On a mad impulse, couple buys St John property and turns it into beachfront eco-friendly family retreat.

Charlene Sloan relaxes poolside, reclining in a teak lounger whose cushions match the pale turquoise of the sea that laps gently at the shoreline several yards away. Her husband, Michael Sloan, readies the paddleboards for his wife and four grandchildren, who will soon venture out onto that sea, hugging St John’s pristine northern shoreline in search of the turtles, stingrays, nurse sharks, and other marine life that thrives here.

Boisterous laughter erupts from the grandchildren, who splash and play in the 12-metre lap pool prior to their paddleboard outing. Charlene is fully in her happy place—her home at One Peter Bay on St John, US Virgin Islands—and she has a small Wall Street Journal ad and an impulsive decision to thank for it all. As the 20th century came to a close, Michael and Charlene sold their respective businesses in favour of an island-hopping retirement. They set out on a search for the perfect home on the perfect island. “We wanted to buy a home in the Caribbean but we never found the right place,” says Charlene. “My husband Michael saw a very, very small ad in the Wall Street Journal for what he thought was a home, but it turned out to be for a piece of property in Peter Bay.”

The couple made the trip down to St John from their Colorado home and plodded through the overgrown, undeveloped beachfront lot in the island’s most exclusive neighbourhood—a 38-acre private enclave for the well-heeled, surrounded by National Park land and bordered by the alluring waters of the Coral Reef National Monument. Though it didn’t fit with their plan of buying a home, the couple purchased the 1.1-acre lot. “We were traipsing around with the real estate agent, walking along this beautiful pristine beach, and it all just sort of clicked at that point,” says Charlene. “Had we come home and thought about it, we would’ve said we were crazy. Buying the lot was a very impulsive, serendipitous sort of thing.”

The couple then connected with local architect Doug White, known in the territory for his green building designs. They worked with him to achieve the family-friendly home they were hoping for. The result is a U-shaped layout with a pool in the middle running perpendicular to the beach. Ample verandas and outdoor space allow Michael and Charlene to come together with their children and grandchildren, who visit frequently, while private patios that face the beach offer the couple and their guests seclusion.

Though native stonework that’s common in St John architecture is one of the home’s design elements, the couple largely opted for a light, airy feel. “Very early in the design process, I sat on the beach for more than an hour with a Benjamin Moore colour wheel and I just started paper clipping every coluor I saw,” recalls Charlene. “The sky, the water, the plants, the flowers, the beach—we worked all of those colours into the home’s decor.” The home is one of the few true beachfront residences in Peter Bay, and in fact on the whole island, which is largely protected by the Virgin Islands National Park. But a visitor taking a stroll on Peter Bay beach might not even know the Sloans’ home is there. One Peter Bay’s minimal visual impact, achieved with the aid of biophilic design, is one of the many ways the home’s design minimizes its ecological footprint. Because of the residence’s waterfront location, managing storm water run-off was a big concern.

“As a result, we recycle 100 per cent of the water that falls onto the property,” says architect Doug White. “All surfaced areas on the property collect water.” As is common on St John, potable water is collected from the roof. Rain that falls on the driveway and the pool deck is stored in a grey water cistern, which is used for irrigation. Sewage is treated with a Wetland Ecosystem Treatment system, a self-contained smallscale constructed wetland whose design was originally conceived by NASA scientist Dr Bill Wolverton. Faecal coliform bacteria is essentially eaten by plant roots in the constructed wetland’s terrace planters before the resulting discharge evaporates. As an added bonus, the entire sewage treatment process is led by gravity; there is no machinery or power consumption involved.

Building on the biophilic design concept, White designed One Peter Bay to promote the free flow of space. Recessed sliding glass doors in the main house and bedrooms invite the Caribbean ocean breeze indoors, practically eliminating the need for air conditioning. The Sloans’ home features the barrel tile roof that is a part of Peter Bay’s covenants but the overall design doesn’t fall in line with the Italianate villa style that is so popular in the neighbourhood. “It’s sort of a combination of French provincial farmhouse and Caribbean,” explains White. “We used a lot of arches and openings, and it’s a traditional Caribbean design in that it’s a U-shaped house, so every room has at least two sides open to breezes.”

The way the home interacts gently with nature, with a light and breezy style lends a feeling of comfort. One Peter Bay’s spaces are relaxed and inviting. “It has a warm family feeling to it,” says Charlene. “It’s comfortable. People don’t feel like they can’t touch things or sit down on things. That’s the main effect we wanted to have.” As Charlene and Michael return from their paddleboard outing with the grandchildren, they slip into the hot tub while the children joyfully plunge into the pool. The Sloans and their family have indeed found happiness and comfort at their beautiful beachfront home at One Peter Bay.

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