They started the project in 2016 and approached it as a side project. Because their property was on a remote island with limited resources, one of the Brillharts’ main concerns was that the hut be easy to build.
“It had to be affordable, it had to be something we could ship on a shipping container, and it had to be something we could put together ourselves,” Melissa said.
The couple experimented with cabin design by building miniature models.
“We did kind of creative design strategies where it’s a combination of wood frame and post and beam construction, which allowed Jacob to build it on site by hand,” said she declared.
Jacob built the frame for the house in their Miami backyard, then took it all apart and shipped the parts to Eleuthera.
“I had more tools and more ability in Miami than I did on the island at that time, where we had no power or water,” Jacob said.
This gave him control over how the frame would turn out, which in turn determined how the rest of the building process would unfold.
“Building the framework meant I could get everything up and running first, and put it back together in a much shorter time on the island,” he said.
The couple managed to complete construction of the cabin in early 2021, more than five years after starting work on it.
Eleuthera is a 55 minute flight from Miami and their home is a 30 minute drive from the Eleuthera airport. The couple spent their long weekends and free time traveling to the island to work on their vacation home.
They started living there before anything in the house was ready, building the rooms and facilities they needed as they went, she added.
“We moved in way before we should have,” she said. “My daughter Simms was three months old when she first stayed there, and it was just plywood. Maybe there was just a sink in there, with a bathroom, and it was almost everything.”
The completed cabin is approximately 600 square feet. There is a small outbuilding to the side of the house which is connected by a boardwalk that crosses the entire 1.8 acre lot.
The main hut has two floors: the first floor has a kitchen and a living room, while the second floor has a bedroom and a small bathroom.
“Jacob literally built everything you see in the cabin except for maybe a few dining chairs that we bought from a hotel in Miami a long time ago,” Melissa said. This included furniture such as the kitchen table, sofa, and bed frames.
Because they did most of the work themselves over a five-year period, it’s hard for them to estimate how much they spent overall, Jacob said: “We can’t put a number on that because we don’t really know. . ”
The Brillharts had originally planned for all the walls on the first floor to be glass, but ended up with a half-glass, half-screen design.
“When we were building it, we were working with limited funds, so we just used screens to keep bugs and animals out,” Melissa said.
The couple ended up loving the look of the screens, but realized the winds were too strong. Eventually they compromised, she said: “We made this hybrid decision of putting glass on the east side where it was windy, but keeping the screens on the back.”
The cabin is completely off the grid. The Brillharts collect rainwater from the roof into a cistern and rely on solar panels for electricity.
“For waste, we dug a septic tank and we have a leaching field,” Jacob said. “The stove and water heater run on propane gas which we can simply fill up at the local gas station downstairs.”
The outhouse has evolved over the years from its original design.
It currently houses a bathroom and kitchenette, but was previously just an outdoor shower, Melissa said.
“After living there for several years, we realized it would be nice to have another bathroom and an enclosed shower and then a place where we can cut fish or keep drinks there,” said she declared.
The Brillharts plan to expand the property. They recently purchased a nearby lot that they plan to turn into a pickleball court or an outdoor theatre.
So far they are enjoying life on the island and they are excited to start the next part of their project, Melissa said: “I feel very grounded here in a way that I don’t feel so much in the city, simply because we are truly connected to nature.”
The biggest difference they had to adapt to was the Bahamas weather, which determines how they spend their day.
“Whether it’s raining, it’s sunny or it’s too windy, your daily activities are really governed by the weather – unlike in the city where life can go on because you’re constantly on the move. interior,” Jacob said. “We don’t have air conditioning.”