The building of a Dream...

To retire on an island...
with a view of the sea...

a lot of people dream of someday...

and now it's my reality!
To see a larger view just "click" on the pictures...

The morning of Christmas day 2001 was like most everybody's... up early, watch the children open their gifts. This day would be different though, one of my in-laws mentioned he had seen a "For Sale" sign on a lot by the Gulf of Paria where Lystra and I had been looking for land. Truth is we had scoured the island looking for that "perfect" location, but not having found it. We had even been entertaining the notion of purchasing an existing house to either remodel or raze to build our own..

The lot was located on the coastline just west of San Fernando in a new development. Looking due north it has a view of the "Dragon's mouth" a sea passage between Trinidad and Venezuela which was used by Christopher Columbus in 1498 when he discovered an island he named Trinidad for the "Trinity" of mountain peaks on the north edge of the island. The area had only recently been opened for development and yet all the lots had been purchased within a matter of days it seemed for we had been here several months earlier checking around and not finding anything available, as one can see in the photo some homes were already completed the red roofed house being one of the first in the area. The next thing to do was call the number on the sign to see if it were still available, we found it was and proceeded to schedule a meeting with the owner at a lawyer's office (there are almost no real estate agents on the island, all such transactions are handled by a lawyer) After the meeting we went to our bank to arrange a loan for 80% of the purchase price fully expecting to experience a lengthy wait and yet to our surprise I received the loan the next day.

I then headed back to work in the states, where I began developing a set of plans for the house using Floorplan 3D for the representation work and Autocad for the working drawings. I had actually wanted to be an architect before being drafted in '65, but that's another story. After designing the house basing my design on such things as the prevailing winds, local storms (there is a rainy or monsoon season) and sun direction to try and avoid the interior being directly overheated by the tropical sunshine. The next item was to choose a contractor... the one that was chosen had supposedly built several million dollar homes around the area. They began work in August of 2002 as you can see from photos taken by me when on a trip home from the US. There were issues primarily as to the way they had "read" the plans; I quickly came to the awareness that in Trinidad the contractor uses the plans as a guide, not necessarily building to a set of drawings. These issues being straightened out... they were not that far off base at this point. They had placed the level of the home some two feet higher than was designed, making the driveway an incline rather than a flat drive into the carport area.

We finally had enough of the first contractor, besides the seemly unwillingness to adhere to the plans... there were almost daily needs for more cash to offset some problem or other, so rather than spend a fortune finishing the house. We cut our losses and hired another person to just complete the downstairs so that Lystra could move in and we could complete the house at our own pace. I had originally designed it to be built in three stages. The first was to have the laundry, a bath, kitchen and bedroom downstairs for quick occupancy.Later the second or grade level was to be completed. With the third floor to be finished last to complete the home. The downstairs was originally set to be a game room with a pool table (hence leaving out a column in the middle of the large or living area), as well as providing the possibility of a "maids quarters", which is quite common for upper-class Trinidad homes.

It was decided to go with a person that we knew and give him a budget to get the phase one area done. This while it may have accomplished the task at hand, proved to be something I'll call a "lesson learned", never give someone a "budget" unless you fully expect that amount to be completely used up in some manner or other.At any rate the mission was done and these pictures are from January 2004, just prior to our being able to make the downstairs habitable... Yep it's now been eighteen months since we began construction, how times flies when you're having.... Well you get the point we're finally getting to where we can actually move in and live in the place.

We now had the laundry room, a bathroom and kitchen area along with a living room/dining area and two bedrooms. The first contractor while trying to save some material (fill) and his labor inadvertently utilized the space that was to have been filled in between two upper level retaining walls to create a storeroom (later workshop) by putting a door in the east wall along with some ventilation blocks and a second bedroom by adding a short door and set of steps from the kitchen area, these two spaces only have seven foot ceilings but are quite serviceable. The kitchen was to be placed along the west wall as a temporary unit to be replaced later by a full wet bar (even though I no longer drink alcohol) for use during the pool sessions or when fetes were to be held in the home.

