Beacon of Hope, Utila
house shines as an example how individual homes in a poor community
majority of the Camponado houses sit on marshland filled in with
iron shore coral brought in from Pumpkin Hill and dirt around the
island. Luis built curving concrete garden trims, filled them with
the best soil he could find for his papaya, banana and coco plants.
"I like to come back from work and just sit in the garden,"
says Luis sitting on his patio. His house sits like an oasis of
tranquility in a sea of loud.
Even though sometimes his neighbors ask him advice about their gardens,
Luis's house had little impact on how Camponado looks. It is still
a crowded and uninspiring. Whilst some residents would perhaps enjoy
spending time in their gardens, playing poker
and soaking up the sun, for many this is simply not possible. The
houses typically fill the lots edge to edge giving little room for
gardens, let alone a place to relax and plant a garden or a tree.
While the real estate market has been booming on Utila for three-four
years, the prices in the mostly latino and poor area of Camponado
have risen most dramatically. When Luis bought his 40 foot by 70
foot piece in 1999 for Lps. 500. Today a piece next door is sold
for 100 times that and lot prices of Lps. 100,000 are not uncommon.
Camponado is the engine of Utila. Here live its' construction laborers,
maids and cooks. Without Camponado's population Utila's tourist
service industry would come to a stand still. Gritty, crowded, blasting
ranchera music and filled with the constant noise of hammering and,
Camponado is the underbelly of the island. The Camponado neighborhood
is not the prettiest place, but without it the rest of the island
just couldn't function.
willing to follow stereotypes, Luis Zelaya has followed his own drummer.
Luis, 29 and originally from Olancho, moved to Utila eight ears ago
and decided to build his home in Camponado- Utila's working class
and poorest neighborhood. He made the construction his way, putting
to practice what he learned during years of working as a carpenter
building homes for foreigners.
While most Hondurans work at construction sites of homes built to
US standards and learn different building techniques, few of them
apply what they learned when the time comes to construct their own
Amongst the rectangular Camponado houses with PVC lined posts and
corrugated roofs Luis' house easily stands out. It is made out of
pine with rounded edges and creative detailing for the railings and
staircase. Luis worked with three other carpenters to build the house
in three weeks. "I just like this type of construction,"
three architects made an effort to use indigenous Paya Indian and
African elements in the design and materials. Bobby Riemann and
Ben Welcome built the structure which serves as the community center,
restaurant and landmark from sea.
Dozens of columns constructed from 2-by-4-inch and 2-by-6-inch timber
reach as high as 35 feet. Two independent roofs stretch over the
The only vertical planes interrupting the floor plan are the three
volumes: kitchen, office, and bathrooms with pantry. Pastel-colored
wood braces the structure leaving it exposed. Many door and wall
louvers serve to naturally ventilate the enclosed spaces.
The wood pavilion floats 4 feet above the sandy soil. The view of
the sea only 300 feet away is framed by the gothic like trusses.
Like stalagmites, some columns stop before hitting the plane of
the floor. A ridge skylight provides additional lighting under the
large plane of the roof. Wooden lamp fixtures are incorporated to
integrate the design.
The edges of the wood are often polished: guardrails, counters,
pool border. Wooden downspouts and wood gutters funnel the water
away from the wood shingle roof. Cotton baldachins and lamp shades
made out of bamboo swing in the breeze that almost always makes
its way into the pavilion.
Bay Resort's restaurant pavilion is reminiscent of architect Faye
Jones' work in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas. The context of the
American Midwest has found a Caribbean application. There is a marine,
rustic feel to the space. To the visitor, the building provides a
feeling of being both inside and outside. Nearby, palm trees are just
additional columns and trusses of the pavilion.
The inspiration for the building's architectural expression came from
Bay Islands' vernacular architecture. Architects Curtis Worth Fentress,
James Henry Bradburn and Gary Charmer came up with the vignette for
the design of the structure.
House by the Creek
Kyle and Patrice Heller didn't quite expect their 20 foot by 80
foot house to grow into a crafted piece of art. "It got bigger
and bigger as we begun to enjoy the place," explains Heller.
The house's size began to accommodate the couple's lifestyle, as
they are building beach homes and a fly-fishing lodge. The couple
is setting a wood workshop to produce cigar boxes and architectural
elements that originated during the design of the original house.
The couple's Mango Creek House in New Port Royal was designed by
Mauricio Castaneda in 1995. Don Mauricio Molina, 82 and a master
carpenter, has been continuously working on the house. Working in
a workshop not far from the main house, Molina produced the house's
dozen doors, windows, furniture pieces and shelving.
The main house has three bedrooms, four baths and a kitchen. Painted
masonry block provides the base of the house. But, it is in the
quality of woodwork that the house shows its most revealing quality.
