A Miami couple spent 5 years building an off-the-grid holiday hut on an island in the Bahamas, and they did almost all of it by hand — check it out

The exterior of the Brillharts' hut.
The exterior of the Brillharts' hut.William Abranowicz/Art + Commerce
  • A Miami couple bought a plot of land in the Bahamas and spent five years building a hut for it.

  • The Brillharts built the house frame in their Florida backyard, took it apart, and shipped it over.

  • They built almost everything in the house themselves, including the furniture.

Melissa and Jacob Brillhart, two architects, first set foot on Eleuthera in the Bahamas in 2015. At the time, the couple were working on a project for a friend, but it didn't take long for them, too, to fall in love with the island.

The Brillharts in their dining area
The Brillharts in their dining area.William Abranowicz/Art + Commerce

The Brillharts, who run their own architecture practice, had just completed their family house in Miami and were itching to start working on a new project. Eleuthera's lush greenery and the slower pace of life were a refreshing change from what they were used to back home in the US.

"We're sort of project junkies. We love working on new things," Melissa told Insider. "So we thought, 'Why don't we see if we can find a piece of land here to build on?' And we did."

They settled on a quiet oceanfront lot covered in thick foliage and decided that was where their vacation getaway would be. They declined to share how much they paid for the lot.

"It's an interesting place because on the one hand, you're almost in the woods, but at the same time, you're also by the ocean. It's all within immediate proximity," Melissa said.

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 how easy the hut would be to construct.

A model of the hut.
A model of the hut.Brillhart Architecture

"It needed to be affordable, it needed to be something that we could ship over on a shipping container, and it needed to be something that we could assemble ourselves," Melissa said.

The couple experimented with the design of the hut by building miniature models.

"We did some sort of creative design strategies where it's a combination of stick frame and post and beam construction, which enabled Jacob to just build it on-site by hand," she said.

Jacob constructed the house frame in their Miami backyard, then took it all apart and shipped the parts to Eleuthera.

The frame of the hut
The Brillharts first built the frame of the hut in their backyard in Miami.Brillhart Architecture.

"I had more tools and more capabilities in Miami than I did out there on the island at that time, where we had no power and no water," Jacob said.

This gave him control over how the frame would turn out, which, in turn, determined how the rest of the construction process would go.

"Building the frame first meant that I could get everything to fit and work and put it back together in a much shorter amount of time on the island," he said.

After shipping the frame to Eleuthera, Jacob worked with a local builder to assemble the outer shell of the hut.

All the materials required to build the hut had to be shipped in a container.
All the materials required to build the hut had to be shipped in a container.Brillhart Architecture.

It took less than five weeks for the two of them to put the house together: about 10 days to lay the foundations and construct the first floor and about three weeks to erect the second floor and shingle the roof, Jacob said.

The couple managed to complete the construction of the hut in early 2021, more than five years after they started working on it.

The frame of their hut as it is being constructed in the Bahamas.
The frame of their hut as it was being constructed in the Bahamas.Brillhart Architecture

Eleuthera is a 55-minute plane ride from Miami, and their hut is a 30-minute drive from the Eleuthera airport. The couple spent their long weekends and free time going 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 along, Melissa added.

"We moved in way before we should have," she said. "My daughter Simms was 3 months old when she first stayed there, and it was just plywood. There was just maybe a sink in there, with a bathroom, and that was about it."

In addition to making sure the materials used were suitable for the subtropical weather, the Brillharts wanted their home to blend in with its surroundings.

The exterior of the hut
The exterior of the completed hut.William Abranowicz/Art + Commerce

"We wanted it to be contextual and environmentally sensitive. We took design cues from the primitive hut and also from the gabled cottages on Harbor Island, which is a nearby island, and from Eleuthera," Melissa said.

The completed hut is about 600 square feet. There's a smaller outbuilding on the side of the home that's connected by a boardwalk that runs through the entire 1.8-acre lot.

The living room.
The living room on the lower floor.William Abranowicz/Art + Commerce

The main hut comprises two stories: The first floor has a kitchen and living room, while the second floor has a bedroom and a small bathroom.

"Jacob literally built every single thing that you see in the cabin, with exception of maybe some dining chairs that we had bought off of a hotel in Miami a long time ago," Melissa said.

This included furniture such as the kitchen table, sofa, and bed frames.

Since they did the bulk of the work themselves over a period of five years, it's hard for them to estimate how much they spent in all, Jacob said: "We can't put a number to it because we don't really know."

The Brillharts originally intended for all the walls on the first floor to be made of glass but ended up with a half-glass, half-screen design.

The dining area.
One side of the kitchen area is a glass wall, while the other side is an adjustable screen that can be raised to create a covered outdoor space.Brillhart Architecture

"When we were building it, we were working with limited funds, so we just used screens to keep the bugs and the animals out," Melissa said.

The couple ended up loving how the screens looked but realized that the winds were too strong. Eventually, they made a compromise, she said: "We made this hybrid decision to put glass in the eastern side where it was windy but keep the screens on the back."

The hut is completely off the grid. The Brillharts gather rainwater from the roof in a cistern and rely on solar panels for power.

"For waste, we dug a septic tank and we have a drain field," Jacob said. "The stove and the hot-water heater run on propane gas that we can just fill up at the local gas station down the way."

While the hut was meant to be a vacation home, it has turned into a satellite office for the couple as they take on more architectural projects in the Bahamas, Melissa said.

The upstairs bedroom.
The bedroom upstairs has two skylights that provide unblocked views of the night sky.William Abranowicz/Art + Commerce

"Jake is there at least once a month, but we like to spend at least three weeks there around the Christmas holidays," she said. "And then we get in another two or three weeks in extended stays here and there through the year."

The outbuilding has evolved over the years from its original design.

The outdoor shower.
The outbuilding, right, houses a bathroom and a kitchenette.William Abranowicz/Art + Commerce

It houses a bathroom and a kitchenette, but it used to just be an outdoor shower, Melissa said.

"After we had lived there for several years, we realized it would be nice to have another bathroom and an enclosed shower, and then somewhere where we can cut fish or keep drinks out there," she said.

"We like to say that the outbuilding is actually very Bahamian in nature," Melissa said. "The design of it was purely based on its function and necessity."

The outdoor kitchen
The kitchenette in the outbuilding.William Abranowicz/Art + Commerce

At the end of the boardwalk is a deck that overlooks the ocean. The Brillharts say it's their favorite spot on the property.

The deck.
The platform deck overlooks the sea.William Abranowicz/Art + Commerce

They spend most of their mornings on the deck, where Jacob has his morning coffee and Melissa does yoga with their daughter.

"It's just spectacular to sit out there when the weather is right," Melissa said.

The Brillharts are planning to expand the property. They recently bought a neighboring lot, which they plan to turn into a pickleball court or an outdoor theater.

The exterior of the Brillharts' hut.
The exterior of the Brillharts' hut.William Abranowicz/Art + Commerce

So far, they've been enjoying life on the island, and they're excited to get started with the next part of their project, Melissa said: "I feel very rooted in a way here that I don't feel so much in the city, just because we really are connected to nature."

The biggest difference they had to adapt to was the Bahamian weather, which determines how they spend their day.

"Whether it's rainy or sunny or too windy, your daily activities are really governed by the weather — unlike in the city where life can go on because you're constantly inside," Jacob said. "We don't have air conditioning."

Read the original article on Insider