One of the items that we had gone around with the original contractor with was a "cap slab" covering the future access by stairs to the upper floor; he wanted to just pour it solid which would have been a big pain later when we finished the upper area. However I won that small battle and what you see is the plywood form filling the hole that will eventually contain a stairway to the grade level. We could now safely occupy the house while continuing to construct the upper portion of the building. All that remained was to install some cabinets and plumbing fixtures. Soon as these items along with some tile was put in we were "good to go"

The downstairs bedroom boasts a set of windows that are to be architecturally continued in a repeating design in the kitchen above, this adds a little "noise" to what would otherwise be an extremely large flat expanse of exterior wall from the outside The six foot windows are fixed for security, however it may have been better if they had been made operable for ventilation as this room has a tendency to be stuffy, perhaps we should add an AC... Well that's for another time 'eh?.

The one primary issue that had to be dealt with was the "cistern" that of course is a necessity and since we had added an eight foot high retaining wall to somewhat level out the slope going down to the sea this had to await the backfilling of the area, This was accomplished by bringing in several trucks of fill dirt as well as having a local backhoe operator come in to do the arrangement of the area, by the way there is a set of concrete steps in the middle of the retaining wall that allow for access to the area below and on down to the sea.

This is a view of the Eastern side of the house downstairs section, you can see the six foot windows of the bedroom and the resulting bump out this theme to be carried out all the way up to the roof line later. Just beyond that you can see the door to the then materials storage room, later to be a workshop for the tablesaw and other woodworking tools. The vent blocks originally installed were later replaced by a large exhaust fan to aid in ventilation for the workshop. While it does get dusty at times it's not too bad, probably should install a collection system around the tools.

The Western side of the downstairs section, January 2004. Here you can see the area that will be utilized to locate the water tanks, four at first because the water availability on island is notorious for coming once or twice a week for a day at a time. However we are quite lucky here and due to the almost constant source of water we gave two of the tanks to Lystra's sister for use on her house in Monkeytown. I have designed a pumping system for supplying the home in the advent of water loss, but not implementing this as yet due to the fact that water is rarely an issue here.

This a view from the street level showing the "cap slab" that was installed to allow the upper slab to be utilized as a "roof" in order to move in to the downstairs area. Thus we were able to get away from the immediate need for a contractor. Now we would be able to complete the house at a more leisurely pace, rather than where we were almost at the mercy of the contractor in order to complete the house so we could at least move in and not be paying rent where we were living.

Living at #5 Sunrise Dr.

This is what the grade floor slab looked like for quite some time. Then once again we hired yet "another contractor" to come in and start the work necessary to add the uppermost slab for the bedroom area and the support columns for the "I-beam" system that holds up the roof itself. The building concept was always with a heavy "industrial" influence, as this is my background.

A view towards the west in January 2004 looking in the picture you'll notice little has changed in the neighborhood since we first purchased the land, also to the east we see San Fernando in the distance, this the nearest large city and second largest on the island behind Port of Spain itself. Here are most of the business's and shopping areas although there is a large shopping center Gulf View complex located only a few clicks up the road on the way to SanDo' With few exceptions if we are to travel anywhere on the island, we either have to go through or extremely close to SanDo' as the major north/south highway runs adjacent to the city.

We have made some progress in the construction as the slab and supports are now in the upper area it's now June 2004 now the uppermost slab has been poured and the columns are almost ready for the steel I-beams that will act as main support for the roof. The workers here use a much more "rugged" form of scaffolding than that to which I have been accustomed for most of my construction life, as can be seen in the picture.

A close-up view of the "scaffolding" used to construct the columns of the house. I actually climbed up on that just to see if it would hold me. Yep you guessed it... this is a very common practice in Trinidad, apparently the owning or renting of scaffolding is something the local contractors either do not want to do, or they seriously believe that it is cheaper as well as "safe" to utilize the local lumber known as "boxing Board' which is really soft pine-like wood that is given to rotting quickly in the tropical atmosphere here. This lumber is primarily used for "single use" form material for casting the headers and door/window frames throughout the houses

The front fence has been installed by no other than.... the gardener... yep you heard right the gardener, Lystra was approached by the fellow we hired to maintain the yard to build the fence and so... she let his crew sign on to do the work. In the process of doing the fence they buried several of the installed conduits. This wasn't found for quite some time, only when I was in the process of installing wiring throughout the upper areas did it come to light... and of course by that time it became a moot point. The planned lights to be mounted on the tops of the posts had therefore been eliminated from the design.