Almost every door in the house is decoratd by a unique marine and
fauna carving made by Ricardo Pereira from La Ceiba.
The best thing about the house is that it works," says Patrice
Heller. The 7,500 square foot house is surrounded by windows and
louvers. Prevailing Eastern breeze enters the house and cools it
With the building constructed on a 30 degree slope, the 6,500 square
foot Rosita wood deck wraps the house on three sides, creating semiprivate
spaces among the tree canopies.
mahogany and Rosita patio furniture organize the outside spaces. Marble
chips from Tegucigalpa were used for flooring throughout the house.
The house's need for electricity is generated by solar panels and
supplemented by a diesel generator. Water is supplied from a 28-foot
spring fed well. A small creek runs through the property, providing
opportunities to create ponds and inspired landscape architecture.
The house more floats above
the hill than rests on it. Wooden walkways connect the pods elevated
on stilts. The compound roofs overlap and float creating terraces
that serve as dining areas and patios. There are commanding views
of the North shore from the dining room space, numerous house decks
and even from a shower.
The base of the main compound is made of concrete block. The remaining
walls and roofs are made from pressure-treated pine and covered
with washed-down paint to achieve the rustic feel. "I tried
to go with stuff that was already rusted. So, after a couple years,
it looked just right," said Allen.
The five-compound house was designed by Roatan designer Hal Sorrenti
and the bulk of construction took 15 month to complete. Cedar doors
and windows were made locally and, according to Allen, cost a third
of "basic Home Depot stuff". Moropalan Cabinets used in
the kitchen and study were brought in from the mainland and custom-designed
for the house.
Floor tiles came from San Pedro and the brass window hardware were
found in India via internet. Dining chairs were made in Philipines
and pieces of driftwood and marine roap were picked up along his
island trips, serving as garden sculptures and lampposts.
"Do you know why I called it Villa Allento?" asked Allen,
"It's because it took a long time to build and it's a place
to take things slowly." The house can be viewed and reserved
red, aluminum roofs can be seen on the approach to the Pollytilly
Hill. Situated on a slope overlooking Pollytilly, the house always
has a cool breeze, no insect problems and commands some spectacular
views over the north shore of Roatan. "I wanted something that
fitted with the island, not like a resort," said Dan Allen,
owner of Villa Allento.
Dan and Debi Allen are almost retired. Dan is preparing a place
where he can settle down with his wife; that should happen within
five years. In the meantime, for ten months out of the year, the
house serves as a vacation rental.
takes me about three days for me to slow down to island life,"
says Allen who works as hi-tech industry consultant in Colorado.
Sea Horse, Utila
Thinkers Delight "To me this architecture,
my artwork is very normal. It is natural and I can't understand why
everyone doesn't see it that way"
time, woodwork became an eccentric and expensive thing to produce.
Keller's wood details are intricate, time consuming and sometimes
very original. Keller points to a zigzagging railing leading to
the second story cabin: "Have you ever seen a railing like
this? If you do, let me know."
As everything had to be done as an experiment, there are several
"happy accidents" that occurred during construction of
the Jade Seahorse. The spiked roof on top of one of the bungalows
is really just a giant air vent meant to eliminate the excess heat
that was created when the bungalow was first built. A blue suspension
bridge was built as an afterthought, overlooking the necessity to
create a path between two bungalows.
There seems to be everything there and perhaps too much. There is
an envisioned pond, tension bridges, suspension bridge, grotto,
a tower. Both artist and recycler, Keller uses pieces of wood that
were salvaged from old water tanks, boats, old doors.
"It drives me crazy. They have to compare and put a name on
everything," says Keller about tourists trying to "classify"
his spatial garden. The garden is often compared to works done by
Antonio Gaudi, but is more reminiscent of less known architects
and artists such as Bruce Goff or even Frank Lloyd Wright.
Jade Seahorse is created as a metaphor of symbiosis of marine and
Sea items are present throughout the garden: portholes, masts ropes
and sea shells. Walking up a hill, one leaves the marine theme for
more terrestrial landscape. A cave that is currently under construction
serves as a transition, a place of rebirth, from marine land to
The Chinese marbles were bought in Utila in boxes of 5000 for $40.
Keller says no part of his Utila Garden landscape, named Jade Seahorse,
was planned. Construction progressed "step by step, porch by
porch, building by building." The garden works on several different
scales and levels. The overall shapes of cabins relate harmoniously
to the triangles, pentagons, hexagons and octagons (no, there are
no heptagons used). The created space is about contemplation and discovery.
With a $500 down payment, Keller bought a small Utilan house and lot
in 1993. "The man who sold me this house has never come back.
