Tuesday, 28 April 2009

The Search For Butler's

In 1978, former Butler's owners Herb and Florence Taylor caught their first glimpse of the house:

"Butlers -- Fell in love immediately--Great entry drive under old established trees-House needs heavy repair, floors & inner walls--Great property- Fruit and nut trees. House & 5 or 6 acres for sale. Took pictures. Visited by elderly farmer. Distant view of Sea. Right under Nevis Peak. Hard to leave. "

31 years, 1 earthquake and 1 fire later...and we found ourselves at the same place Herb and Florence had...but for us it was an overwhelming sight. We saw great potential but it needed a lot of work and that was only on the outside. It was looking for someone with great resources. We weren't that someone. At least we thought we weren't...

November brings rain. Lots of rain. On the day we began our search in November 2004, Nevis was overflowing with it. We found ourselves trudging through muddy lawns and sidestepping leaking roofs looking at several lovely, appealing homes that real estate agent Suzanne Gordon showed us. Then she drove us to Butler’s. Actually, it was the outside of Butler’s. Stone and shingled gables, nestled into the woods and foothills of Butler’s Mountain with a spectacular sea view. It was not love at first sight but something felt familiar…and although the storm shutters were closed you could see the potential. Priced well beyond our budget and obviously requiring very deep pockets, the building would continue to stand alone looking lost amongst the overgrown 6 acres of land it occupied. We fell for another "ready to move in" home called Fig Tree Cottage and later made an offer.

Our offer was declined. It was now 2005. Undeterred, Tim kept searching and saw Butler’s House (aka Butler’s Yard, Butler’s Mansion) on EBay for a much more realistic price. We decided to go back for another look—this time a thorough one with a structural engineer and a reputable builder. The photo above was taken the day we decided to buy Butler's.

Bats and frogs had made Butler’s their home. I disturbed a white frog hidden inside one of our shutters. I don’t know who was more scared by the surprise!

While some thought the building should be raised, the considered structural expert concluded it was a structure solid. It had some cracks but Butler's was sound. The list of jobs had originally included: re-wiring, new roof, new bathrooms, hot water heater, storm shutters…the list went on. The initial estimate was doable…until it wasn’t and more than quadrupled in price. It was about being liveable vs living in comfortably. We wanted to live comfortably.

We hired the well-respected building contractor Noral Lescott and about 6-10 months later the restoration began. Simultaneously, Tim found award-winning landscape designer Julie Toll who had designed now deceased Englishman Sir Bourne's home on Nevis. Julie, together with her partner Landscape Architect Ian Kitson, transformed our landscape of what had been euphemistically called lush into a sympathetic restoration, uncovering the original drive that sweeps up through the property and transforming the monkey vine-covered Victorian Gardens into what we now call the Pool Terrace.

Three years later and Butler's was ready for guests. It's still a work in progress but so far our guests have really enjoyed Butler's. You never really know if what you've done is enough, if it works. Yipee is all I can say...the extra mortgage, the worry, the sweat & tears...all worth it.

A Dream Now Shared

Everyone has a dream. Some more than one. A dream job, a dream home, a dream spouse. This blog will follow how a dream not shared became an unimaginable dream come true and led my husband Tim and I onto a path of discovery into the life of a unique and historic home.

Owning a house in the Caribbean was my husband's dream. A Brit, Tim’s parents had lived on Antigua. As children and young adults, Tim, his brother and sister spent many a Christmas holiday there. When Tim speaks of the
Caribbean, his voice mellows and moves to the singsong melody of the West Indies. Unlike Tim, I had no affinity with the islands. My memories of the Caribbean? Sun, sunburn, potent drinks and hangovers. Tim knew it was a dream we didn't share but I wholeheartedly moved forward with an open mind as we started our search for a home.

Tim did the research. Nevis--an island I had never heard of--was the destination. So, off we went from Barbados on an overcast day and headed straight into a tropical storm that was hitting Nevis and sister island St. Kitts.

Following two failed attempts, we landed safely on St. Kitts. Was mother nature telling us something? Undeterred, we caught the ferry to Nevis. Great swells rushed up and over the boat, with passengers sheltered only by a tarpaulin-like roof. None of the passengers seemed the least bit worried, so we just followed their lead.

An adventure unlike any other: A young school girl travelling with her father, middle-aged women with umbrellas shielding them from the lashings of water and, a hotly contested dominoes competition. I never felt threatened by the storm. Instead, I had this overwhelming feeling of safety.

I’m not exactly sure why I fell for Nevis. Was it the innocent smile from that sparkling schoolgirl or the way her father gently shielded her from the rain? Was it the men whose obviously regular game of dominoes continued undisturbed during a 90-minute journey that usually takes half the time? Maybe it was just the genuine appreciation for life’s simple abundances. What I do know is that the moment I caught sight of the Nevis port, it had me.

At that moment I began to share my husband’s dream, a dream that would bring us great happiness.