New Development

Its Rightful Place in History

bh-frontBreezy House’s new owner pays homage to its creator.

By Mila Schukin ~ Photos By Patricia Duff

Despite being known as “the birthplace” of modern-day Providenciales, Turtle Cove is very underappreciated, in my view. Although Princess Radziwill and friends hung out here in the 1960s and 140-foot yachts are frequent visitors, Turtle Cove has a calm, lazy mood that would soothe the soul of the most frenzied “Type A” personality. In and around its meandering byways you’ll find pale bridges over canals, upside-down bronze mermaids floating in air, tipsy crewmen tossing wahoo entrails to sharks and the Tiki Hut, one of Provo’s oldest restaurants. At dusk everything turns silver and mauve (a moment before it was turquoise and gold). Little marketing of Turtle Cove takes place and, to my knowledge, little has been written about its history. Considering the well-heeled, enterprising renegades these Islands attract, I’m sure there’s much to know.

In the 1980s, an event called “Sunday Brunch” took place every week at the Tiki Hut. It was attended by Turtle Cove’s early developers and a man named Russell DeCoudres was one of the habitués. He was a former U.S. Air Force pilot and realtor from Florida who came to Providenciales in 1975 and spent the rest of his life around Turtle Cove Marina. Another man might have bought a condo in Nassau and taken things easy. Russell, instead, journeyed to a remote, little-developed island, where it was arduous to get supplies, with few prospects for generating income — an obstinate, restless romantic in search of a dream.

Russ DeCoudres didn’t want much. Just a place close to a nice fishing area. With a great view. A view of an other-worldly harbor, plus Grace Bay. Also very private, in the middle of thick virgin “bush”. And a good location wind-wise and access-wise. Better a bit elevated in case of weather. Plus room to grow peppers and tomatoes maybe, and lots of handy firewood for cooking fish, if propane ran out. Sun, of course. He wanted space, freedom and total self-sufficiency, with hummingbirds and geckoes at his doorstep.

In 1982 he built Breezy House for his family. Halfway up Suzy Turn from Turtle Cove Marina, right below the top of the ridge, it’s probably the geographical centerpoint of Provo, a short walk to the harbor and Leeward Highway both. But because the cove is still relatively undeveloped, the view is of low, 113 hillside stretching away in all directions. A few white Caribbean-style roofs nestle in the green distance. At night the long arc of Grace Bay’s lights is both close enough and far enough for total enchantment. From a mariner’s perspective, the site Russell chose is the still-water part of a wave, just down from the crest, where you avoid the rough conditions of peaks and troughs but still see 360º around.

Rumour has it that there was already a concrete, two-room house on the one-acre lot, with power connected. It probably sparked Russ’s imagination: I can see him getting up on the roof, and his mind starting to work. Essentially, he merely added another storey, but how he did it is important. He built the second floor of wood, entirely open-plan, with a cathedral ceiling and jalousie windows and doors on all sides. (For the uninitiated, jalousies are horizontal glass louvers that you crank open for the desired amount of ventilation; they make the indoors feel like outside, but are not manufactured any longer. They are rare even on Provo). The bedrooms downstairs thus stay shady and cool longer, while the upstairs living area is open to tradewinds, light and the great open sky all day long.
Everyone knows wood construction is subject to termite and hurricane hazards in the tropics, but there’s no question the “feel” of a wooden structure is natural, airy, weightless. If you care to take chances it’s worth it, for the sake of feeling that you’re shaded and dry, but still in communication with the living world around. (And of course, it would have been difficult to add on a concrete second story, but that’s another matter.)

bh-stone-wall-msHe built a deck at the back, looking down on the cove, partially screened for sleeping and partially open for sunning. Two sets of French doors lead from the living area to this deck, and when the doors and windows are all open, the house is a high restful aerie nestled in a soft private forest. Standing on the deck you look over billowing ironwood trees and gumbo-limbos to the reef beyond, and if you’re lucky, glimpse sails moving slowly out to sea.

His next concern was clever planning for efficiency and comfort. The house already had a 20,000 gallon cistern, and Russ installed a large solar panel near the water heater. He constructed what was probably the first sunken tub on Provo. By the kitchen, a small pantry and adjoining powder room create a flange that breaks up the interior space just enough; the window over the kitchen sink has a view of the water, while to the side a larger window shows who’s coming up the drive. Lots of fans hang from high white rafters. He laid floors of ordinary light coral tile, unifying the space and adding cool subtle color throughout. Shuttered storage nooks and cabinets were tucked in discrete corners. A central, nautical-type stairwell descends to the “hold” from the main floor. Best of all, the handrail of the steps that lead up to the entrance is a 12-foot high stone buttress. It is a single powerful note of distinction on an otherwise plain structure, but it also made it possible to place a full utility room underneath its arch.

