above sea level, Serenity House is built to withstand the fiercest storms. At over 12,000 square feet, it’s also vast in scale. But what sets this home apart from most is the absence of the fresh, all-white interiors typical of these latitudes: this home is altogether darker and edgier.
And there’s a reason for that. Tory points out that when you have windows on every side, the sun significantly impacts the light quality indoors. But by reducing the number of windows, you gain control over the ambience and can use lighting to change the mood. And while lots of windows may mean lots of views, fewer windows mean you restrict the views to precisely what you want to see.
Using 3D modelling software, the owner created the design he wanted: one with ample shade outdoors and cool interiors that both flowed and functioned for a family of five. He then worked with architect Robert Towell to refine the concept and turn it into technical drawings, and enlisted Core Construction to build it. With a building height limit of 40 feet and the slab already at 12 feet, two opposing constraints threatened the ceiling heights he wanted to balance the rooms’ dimensions and create impact.
Located on a peninsula at Crystal Harbour with views of the North Sound to the east and Governors Harbour to the west, it essentially became a house of two halves: the front, west-facing side is on two storeys and houses the core living and working areas. But by using split levels, the east-facing side was built over three floors (with lower ceilings), including a children’s wing and cinema on the first level, guest rooms and a staff apartment on the second level, and a gym on the top floor.
Anchoring the whole design is the magnificent steel and timber floating staircase, which acts as a central column that flows into different wings.
“The open design of the stairs allows the eye to travel past them to the huge, double-height glass wall – engineered to withstand 200mph winds – and through them over the reflecting pool and the main infinity pool, to the harbour beyond,” says Towell.
In the lofty, open concept living areas, comfortable leather furniture, next-generation faux fireplaces and outsize artworks are paired with concrete, steel and wood elements creating a curious hybrid of cosy and industrial.
Stainless steel dominates the kitchen, wrapping around the countertops, island, and backsplash. Not only does the commercial style give it an edge, but it’s far more practical, Tory says. Equipped with every possible appliance, from a steam oven to warmer drawers, ice makers and a wine fridge, supplied by A. L. Thompson’s, it’s a setup that would rival any restaurant – and that’s before you reach the butler’s kitchen and the outdoor kitchen.
Unusually, a leather conference table, lit by copper pendants lights, takes pride of place in the dining space, and arranged around it are office chairs: a far more comfortable choice, the owner says when you want to slide across to reach a dish or recline after a meal.
A large, comfortable office with workstations, sofas and a TV was crucial for the owner and his wife, as was an equally generous master bedroom with a custom-built walk-in closet. Paying no heed to the tropical temperatures, these spaces feature fitted carpets and faux fireplaces. A feature walnut wood wall adds warmth in the bedroom, while the bathroom is a cleaner space, where white textured stone contrasts with black tiles and an engineered stone freestanding bathtub.
Out on the expansive coral stone patio, the outdoor kitchen and seating area are shaded by the deep terraces extending from the bedroom and office above. Between these spaces sits the dining area, which stands out for its dramatic 25-foot high ceiling, created by the terrace off the third-floor gym.
“The roof of the dining terrace lies flush with the top of the stairwell, and both are treated with the same dark wood,” Towell says, “so that the outdoor ceiling appears to be a seamless extension of the indoor one.”
With a shallow reflecting pool on one side and the main pool on the other, the dining area looks across their mirror-like surfaces, which by day reflect their surroundings, and by night are lit by LED lights. Accompanied by the gentle sound of rippling water, the effect is magical at any time of day.
When it came to the pool, safety was a priority, given that the children were toddlers at the time. “We didn’t want them to fall into the pool, but I also didn’t want a balustrade around it,” Tory recalls. “I wanted to make it safe, but without it being visible.” Raising the height of the pool above the terrace was an ingenious solution: it made the pool itself the balustrade while allowing for three negative edges with water cascading over them. As a result, it achieves a true infinity effect, merging imperceptibly with the sea beyond.
Perhaps the most successful element, however, came later when construction was already underway.
“The problem with highly designed spaces,” Tory observes, “is that every space has a function, and you can end up without any flexible space, where you can put the things that don’t fit anywhere else – like a pool table or a golf simulator.” Musing on this, it occurred to him he could add a structure for a games room on one side of the property. However, not wanting to lose lawn space, it was built on stilts, coming off the first floor, which had the added benefit of creating a shaded area for the children to play outside. This addition helped balance the property on the site, Towell observes, while the wood cladding adds a unique look. At 1200 square feet, with perfect views through floor-to-ceiling windows on either side, it has become everyone’s favourite room.
Initially designed for a different lot, the house has undergone various iterations and additions, and a three-year build process. It was by no means the owner’s first foray into home design: this is the fifth house he has dreamed up and built, and as such incorporates all his most successful, and daring, ideas to date. There are still design elements to be added, but the essence of the home is clear: this is a house that goes against the grain, that has no need to conform, indoors or out. It’s a design that is quite unique, and very deliberately different.