Island Time

Imagine trying to build a house on an island that’s virtually uninhabited, an unspoiled paradise with no utilities or roads. Building materials must arrive by barge, and the only shelter during construction is a tent on the beach. Sound like a scene from “Survivor”? For Wally and Toni Leopold, it was reality.

“I told my wife, ‘If we can make it through this, we can make it through anything,’” Wally says about the home they built on Lovango Cay, a private island just north of the U.S. Virgin Island of St. John.

Timber Home, Island Style

Since Wally and Toni had been full-time Caribbean residents for several decades, they wanted a design that captured the casual comfort of island life. “We wanted something open and warm,” explains Wally.

The couple soon turned their ideas over to Barefoot Architect Inc. of St. John, whose team created a structurally sound design. The key ingredient: flexibility. “We originally planned for a stone wall across the front,” says Wally, “but then we realized we couldn’t possibly close off that gorgeous view.”

The resulting single-story, 1,300-square-foot layout incorporates varying levels, accomplished through a series of step-ups to different rooms. “We can see all the different levels from the great room,” says Wally. “Everything is accessible.”

Set on a hill about 20 feet above sea level, the home affords breathtaking ocean views and the rugged St. John coastline. To usher in the ocean breezes, Wally and Toni eschewed traditional windows in favor of screens. A covered veranda spans the front of the home, protecting it from rain. On windy days, electric shades can be lowered with the flick of a switch. Other gadgets include armor screening that pulls around the house like drapery in case of hurricanes, and a rail system that transports heavy goods from the dock up to the kitchen.

Does island life get lonely? Not really—a handful of neighbors and a collection of animals (from chickens to lambs) keep the Leopolds busy. And seclusion seems to suit them well; in fact, Toni dubbed their home “The Love Shack.” Though it’s anything but a shack, since it’s situated on what’s affectionately known as the “love-and-go” island, the name seems a perfect fit.

Read the full story in the 2007 Annual Buyer’s Guide issue of Timber Home Living.

Photo by Steve Simonsen