Lastly, to the simple 20 x 40-foot rectangle Russell added a few low-key gracious touches. Flanking the front door are flowery stained-glass sidelights, rustic but bright. Getting such things to Provo in the early 1980s could not have been easy. Glass block with a wave pattern separates the master bath from the utility room, and the original powder room cabinet top was mottled resin with an integral scallop shell sink. He put crown moldings in the bedrooms and made all the windowsills of white marble.

Outdoors, low native-stone walls encircle the front garden and drive. He trucked in soil and planted aloes and a single Royal Poinciana — the most glorious of tropical trees, imported God knows how — beneath his front door.

The house is well-organized and uncluttered in the way a well-made boat is, and as perfectly proportioned, with a few suitable ornaments to gladden the heart. One can only marvel at the controlled creative effort that went into achieving something modest, graceful and complete.

How I bought the house

Shopping for a house on Provo with my realtor Rex was a lot of fun, but I didn’t find anything I liked for a long time. Breezy House was a small old listing in the back of the TCREA Real Estate magazine and seemed like a last resort, but it did say Turtle Cove, so we went to look. Later I learned it was Russ DeCoudre’s house and that after his death, his children had rented it out for some years and finally put it on the market in 2002.

I was privileged to have Wendel Ewing as the contractor for restoring Breezy House. His father had worked for Pastor James Williams, foreman on the Kempe projects featured in a previous issue of Times of the Islands. Patiently, tenaciously, Wendel devoted endless hours working out solutions that provided modern luxuries without violating the integrity of the place. It was so easy to work with someone who didn’t miss a date, who was always one step ahead and whose main ambition was to accomplish what was necessary, get it done in good time and done right, in spite of delays and complications getting suitable replacement parts and fixtures. It is due to him that Breezy House is what it is today.

We made only essential alterations. Besotted as I was with the exotic yet homey character of the house, I wanted to preserve it all; thankfully Wendel had the wisdom to understand what was salvageable and what required fundamental reconstruction. There were no errors of judgment on his part. The cracked tiled tub in the master bath really had to go, so it was scrapped and replaced by a Jacuzzi I think Russ would have enjoyed. The second bath was also rebuilt into a clean cool refuge.

The kitchen required tricky reconfiguration in order to accommodate bigger appliances, but remains basically the same compact space. The partitioned deck was merged into one huge mosquito-free area. We lounge, read, surf the Web, eat, drink, entertain and sleep there — only bathing and cooking facilities are absent. Following Russ’s lead, we tried to buy all we needed on-island, and made use of local products, such as ground conch-shell countertops made by Phil Thompson, where possible.

I haven’t mentioned the one element that did introduce vibrant change — color! Recently arrived artists from Haiti painted the house in shades they selected themselves, with splashes of pomegranate, aqua, squash, marine blue and purest white. Like one of those old children’s novelties where crystals grow and bloom in water, each color seems to have been born to ornament its space and flatter its neighbor. I think Russell would have appreciated his pink-and-beige Breezy House transformed into a sparkling little sloop anchored on a West Indies hillside.

bh-dining-room-msLife in the Turks & Caicos was very different for everybody in 1980. Living on Provo, Russ kept body and soul together by selling real estate lots when there were not many people here to buy them. He worked with developer Ford Carter, a connection of his from Hialeah and Delray Beach in Florida, sold land for Provident Ltd. and built the very first home in Long Bay.

But Russ was much more than a real estate agent. Often impolitic, frugal to a fault and a bit cantankerous at times, he was nonetheless in many ways the happy spirit of Provo. Warm and interested, welcoming and helpful, gentle in nature, Russ befriended people who needed a friend, reeled in stray expatriates for sumptuous Thanksgiving dinners, and made his home a haven filled with food and good company for visitors to the island. He would go out of his way to assist newcomers, provided a roof overhead and a bed when they were needed, and gave many an Islander and ex-pat a helping hand. Because he kept his ear to the ground and generally knew what was going on, he took on the task of writing a community newsletter to tell about local happenings, who had visited and why, social events, the latest real estate items and general gossip. In many people both on the island and abroad, Russ DeCoudres and his cheerful Breezy House kindled a real and lasting affection. Sadly, Russ’s sojourn here ended in 1993 when he was forced to return to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina with his ailing wife Liz. He died in Florida not long after she did, at age 86.

