2024 RDAA | Project of the Year | Bahamas Cottage | Max Levy Architect

Harbour Island’s abundant natural resources are brought into sparkling clarity in our Project of the Year by Max Levy, FAIA. Crafted as a single, slim volume with operable openings on the roof and every wall, it is a vessel that beautifully expresses the island’s atmospheric magic. “It’s a delightful end result to a clear, economical design,” a judge said.

Sited on a bluff overlooking turquoise waters, the one-room-deep design harnesses the plentiful sunlight and ocean breezes. Organized as four consecutive 22-foot-square living spaces, the floor plan includes a covered breezeway that separates the painted pine-lined living area and bedroom. Each wing has punched openings with windows that pocket into a cavity between the pine panels and concrete block shell. In addition, exterior wood screens roll across the openings to mitigate the sunlight or batten the hatches in stormy weather. “I love the screens and that they move,” a judge said. “The architects handled shade without big overhangs.”

Those generously sized windows not only frame the view but open the house like a porch. In dramatic settings like this one, “wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling glass is wonderful, but I think it often renders a view similar to looking at it on a computer screen because you’re in a hermetically sealed place,” Max says. “Being able to really open up the house refreshes the whole atmosphere and allows us to save energy in an old-fashioned way.”

It takes both creativity and precision to channel the most ephemeral qualities of nature. Four colorful “light chimneys” track the sun’s movement through the day and seasons. With glass on one side, each chimney faces a different compass direction, their painted interiors aglow in the prevailing light. After much trial and error, the team chose Benjamin Moore Bana-Appeal on the breezeway’s light well facing the morning sun, Coral Buff on the living room’s sunset-facing well, Tasty Apple looking south in the kitchen-dining area, and Mystical Blue echoing the bedroom’s northern light. The hues pay homage to nearby Dunmore Town, an 18th-century village with vividly colored wood buildings.

As is true of the most successful projects, the architect and client were of one mind on many of the design decisions. Both appreciate the serenity that results from a spare and consistent material palette. Coral stone floors were used throughout the house, and the rift-sawn white oak cabinetry reads as inserts that stop short of the ceiling to preserve the light well sight lines. 

Two accessory buildings provide the sense of a small-scale compound as well as discrete destinations. Like the main house, they are built with concrete block covered in smooth gray plaster that blends in with the exuberant vegetation. The guest house, on the downslope facing the water, contains a study with built-in bookshelves, twin beds laid end-to-end to double as a sofa, and a private deck. Its roof, reached over a raised walkway continuing from the breezeway, becomes a svelte sundeck. On the entry side of the main house, the cart storage building (only golf carts are allowed on the island) features a winding, wood-lined stairway ascending to a moon deck.

Deed restrictions aimed at minimizing damage to the land’s flora, fauna, and coral substrate limited construction to about two dozen houses on a 100-acre site. 

“The residents share a sizable communal vegetation garden; they cross paths there when it’s salad-making time,” Max says. Grading occurred only on the building footprint, and, except for the grassy cart court, the post-construction landscape was restored with native tropical plantings. Eventually the copper roof’s patina will almost disappear into the vegetation, which is watered by a 12,000-gallon cistern that also supplies household water.

The jury applauded the less-is-more approach. “There’s a restraint to this; you’re on the porch but you’re inside,” a judge said. “There’s an economy to it that I like.”

[Editor’s Note: To see our previous case study of this project, click here; see our profile of Max Levy here.]

2024 RDAA Project of the Year

Max Levy Architect
Bahamas Cottage
Harbour Island, Bahamas

Architect: Max Levy, FAIA, principal in charge; Tom Manganiello, project architect, Max Levy Architect, Dallas

Consulting architect: Daynan Tynes, Nassau, Bahamas

Builder: Higgs Construction, Harbour Island, Bahamas

Interior design: Robyn Menter Design Associates, Dallas

Landscape design: Terrain Design, Nassau, Bahamas

Project size: 1,880 square feet; outbuildings 625 square feet

Site size: 1.125 acres

Construction cost: Withheld

Photography: Charles Davis Smith, FAIA

Cabinetry: Case Kitchen & Design

Cooktop: Wolf

Cooktop ventilation: Wolf

Countertops: KRION

Custom sunscreens: Drophouse Austin, welded aluminum frames

Dishwasher: Asko

Door hardware: FSB

Exterior cladding: Parex USA (plaster), Accoya (siding and sunscreens)

Exterior doors: Fleetwood

Faucets: Dornbracht

Flooring: Stenke coral stone

Icemaker/Wine refrigerator: KitchenAid

Lighting: Hunza, Leviton, Electric Mirror

Lighting controls: Lutron

Outdoor fireplace: Isokern

Paints: Benjamin Moore

Refrigerator: Sub-Zero

Roofing: Copper Works Nassau

Sinks: The Gallery (kitchen), Kohler

Toilets: TOTO

Wall ovens: Wolf

Windows: Fleetwood