Too many years ago, fresh off my first year of high school, I had the opportunity to attend the Island School, a semester school and marine research facility on the southeastern tip of the beautiful island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas. Our curriculum consisted of SCUBA classes, place-based ecology, and in our free time, wandering the lowland tropical savannah outside of our sandy campus, where there were a few local residences, one marina shop that catered to visiting yachts, and an abandoned golf course. On field trips we were taken up-island, to the more populated northern tip, where we wandered the streets of outlying islands Harbor Island and Spanish Wells, known for their white sand beaches and tourist-filled streets.
Somewhere between all this sits the 600-square-foot Brillhut by Miami-based studio Brillhart Architecture. Designed by and for founders Melissa and Jacob Brillhart, the modest cabin is an experiment in uncomplicated island living. Taking cues from the pitched roof cottages of Harbour Island and western architecture's founding principle of the primitive hut, the island cabin is unadorned but inviting.
Although naturally treated cedar shingles help merge the structure with its surroundings, elements like tubular skylights and winged storm panels give the residence an Earth-shelter vibe, which is appropriate for its intention as a secluded outpost. The wide aluminum panels open to create overhang shading above the decking and the shutters close to protect against hurricanes and inclement weather.
On the roof, circler skylights look into a sleeping room for the family of three, and upstairs windows open to create a cross breeze. A bathroom also sits in one corner. The first floor of the house is an open floor plan kitchen and living room inspired by the Roman loggia with doors and panels open to the elements. Outside, attached to the main structure by a wooden walkway, there's a small washroom cabin with an additional outdoor shower.
The Brillhut is completely off-grid and was built with a hybrid stick-frame and post-and-beam structure to keep construction simple. Portions of the home were constructed in the Brillhart's home-base of Miami, then flat packed to the Bahamas for assembly at the site.
It's been years since I left Eleuthera on a rickety 20-person puddle jumper plane, but the island left an unforgettable impression on me. Although it's not my home, I still hope all foreign development on the island is thoughtful and seeks to care for the environment of mangroves, coral reefs, and other ecosystems imperative to healthy marine (and human) life.
The Brillhut offers just that—a conscious design that fuses local architecture with unobtrusive technology. No design is perfect, but an approach that centers living well in a place, with doors wide open to Eleuthera's bio-rich coast, is as good a start as any.