Sunset over Settlement Creek and Fish Hooks, Green Turtle Cay, Abaco, Bahamas.
Sunset over Settlement Creek and Fish Hooks, Green Turtle Cay, Abaco, Bahamas.
Much of Green Turtle Cay’s wealth in the late 1800s was generated through the cultivation and export of pineapples. At that time, the fruit was a rare luxury for European royalty and upper classes and a symbol of hospitality and grace in colonial America.
You know how sometimes, the smell of something can trigger a flood of memories?
That’s what happens to me when I smell night-blooming jasmine (aka cestrum nocturnum).
Its musky, sweet fragrance reminds me of summer nights strolling through the quiet streets of Green Turtle Cay, eating ice cream and laughing with my cousins.
When Tom and I moved to Los Angeles a decade ago, I was excited to discover that jasmine was quite common. I soon learned, however, that it’s not the same as the night-blooming jasmine I know.
The jasmine we have in California blooms continuously for a few weeks during the spring. It’s covered in pristine white blooms and gives off a powerful, cloying-to-the-point-of-inducing-headaches fragrance.
By comparison, night-blooming jasmine isn’t much to look at. Most of the time, it’s just a leafy shrub with scrawny, greenish buds. But every so often, on balmy tropical evenings, those buds open and exhale delicate wafts of fragrance.
When we were young, it seemed like night-blooming jasmine was everywhere on the cay. It’s much more difficult to find these days. Fortunately, I ran into a friend last trip who has a plant, and he very graciously agreed to give me a few clippings.
I was beyond excited. For more than a decade, from the moment we began thinking about buying Fish Hooks, Tom and I envisioned having night-blooming jasmine in the yard. Junior Roberts, whose team of gardeners maintains our property, has promised to mind my prized clippings and plant them when they’re suitably rooted.
Thanks to Junior and his team, the garden at Fish Hooks is coming along nicely. Once nothing more than a rocky pit, our front yard is now carpeted with soft, healthy grass. And our flowering plants and shrubs, coconut palms and young fruit trees are all thriving.
Unfortunately, not much was in bloom while I was most recently on the cay, but fingers crossed, our oleander, hibiscus, bridal bouquet and frangipani will be blossoming when I’m back later in the spring.
And I cannot wait for the first time the fragrance from our own night-blooming jasmine wafts in from the garden!
During our Fish Hooks journey, Tom and I have been touched time and again by the generosity of our neighbours.
They’ve offered us invaluable advice, loaned us tools and equipment, commiserated with us on our very stressful moving day, brought us baked treats and freshly laid eggs, contributed plants for our new garden and generally welcomed us with warmth and kindness.
During our last trip, two experiences in particular reminded me how fortunate we are to be a small part of such a wonderful community.
One of Green Turtle Cay’s second homeowners was waiting for the ferry at the dock across from our house.
When her fellow passengers discovered it was her birthday, they broke into an impromptu (and really terrific) rendition of Happy Birthday right there on the ferry dock. According to the second homeowner, it made her day. I know it did mine. Continue reading
More than 10 years ago, during Tom’s first trip to Green Turtle Cay, we began dreaming of owning this little house. The minute we returned home, I started a file of design and decor ideas, just in case.
Since then, the file has grown steadily as we’ve drawn inspiration from books, television, other restoration projects and, of course, the Internet.
Fortunately, when it comes to restoring and decorating Fish Hooks, Tom and I share a similar vision. We want to retain as much of the original structure and as many of the existing furnishings as possible. We favour airy white and muted sea glass shades over brighter, more traditional tropical colours. And, for the most part, we both dislike knick-knacks — which is just as well, as there’s no room for any!
Here’s a peek into our Fish Hooks inspiration file:
Jewel Box – Very similar to Fish Hooks, Jewel Box is an historic Harbour Island home owned by New York jewelry designer Trish Becker and her husband, Richard Chinitz. Everything about this restoration is inspiring, particularly Trish and Richard’s commitment to remaining true to the history of the house and to repurposing as many of its original building materials as possible.