I keep asking him, but I think he regrets [selling] it for some reason,"
says Keller. When asked about the total money he has spent creating
the garden Keller answered: "Do you want me to faint? I can't
tell. I really don't know."
"Over the last hundred years people have gotten used to less
and less interesting architecture," says Keller.
to The Sky
The tree was planted 120 years ago by the great grandfather of Foster
Building the little hotel and a tree house, on then
quiet West Bay beach, was like planting a stake for Foster. He was
going to keep the land that his father and grandfather owned. Eventually,
Foster became the only black person that didn't sell his West Bay
beach property. "It's easy to sell. (
) The key is to
find a way to live off the land you own," says Foster.
Built with pressure treated pine, the house uses a minimum of nails.
Foster's father requested that the mango tree was not to be scarred.
The four foot diameter tree sits 150 feet from the water. The site
used to be that of a sugar cane mill Foster's grandfather, Christopher,
operated. There is still sugarcane nearby, but little else in West
Bay remains as it was 30 years ago. "I sometimes still go there
to meditate," says Foster. There is a lot of privacy 45 feet
above the beach, and for that reason alone, the tree house is often
chosen for a honeymoon getaway.
The 14 foot by 16 foot structure is suspended 45 feet above ground.
Screened windows are at all sides of the room. Two corners accommodate
a shower and a sink and there is even a small balcony. The breeze
keeps the house cool and birds songs wake you up in the morning.
Foster resisted the idea of putting air conditioning in it. Hurricane
Mitch did little damage to the structure, but in 1997 the tree house
was remodeled: electricity, plumbing and stairs were put in. Now
electrical wire, PVC pipe for water and waste meander through the
trunks of the mango tree.
Some houses are like their owner's lives; tree houses are more like
their owner's souls. Tree houses are statements of the mind reflecting
the dreams of their builders. They are expressions of their owner's
childhood dreams. Their design isn't always practical, or even beautiful,
but they often are a realization of a vision the person had as a
child: to live up from the ground, in their own, separate world.
Roatan, one doesn't often hear the word meditate. The word so many
like to use is paradise. Perhaps, in paradise, there is no need to
reflect, or look for one's center. But, if you ever find yourself
needing to quietly think of life, look up a small tree house on West
Bay beach. After all, this is why it was built.
Diaz built the mango tree house as a place to get away and meditate.
He undertook the project with a friend, Gene Holms; after two months
of work, the tree house was ready. It was 1983 and the young owner
didn't mind climbing the tree house with a rope. The tree house is
carried by one of three main trunks of a mango tree.
Cheryl and Julio Galindo, there were several pre-requisites in designing
their third home on the island: no stairs and a goal of using as
many materials native to Honduras as possible. A vision that wasn't
realized was a tower serving as the dominating feature of the 6,400
square foot house.
Throughout the house, 20 hardwoods native to Honduras were used
for floors, cabinets, decorative trims and furniture. There are
the typical hardwoods as mahogany, cedar, teak and cypress and the
much less common redondo or rosalia.
Kitchen counter-tops are from granite cut and polished in Honduras.
The stone floors of the patios and pool areas provide a contrast
to the warmth of the untreated hardwoods.
"The only thing that we imported were the windows and roofing
material," says Julio Galindo. The Anderson windows and "hardy
shakes" (a mixture of concrete and asphalt) proved to be very
resistant to the moisture and salt of the sea, just a 300' from
With all the children living independently, the house serves as
retreat and provides an environment to pursue passions: collecting
sculpture and paintings for Cheryl Galindo and researching palm
and fruit trees.
While Cheryl Galindo took charge of the house, Julio Galindo's interests
focused on the garden and 47 acres of grounds surrounding it. The
garden is extensive with a collection of over 100 types of palm
trees, dozens of tropical fruit trees and flowers. No existing trees
were cut during the construction of the house.
The 120' by 110' house was built in 14 months and completed in 1996.
"We even had to stop for a month because of the rain,"
says Julio Galindo. Builder Boyd Svoboda poured the foundations
and contractor Nelson Abbott completed the construction of the four
bedroom, five-and-a-half bathroom house.
in collaboration with the architects, the owners of this West Bay
Beach home experimented with a variety of hardwoods and stone. Architects
Maria Eugenia Toro and Roberto Laps from Tegucigalpa helped in conceptualizing
a vision of a low-lying house profile surrounded and shaded by palm
trees and fruit trees. It is like living in a wooden mosaic of a garden.
The entire floor plan is built around a swimming pool and a patio
accessible from the four sides of the house.
Elena San Martin created a mosaic at the beach entrance to the house.
Each bathroom is decorated with tiles inspired by water themes.