This is a view looking over what will be the private deck off the master bedroom this is actually about thirty feet above grade in the rear of the house, I wouldn't allow Anusha to be up there... at least while I was home. Of course while I was at work I'm quite sure I could have found her prints up here.

A view down from that high "observation" deck... you can see the rear retaining wall and the cast steps leading down to the lower area and on to the waters edge - this is actually the property boundary with the lower piece being "government land", however it is open to your usage in so long as you maintain the area and not place any permanent structure upon it, I have been told by more than one person that some areas people have gone so far as to place additions on such land with no consequences..

Ok I know what you're thinking ... how they could live in that place with all the construction going on. We actually lived quite comfortable in the lower part of the house for several years as it turned out. We have all the necessary items that one needs... Television living room area, as well as a phone and yes having a phone is quite good. Some of our neighbors have been waiting for up to three years for a phone. They have even been given a number, but in a couple cases have totally given up on getting one. This is unfortunately a common issue on the island as the local phone company is well shall we say not up to par here. There's a laundry area, a full bathroom, two bedrooms. Full kitchen and dining area and even though you can't see it... a wonderful view of the Gulf of Paria, where almost every morning while having your morning coffee you can watch the local fishermen cruise by in their pirogues... or quite often some of the locals come down to pull hand nets for shrimp which are available locally year-round fresh as they can be gotten. Quite tasty of course and never frozen!

In case you were wondering... it wasn't a trick you can see in this photo the upper area is incomplete while we are happily living in the future "game room", maids quarters. It was really quite nice, given the period of time we actually spent downstairs. It was far better than having to travel across the island everyday to get some work done, although it was from time to time quite dusty and Lystra got really tired of constantly cleaning. In the long run though it was the better way to go. Here you see Anusha sweeping the steps going down to the sea, she is always my little helper!

Christmas 2004... First Christmas in the house, yes you noticed... the roof framing has been installed, not sure what happened to the pictures of the roof going up. Perhaps it was because I was constantly yelling at the crew we had hired to do the work it seemed that they had no clue how to determine a beginning point on a roof in order for the sheets to come out with a parallel edge across the expanse of the roof, The contractors were upset by my constant interuptions, perhaps I was just a little too bossy... but I had hired them to do a job that they had claimed to know how to do. It became painfully clear very quickly that they did in fact not know how to do it, had I not been home on one of my short trips down from the US. I shudder to think just what the roof would have looked like when I got home.

April 2005. The next step was for me to retire... well that wasn't exactly planned but it turned out that way, the project I was on came to an end as they all usually did during my career, and since the timing was ok to go for my social security. I went ahead and got through the paperwork prior to returning back to Trinidad. The next step was to spend money... of course isn't that what everyone does upon retiring? I bought a welding machine and began to utilize a long almost forgotten trade I learned in the sixties... welding. I bought around a ton of steel and began fabricating.

I started out making the pieces for the front fence and the driveway gates, the usual here in Trinidad is vertical bars with either random or a pattern of short pieces horizontally for some rigidity here my artistic side came out and I managed to install figures in the ironwork such as the two dolphins in the driveway gates, a turtle in the man gate, waves in the west fence sections and a nautilus in the east section.

The next issue was to hire someone to put up blocks it just so happens that I once worked as a hodcarrier in Albuquerque for what may have been one of the shortest positions of my life, just kidding. However I do have a somewhat rudimentary knowledge of how to do this work and could do it but this falls in the same area as tile work.... nope hire someone... too tedious for me. I would rather spend hours typing code for a webpage. The scaffolding seen in the photo was made by yours truly, I decided to make 4 sections because it would be needed from here on out through the painting. The jig I used can be seen in the photo to the left.

December 2005. Four years since buying the land. The next order of the day was to secure the place upstairs up till now I had been moving the welding machine out of and back into the storeroom during each days activities, however now that the block work was completed . It was just a matter of making some fancy (for the front door) and not so fancy (for the kitchen entrance) "burglar-proof" to be able to secure the upstairs.