Island Life: Inspirational Interiors (left) by India Hicks and David Flint Wood. A beautifully photographed book featuring the couple’s Bahamian home, Hibiscus Hill. I love the combination of understated island style with British Colonial formality.
Tiny Luxury – I recently discovered this HGTV program about a couple who build homes so small they make Fish Hooks seem palatial. If, like Tom and me, you’re designing and furnishing a tiny space and looking to wring the most function and style out of every square inch, Tiny Luxury is a great source of ideas.
Rooms to Inspire by the Sea (right) by Annie Kelly. A gift from Tom the Christmas after we bought Fish Hooks, this book features the gorgeous personal coastal and beach homes of various designers. Of the properties included, my favourite is Harbour Island’s Salt Box, which was restored by architect, interior designer and then-owner, Tom Scheerer. (In the photo collage below, the very last image — which has long served as the inspiration for Fish Hooks’ master bedroom — is Salt Box’s attic bedroom.)
Most Bahamians are familiar with the song “Wat in the Woof” by local artist and music legend, Eddie Minnis. It’s a cute tune about a little girl who discovers a rat in the ceiling of her home. The adorable rodent dances to a funky bass beat and makes the sweetest little “squeeeeee” sounds.
Well, Mr. Minnis. We need to talk. Wats? Not cute. At all.
In all honesty, I doubted Tom would like this rug, since he usually prefers more modern decor. Surprisingly, though, he agreed that it would be perfect in an island cottage. We both really liked the muted sea glass tones — so much so that our entire Fish Hooks colour scheme evolved from this picture.
Several years later, the purchase of Fish Hooks was complete. The house had been moved and, at long last, it was time to consider furnishings.
After restoring the living room set we’d found in the attic, we needed an area rug. Immediately, I thought of the one from L.L. Bean.
Not only did we like its informal feel, but braided rugs are entirely authentic to the era in which Fish Hooks was built. At that time, there was little shopping — and even less disposable income — on Green Turtle Cay. Resourceful residents recycled worn garments and linens into rugs, several of which are displayed at the Albert Lowe Museum.
The good news was that, years later, L.L. Bean still sold those braided rugs. The bad news? That “Starting at $59.50” note on the original ad? For the size and shape we wanted, it would cost nearly $1,000 for the rug, shipping and duty!
So, I decided to go the traditional route and make a braided area rug. In an attempt to be as authentic as possible, I scoured Salvation Army and Goodwill stores here in L.A. in search of old sheets. I found few suitable linens though, and none in our desired colours. Eventually, I gave in and bought lightweight cotton fabric in six muted shades of green and blue.
Tearing the fabric into 4″ strips and braiding it was fun and relaxing.
Stitching the braid into a rug was a different matter entirely. I sewed it together and ripped out the stitches four times before I figured out how to get the finished product to lie flat.
The secret, I discovered, is to stitch the rug on a flat surface, and check every few rounds to ensure it’s still laying smooth. As the rug grows in diameter, you also have to increase the number of loops you incorporate into each stitch. Wetting and pressing the finished piece works out any remaining ripples.
I have to admit — the final result is even more beautiful than I’d hoped. Not only does it remind me of the shimmering greens and blues of Bahamian waters, but I love having made what I hope might someday become an heirloom.
There’s just one problem. As much as Tom and I like this rug, Wrigley loves it. The moment I first set it on the ground, he hopped on and gleefully claimed it. As I finished the rug, I had to shoo him off repeatedly — only to have him sneak back as soon as I turned away.
Clearly, if we want to use the rug for its intended purpose, I’m going to have to make you-know-who a small one of his own. Luckily, I think I have just enough fabric left to do so.
To learn more about making braided rag rugs, here are two online sources that I found particularly helpful: The Contrarian Mom, and this very detailed brochure from 1962 courtesy of the University of Nebraska.
Having discovered all sorts of treasures in the attic at Fish Hooks, we’ve been trying to use as many of them as possible in the house.
