Falene Nurse is a British-Bajan American writer who lives on the road. She is named after a Disney character and likes deserted beaches, sassy animals, and drag queens.
The best green, tiny homes are simple by design, not extravagant.
Simplicity, eco-friendly architecture, and habitual comfort, usually work effortlessly together with both nature and landscape, not against it. However, when also seen through a more racially (and socially) diverse lens, this can be deeply influenced by historical and cultural contexts, too. The layers to unpack behind those design principles and identities become a little more complex when the man executing the build also happens to be a queer person of color (QPoC.)
Barbados born designer Junior Sealy is as vanguard as the spaces he creates. A quick glimpse at his Instagram, and you soon see a multi-disciplinary artist who is once a chameleon of sorts in the fashion world and a self-taught furniture maker and DIY home builder—a unique trajectory for someone who started their working life as a certified accountant. Sealy doesn't let others' limited outlook restrict him or his creative pursuits. After six years running successful Toronto-based contemporary fashion brand L A B & iD, his commissioned woodworks now live in artist pop-ups and eco-lodges across Barbados.
The Bajan multi-hyphenate draws inspiration as much from his heritage as he does from Japanese culture, with his home consisting of three structures named for thier role within the property—"KUMO" (the Cloud), "TENGOKU" (Heaven) and "TSUKI" (the Moon). A keen eye for clean lines and a natural affinity with numbers in his blood (accountant mom, an engineer dad) probably doesn't hurt either.
What started as a safe hangout space for friends and family is now his breezy Bathsheba Hills home. On his three-year DIY home build, small spaces, and living life in general, Sealy has some pretty cool ideas too. We recently spoke with Sealy to get the full rundown.
What was the concept behind your home?
When I think of tiny spaces, Japan automatically comes to my mind. My research was mostly into Japanese architecture, home spaces, and dimensions during the planning phase, hence the names. But I wanted to put a Bajan spin on it. That's why there's a heavy influence of the Chattel Homes, many of which remain, especially in the nearby village (St. Elizabeth Village) and surrounding areas.
Give us a breakdown of the three unique structures?
In its most basic terms I spliced a singular structure into three instead. You have the Moon, which is 289 sq ft, 17 x 17ft, and Heaven is 336 sq ft, 16 x 21ft with a loft space that is 96 sq ft and almost 30ft off the ground. When complete, the Cloud will be 240 sq ft, 12 x 20ft, with a 12 foot walkway eventually between Tsuki and Tengoku. I'm drawn to the connected outside walkways in Japan; the goal is to connect all three this way. The Moon is an indoor/outdoor living space consisting of four skylights, a sleeping loft with a foyer, kitchen, bathroom, dining area, and indoor/outdoor lounge area.
What exactly is a Chattel House?
Bajan Chattel Houses are considered iconic here because of the people who built them, how and why, and what they represent. At first, constructed by slaves, these distinctive small wooden homes, with timbers pre-cut in standard lengths of 12 to 20 feet (even numbers), were built to move after Emancipation. Made without any nails (to easily disassemble), resting on a base of coral stone blocks or a groundsill, so their 'newly-free' homeowners weren't dependent on plantation land to live. In a nutshell, Chattel means home or property. So they represent freedom in many ways.
As with my home, there are three units. In a traditional Chattel House a single unit, the first step composed of two rooms, was nicknamed a "one-roof house." Next, the shed was in the back. Add another roof, a "shed roof," the three units became commonly known as a "one-roof house and shed." Usually roofs were made of corrugated metal—its durability makes it an excellent green building material for today too. The reflective properties keep your house a lot cooler, as it doesn't absorb heat like stone can; that's the reason I've incorporated it so much.
How long did the build take in total and how much did the materials cost?
In total, from fabrication to completion took three years! There's a reason for that; it was a cash-only build. No loans. I paid as I earned, working on-site construction three days a week. It saved me at least $30,000 Barbadian dollars (~$15,000 USD). If we built steady, me and Scribbz (a local seasoned mason), would have taken maybe 90 days to complete each space.
Tsuki was the first space finished out of the three before the pandemic hit. Including interior and exterior materials, foundation, and well, the cost of first house would be about $20,000 BBD (~$10,000 USD). The second space cost about $30,000 BBD, with timber, tiling, plumbing, and the corrugated metal exterior's application stage.
The land was inherited, passed down through generations in my family. To buy a few acres of land on the East Coast—which is cheaper than the South or West—with this view, even for a local the land alone would be about $300,000 BBD.
Describe some other unique materials and techniques you used?
I'm so proud I got to use more unconventional materials. Heaven was finished with the corner flashing, galvanized clipping at some joints, and then windows and doors. I did tons of sanding and staining on the exteriors, then used clear corrugated polycarbonate for the doors and the upper windows.
Shou Sugi Ban (the ancient Japanese art of wood-charring by fire) wasn't just used for its artsy bohemian allure. This siding technique serves as an excellent treatment in the tropics, for exteriors, helping with termites, rotting, and waterproofing. I researched all this before I started; every detail, I'm the true definition of a Virgo. Very analytical and organized, which has helped me the most, honestly. If not, I would have LOST my mind.
Did you have any previous woodwork, DIY, or architectural experience?
Nope, none. Apart from an apprenticeship to teach me how to use tools before getting into building furniture, a hobby that's now my partial income. I think being good with numbers helps. Between myself and Scribbz (the mason) we had an inventory of necessary tools for cement mixing, siding, framing, and drilling foundation holes if needed. I tried to focus on specific areas at any given time.
Why a tiny sustainable home, and why were you drawn to the East Coast?
At first, the plan wasn't to return to Barbados permanently. Then I saw the plot again, that shed, and fell in love. By Bajan standards, I'm pretty country at heart; I remember when it was just banana trees and a hill to fly my kite.
Bathsheba lends to being off-grid and more outdoorsy. Naturally, it's more isolated and less developed. You get a real sense of being on an island. I'm a non-traditionalist in my fashion aesthetic, as a creative director, my general way of living. So it was a no brainer for me to choose something that wasn't exactly 'the norm,' I guess.
Then I began to deconstruct the Chattel House, which by design is a small space. A well designed small space is better than any gaudy McMansion—you don't need that to live life comfortably. I'm also super mindful of the landscape, the parish, and the history. It's what maintains the charm of the East Coast.
Also, who wants to clean?
For more of Junior Sealy's impressive self-build, check out a roundup of behind-the-scenes images and video in his saved Instagram Stories.