March 2006. Before the plastering went on I decided to get rid of the wooden handmade ladder that we had been using to get to the upper floor I completed the staircase which leads to the upstairs area this is a pair of four inch steel tubes with half inch plates welded on the ends and anchored at the top and bottom to the structure, the steps I installed in place and the plates would be hidden by the plaster at the top and the tile work at the bottom so the case would appear to flow between the floors.. I wanted the staircase to be as minimally invasive in the Great room as possible, that is from the kitchen one should not "see" a staircase and vice versa.

The locals have begun to call this the "Unfinished house"; well it has been some time since we started, LOL. Now that the blocks were up the next step was to hire a crew to plaster the upper floors, this took some time to do but except for an annoying pile of never-ending sand in the driveway it went quite smoothly. A friend named Rampy happened to need the work for his boys and the job was finished in very good fashion..

The plastering continued for some time of course and while they were working the welding shop had to go offline for awhile as it was just too much of a mess in the floor area where I had been setup to fabricate the fences and handrails, as well as the staircases... there is another stairs down to the downstairs living area/game room. Of course as the floor opening gave us easier access... there was a heavy increase in the daily cleanup effort... probably strained Lystra to her limit at times.

June 2006. The plastering completed and the welding shop is back in full force while I attempt to get all the exterior handrails completed and believe me when I say there are a lot of them around the house, there are front and rear decks both 49 feet across and six feet deep in addition to the "private" deck off the Master bedroom. You'll remember that one is some 30+ feet off the ground.

November 2006. We took a couple days off from the painting... there is a lot of house to cover and had thirty or forty friends over for an old style American Thanksgiving and a good time was had by all, I believe we cooked two turkeys along with all the trimmings. No one left needing any more to eat. As can be seen in this picture the downstairs is quite large. The living, dining and kitchen area measures twenty four by twenty four feet, plus an additional six feet by the laundry and bath area to accommodate the staircase to above. Allowing for a good size party to be held quite easily. Fortunately the people seemed to show up in spurts or we couldn't have handled all of them LOL.

January 2007. We're installing the ceilings which are PVC panels twenty feet long, the crew consisted of Lystra, myself and a local named Vijay. However there were breaks demanded by Lystra so that she could indulge her largest vice that of being one of the main instigators of a local "Mas camp" for the island's biggest holiday "CARNIVAL!" You can see Lystra along with her friends Bebe and Tony, the leaders of the local carnival group, they are using the pile of PVC sheets and one of my work tables to design and assemble the costumes for wearing on fat Tuesday (actually Carnival begins the Friday before and is an ongoing round the clock party until Tuesday night)

The next big thing was to bring in my best Norm Abrams impression to build the kitchen cabinets, these were built in modular or unit fashion much like any cabinet shop would and this was possible due to one of my brother-in-laws asking me to store for safekeeping his ten inch Delta table saw along with a fourteen inch Craftsman band saw. While I haven't used the band saw up till this point the table saw has been almost constantly busy chewing away at various pieces of wood. The wood has ranged from the mundane plywood to the more exotic Teak which is the basis for the cabinet work; Teak is somewhat readily available here since it is grown on Trinidad. However one needs a permit to cut it today and yet it remains quite available and the price is very reasonable. Teak if one doesn't know is a hardwood on a par with Oak, used quite extensively in the sailboat industry as it is known for its durability and ability to live well in a wet environment.

OK now to bring you up to date... well almost anyway these are some of the latest pictures, the large area of the Great room is a perfect setting for a home theater, although due to the open elements of the design we only use that at nighttime. The Great room feeling is enhanced by the high ceilings and the simplicity of the staircase design, allowing for a feeling of complete openness, and when the doors are all opened the room seems to become a part of the outside. If the view isn't enough one can go up to the Master deck for a "bird's eye view" of the Gulf and on a clear day Venezuela. On the other hand there is the upper level front gallery which stretches across the entire house and affords one the opportunity of "macroing" the neighborhood, a very popular Trinidad cultural event. Keeping an eye on the neighbors... LOL Stay tuned... This is the ongoing project of Troy

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