One of our larger finds was a set of living room furniture — a settee and two armchairs. Given their mid-century modern appearance, we were fairly certain they weren’t original to the house. (In fact, I’m 99% sure they were brought over to Green Turtle Cay in the 1970s from my aunt’s home in Nassau.) Still, they were part of the family and part of the history of Fish Hooks, and I wanted to save them.
Tom, on the other hand? Not a fan. As he pointed out, the Danish-modern design didn’t exactly fit into our planned beach house decor. And after years spent in an uninhabited house, plus at least a half-decade in the attic, the cushions were brittle, stained and essentially unusable. When he discovered that the wooden frames were riddled with termite damage, that was the end of the discussion.
Thus began our search for living room furniture. Having viewed a number of tiny condominiums during our most recent home search, we assumed we’d have a broad range of smaller, apartment-sized furnishings from which to choose. But despite hours of online research and shopping back at home in L.A., we couldn’t find anything that would fit into Fish Hooks’ cozy living room. Nothing, at least, that cost less than a small car.
Before long, that dusty, termite-eaten furniture in the attic didn’t seem quite so hopeless after all.
On our next trip to Green Turtle Cay, we got to work. Tom scraped out the termite damage and filled weakened parts of the wood with liquid epoxy. A few sections were simply too damaged to repair, but he was able to salvage enough pieces to assemble the sofa and one arm chair – which, in reality, is all we had room for.
While he primed and painted the woodwork, I ordered new foam from Knowles Upholstery in Nassau (they were super helpful in helping me choose which foam would be best, and putting my purchase on the mail boat for me.) Our friend Mandy Roberts kindly lent me a sewing machine and I made fresh new cushion covers out of some blue-grey canvas I’d brought from home.
And here are the results of our efforts… Truthfully, between the primer, paint, foam and fabric (not to mention our time), I’m not sure we saved much money, compared with buying new. Much more importantly, though, we’re happy to have saved another piece of family history, and that we have furniture that actually fits in the house.
When we planted grass at Fish Hooks, we figured that would be the extent of our yard work, at least for a while. There were plenty of indoor tasks demanding attention. And though Tom and I had visions of a lush, tropical oasis of a back yard, as condo dwellers, we weren’t terribly sure where to begin. Fortunately, our Green Turtle Cay family, friends and neighbours stepped in to help.
My cousin Alton Lowe and his friend Mike Donovan brought a selection of clippings from Alton’s amazing garden, including sisal, aloe, bromeliads, yellow frangipani (a.k.a. plumeria) and shrimp flowers. I’m especially excited about the latter, since Alton tells us it was my great-grandmother, Ma May, who first introduced shrimp flowers to the cay.
Our western neighbour, Eileen Hodgkins, gave us an entire pot of showers of gold (a.k.a. thryallis) she’d grown from seeds. Another day, she stopped by with a dwarf poinciana cutting, and when I admired the fragrant blossoms on her neem tree, she graciously offered us a clipping.
Our neighbour to the south, Winkie Wilson, brought us a handful of baby coconut trees. Another friend, Fanny McIntosh, gave us a young frangipani tree she’d rooted from a clipping. Donnie Adderley, our electrician, contributed a lily plant, and our gardener, Charles Smith, added a small mango tree, a chenille plant and several croton clippings.
A few weeks back, my uncle, Jeffrey Albury — who has clearly inherited Ma May’s green thumb — sent an entire pallet of plants, including desert roses, bridal bouquet, oleander as well as young key lime, sour orange, avocado, guava and soursop trees, on the freight boat from Nassau.
As horticultural newbies, Tom and I are grateful for the gardening advice we’ve received from Josh Lowe, Nigel Lowe and Leonard Lowe (who’s responsible for the gorgeous gardens at the Leeward Yacht Club), and for the extra sprinkler our friend, Matt Lowe, lent us to water our oasis-in-the-making.
Today, we have more than fifty new plants and trees in our yard, all — except for an avocado tree I sprouted from a pit — generously given to us by family and friends!
It truly is a community garden — a lovely, living reminder of the friendship and kindness extended by so many to Tom and me throughout our Fish Hooks journey. Thank you to everyone who’s helped bring it to life.
Related: Resurrecting Ma May’s Garden