Brac house restored to glory

Interesting facts 

A traditional island home, which was once one of Cayman Brac’s most prominent houses, has been beautifully restored to its former glory.

Built by the late Captain John Spellman McLaughlin in the 1920s, the property was purchased from his daughter Brunzil in 2011 by Dan and Lisa Scott who have overseen a meticulous renovation of the building.

Great attention has been paid to architectural detail and some of the original furniture has been restored, while replica pieces have been sourced to maintain period authenticity.

The house, located in the district of Creek, has been sympathetically modernised to keep its character, with the addition of contemporary comforts such as air conditioning to keep the occupants cool.

The result is a magnificent example of the way in which Caymanian heritage homes can be preserved and brought into the 21st century.
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Dan, who is originally from the Brac, had fond memories of the Capt. Spellman McLaughlin house from childhood days and was determined to save the property.

“We were in Orlando celebrating our youngest daughter’s birthday when Dan learned that the house had been listed for sale,” recalls Lisa.

“We discussed it and agreed that it would be a great loss to the Brac community if someone were to purchase the property and later decide to demolish the house.”

Without further ado Dan and Lisa, who live on Grand Cayman. purchased the property and set about renovating the house to preserve it for future generations.

“I doubt we will ever live there full time but we really enjoy visiting,” says Lisa. “We’d like to share the house with the community so, now that we are ‘done’, I hope to host events there for the youth and the elderly as well as the broader community.

“We started last Christmas when we had a ‘Christmas in the Creek’ event. We brought down a Christian choir (Voices of Mobile) to entertain, and hosted a Christmas dinner. It was well received.”

Renovations began in early 2012 with contractor Denver Solomon undertaking the work which was completed by the end of that year.

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“The Brac community was so supportive,” says Lisa. “We would get calls with suggestions and constructive criticism. It felt like everyone was taking the journey with us. That was nice.”

The house had been lovingly cared for by the McLaughlin family over the years and was in fine condition so Dan and Lisa’s main concern was to make sure it was as storm-proof as possible.

In fact, the property was one of only nine houses which withstood the hurricane of 1932 that devastated Cayman Brac.

Around 130 people sheltered in the house that terrible night, and it afterwards served as the central point for people to receive emergency supplies from Jamaica.

The house is constructed from pine timber imported from Mobile, Alabama and Pensacola, Florida by Capt. McLaughlin on his own schooner, taking four years to build.

To prevent rusting, very few nails were used in the construction; instead wooden pegs were utilised to join the sections.

The building is supported on 60 log posts sunk into the ground. The design of the house is unusual in that there are three gable ends which give the impression that it is a two-storey building.

The floor plan of nine square rooms has been closely adhered to during the recent remodelling, featuring eight exterior rooms built around the central dining room. Windows and doors open onto the wrap-around verandah.

The main exterior changes have been to the windows, doors and roof of the building as well as scraping off many layers of paint to put on a new coat.

Acting on the advice of the National Trust for the Cayman Islands, half of the original windows have been saved, and all have had clear hurricane-impact glass installed.

Similarly, the doors were changed to storm-proof replacements with glass inserts for more light, although the original front door has been retained. Zinc, installed in recent times, was also replaced with wooden shingles to replicate the original roofing.

“Much of the electrical wiring was run on the outside of the wall,” explains Lisa. “This did not meet the strict local code so we had an electrician rewire the house. Since this was being done we added air conditioning.”

And, as the porch had never been completed, slats were designed and installed to “finish” the look.

In the interior, the wooden flooring in the house was stripped of paint and the planks of mahogany and cedar are now gleaming throughout.

When the Scotts bought the house, there were two small bathrooms in the rear of the building but as Lisa wasn’t sure these were original, she felt she could take the liberty of moving the amenities to one central area and has installed a vintage bathtub, basin and toilet.

“On one of my many trips to check on the progress of the house, Dan’s mom, Ms Martha, and I, decided that we needed a larger dining room,” says Lisa.

“We convinced Dan to let Denver take down one of the interior walls and double the size of the dining area. We had the support beam from this wall installed in the ceiling for beauty and preservation.”

When the property was first built it was likely that there was a separate “cook rum” to reduce heat and avoid the risk of fire, but Lisa had the kitchen relocated to the corner room in the back of the house.

A reproduction stove and sink capture the ambience of yesteryear, yet the kitchen has all the conveniences of present-day living.

“We had the kitchen cabinets built locally in Grand Cayman by Mario & Son,” says Lisa. “The stove and fridge were purchased from a Canadian company that specialises in antique reproductions. I now have the look of old with the convenience of the modern.”
There was one big surprise along the way, though, when they removed the interior wall to enlarge the dining room.

“We found the wall was full of powdery white beach sand when we tore it down,” says Denver. “We think that it blew in during the ’32 storm and has remained there ever since.”

Although the property is still referred to as the Capt. Spellman McLaughlin house, the Scotts plan to rename it and Lisa is looking for suggestions.

“During the 1932 hurricane, the house was a shelter to many Cayman Brac residents and was used as the distribution point afterwards,” she says.

“I would like the new name to reflect what the house meant to those people during such a trying time.”

 

 

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