The life-loving artistic streak in the DeCoudres family is alive today in Russ’s grandson — artist Graham Weinroth, who lives in Florida but depicts the people and places of the Turks & Caicos Islands in his sensitive, color-saturated canvases. He names his grandfather Russell as having been his chief inspiration. Russ’s oldest son Frank, who helped him build Breezy House, now lives back in Florida too, as does his second son. Russ’s nephew Graham recently sold Jumbie House, Russ’s second property on the lot below and now resides in Grand Turk.

Russ DeCoudre’s home probably won’t remain here forever — its tenuous historical significance won’t override the commercial value of the land it’s on. Suzy Turn is already much noisier than it was in Russ’s day. Anyway, its meaning would be lost in the coming crowd of townhouses and apartments. I don’t care too much, and I think neither would Russ — it’s enough for a while to be part of a place that gives so much back in return.

I’d like extend special thanks to Alan Duff for supplying photos and recollections of Russ and to Hugh O’Neill, who provided background information about Providenciales in the early days.



6 Comments

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Graham Weinroth
Apr 29, 2010 8:38

To whom it may concern,

I would like to thank you for the beautiful article you have written. I am also and author.
I have a new novel titled “The Jumbi Life” I would gladly send you a copy.

Thanks again

Graham Weinroth

aili
May 5, 2010 0:38

Had been there once, a very long time ago. A wonderful place, so colorful and memorable.

Amyris
Aug 27, 2010 9:14

I stayed there one night long time ago but the memories have become more like a distant dream. It is a special place.

Bahama Joe
Dec 6, 2010 13:29

The article is nice and all that. Only authors have left some things out. It focused on Russ Decoudres family and not Liz Deccoudres. As usual some people when they write about things leave alot out. This is a typical case with this article. Not that it matter much now. However when you write about things as they where one needs to include the whole story which was not told in this case. I personally have stayed with Russ and Liz many times while they lived in this home. Russ didnt move to Myrtle,Beach. He was living in ormond beach fla. His wife Liz having health problems in her home town of Orlando, Florida. She died at Florida Hospital in Orlando Florida. Russ then flew back and forth from Florida and Providenciales. Liz had been staying in a small duplex with Russ while undergoing test. Patty Cooper was also by Liz’s side. Patty Cooper was married to Bob Cooper of WIV TV Provo. He had started the first tv station their. Their where alot of expats that Liz and Russ new. So many still their and they know the story. Not much was ever said about Liz`s Kids most unfortunate. Cause they visited often along with other family members such as her own mother. So much time has gone by now. So much has been forgotten about people that started the island. Oh yeah some even werent their as it happened. Amazing how stories can be told. Providenciales was a magical place in those days. Too bad it was told how it really was. She is still a wonderfull place. Take care of her island chain.

Sincerly, The Unknown

The Rothells
Dec 6, 2010 14:27

I was reading article about the breezy house. I remember coming down to visit back in the 80`s. Liz and Russ always invited people in to socialize. As I recall Russ had come to Provo around 1972 when Provident was first organizing Provo. He worked as a Realtor and Land development. They had in those days lived in Owen Gassaways house in Long bay hills. They then built their first house in Longbay hills. Of course it was very simple. Liz helped with the office work and they both didnt have much. It wasnt till later on they lived in other homes while owners where away. They got into property management and some real estate sales. Not to mention names of now or former expats they all knew and respected each other. Sure their where hardships and everyone got through them. I remember Liz’s son’s where here for a short time. Also her cousin and mother used to visit. Russ’s two sons and daughter would frequent a visit here now and then. Its kind of funny now that we think back. My wife and I remember Liz’s younger son was always the Mr. fix it. I remember coming from Long Bay hills and saw us broke down on the side of the road. We had a hose broken and he had taped it up. Threw some water in the old beater we where driving. Got us back to town. We had met Liz and Russ for lunch at the Erebus then. We explained our situation. We told them this fella by the name of jim or tim came by. I remember Liz laughing and saying it was her son that was their at Christmas time. Needless to say Liz and Russ where always willing to go out of their way for friends new or old ones. We where sad to know that as the years passed so did they. We will never forget their hospitality in the Breezy House.

Sincerly, The Rothells
South Carolina

Mauricio Caden
Jan 28, 2011 12:06

Hi just believed i would tell you something.. It is twice now i?ve landed on your weblog in the last three weeks searching for completely unrelated issues. Great Data! Keep up the beneficial function.

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