Rupert and Katherine Hucker’s $7 million contemporary home in Coconut Grove, Fla., was built like a fortress to withstand hurricanes and storm surges. But if ocean levels rise as forecast, someday the home may succumb to the sea.
By 2100, “maybe only the top floor will be habitable and boats might be parked in the current kitchen,” says its architect, Max Strang of the eponymous Miami-based architecture firm.
Mr. Hucker, 49, who started an energy-industry consulting firm, jokes that he and his wife are OK with that, since they’ll most likely be dead before it happens. “I reckon we’ll have a good 20 years of fun out of this house,” says Mrs. Hucker, 52, an artist whose work includes paintings, sketches and life drawings.
Rupert and Katherine Hucker’s home in Coconut Grove, Fla., was built to withstand hurricanes and storm surges. It includes cantilevered levels, making it seem like it’s floating over a canal. Alexia Fodere for The Wall Street Journal
Besides, in building the house, they have already withstood their share of disasters, from unexpected water issues to run-ins over local building codes.
The couple—he is British and she is Australian—were living in London when the global economy collapsed in 2008. They decided to move to the Miami area because it was just about halfway between the Houston office of Mr. Hucker’s consultancy and the island of Trinidad, where they had previously lived for two years and a place they say was “very dangerous and incredibly fun.”
Looking for a minimalist, modern house to buy in Coconut Grove, Mrs. Hucker came across an unusual contemporary Bali-esque stone-and-wood home with a mazelike swimming pool. By coincidence, it was Mr. Strang’s home, which he designed and was selling.
Mrs. Hucker didn’t buy it—but she hired Mr. Strang on the spot. Then the Huckers went searching for land, finding a ¾-acre lot on a peaceful canal with views of Biscayne Bay. They bought the lot for $2.5 million, some $400,000 below asking. Building a new house there was complicated from the start. The land was in two pieces, separated by a 15-foot-wide city easement, which meant they couldn’t have one structure straddling both sides. But they could build one structure on each side. Located right on the canal, there were various setback issues to address to comply with local building codes, and no sewer hookup meant they had to install septic drain fields.
On one parcel of land, Mr. Strang designed a four-bedroom, 5½ -bathroom home measuring about 5,800 square feet. The first floor has a guest bedroom and a TV room with a bright purple sofa; upstairs are their 16-year-old daughter Isabel’s room and the master bedroom with two master bathrooms. The other parcel of land has a 1,428-square-foot structure with an office for Mr. Hucker, an art studio for Mrs. Hucker and another guest bedroom.
To withstand hurricanes, the house sits atop 163 concrete pilings extending 20 feet into the bedrock. Building codes required that all the walls on the home’s first floor be “breakaway,” which means they would collapse in the event of a massive storm surge to allow water to flow through without damaging the upper floors or the foundation.
The first attempts at digging the pool failed when seawater from the canal seeped in faster than the walls of the pool could be poured—rather like digging a hole in sand at the water’s edge. So the contractors waited until the moon was just right, pushing the tide at its lowest. Then, they quickly sprayed the pool walls with a fast-drying cement. Some water crept in, but it was manageable enough to be pumped out.
The most stress came when city inspectors determined the water pipes servicing the roughly 18 homes around the property lacked adequate water pressure for a fire hydrant. The Huckers, deemed developers since the land had never been occupied, had to upgrade the water pipes for the neighborhood and ensure the water was potable, an unexpected outlay that, along with rebuilding a portion of the road, came to around $250,000. “We just kept our eye on the horizon and reminded ourselves we were going to end up with a beautiful house in a beautiful place,” says Mr. Hucker.
They did, moving into the house in February of 2015 after 30 months of construction.
The geometric design is composed of cantilevered levels clad in white stucco, making it seem like it’s floating over the canal. The only visible sign of the massive amount of support material that went into bracing it against a storm is one pillar on the main floor deck. They call the guest room in the separate structure “Max’s room,” because the architect, now a friend, stays there so often.
The home’s interiors feature Florida keystone, marked by fossils of shells and coral, which surrounds the fireplace, and gray Basaltine floors. An oyster-colored Corian-topped island anchors the sleek kitchen. A few steps away is a glass-enclosed wine room like the ones found in expensive restaurants.
Mrs. Hucker’s art, some geometric, some abstract and some meticulously detailed like the house, are displayed on much of the wall space downstairs.
Upstairs, where the white walls are mostly unadorned, is the jewel: a corner master bedroom with sliding glass doors that open out to an expansive patio overlooking the water and the Bali-inspired swimming pool. Next to the bedroom is an equally spacious master bathroom with a tub in the middle and glass doors that open out to a roof-deck area.
If there is any part of the design that most reflects the Huckers’ joie de vivre, it is the enormous ipe deck that flows out the glass doors in the family room and looks out to the canal and the bay beyond. Built for entertaining, it has a stainless-steel outdoor kitchen with a rotisserie and a long bar. “We throw a pretty good party here,” says Mr. Hucker.
Corrections & Amplifications
An earlier version of this article said construction on the Hucker home took 13 months. It took 30 months. (3/24/16)
Write to Nancy Keates at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared on The Wall Street Journal.
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