There was nothing in Glenn Garrard’s childhood that would predict that at age 50 he would hand build a six-bedroom Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired home on a deserted tip of a small tropical island and moreover, complete it in a mere 7 months! Glenn, who grew up in a northern climate (Ontario, Canada), had not traveled widely in his youth and never studied architecture or construction. So what was the spark that ignited the project out of which the jaw-dropping Tip of Tail Villa in Turks and Caicos was born?
How Glenn Garrard came to this unique homebuilding experience is, indeed, a head scratching question. It might have been helping his dad build a little cabin at the family’s small lodge in the woods of northern Ontario or his unusual predilection as a teenager for hard work. But if there was a eureka moment that led to this improbable construction project, he traces it back it to his first visit to his now wife’s parents’ rural home.
“Their house had a fireplace mantel made of an old 12 foot barn beam,” he says. “I was so strangely drawn to it that I just had to touch it!” He describes his encounter with a slab of antique wood as a transformative experience. “I felt the weight of history and the hands of some old farmer in that beam.” He says he was hooked.
Later in life, traveling in Europe, he had a similar experience with old stones of historic monuments. He was mesmerized by the ancient artisanship of the Acropolis, Hadrian’s Wall and Stonehenge. “More and more I just knew I wanted to work with antique wood and stone. I just wanted to get my hands dirty.” That bit of self-discovery, however, would not take root immediately. It would, in fact, be years before he could make his dream come true.
Glenn, unlike many of his peers who went to university, started working right out of high school. He sold TV’s and he sold furniture. “I was actually good at it,” he says, seemingly still surprised with his youthful ability as a salesman. He was so young he didn’t even shave yet, he says chuckling. When his older brothers (he is one of four boys) noticed his skills and asked him to join their fledgling transport company he jumped at the opportunity. “Company”, he notes with humor, was an overstatement since they had only one truck at the time. With brother Glenn and his gift of the gab doing the marketing and sales end, the business grew and so did the family he made with the girlfriend with the fabulous barn beam fireplace. Leisure time with three small kids was at a premium but finally he got a chance to try his hand at stone and wood construction.
“I built a flagstone patio and a barn beam pergola,” he says not only with all the delight of a do-it-yourselfer, but also with the joy of someone describing falling in love for the first time. “When I touch wood shaped by farmers a hundred years ago and see the markings, I feel connected to the power of the past.”
One home renovation project led to the next and his obsession with antique wood and raw stone grew, as did his skill in working with those materials. It wasn’t long before he was struck with the idea of setting up a small company. Sticks and Stones would be dedicated to building patios and walkways. His teenage son turned out to be the perfect partner. “He has a green thumb,” Glenn says proudly of his offspring who became the perfect addition to the landscape piece of the new business.
Glenn continued the work with his family’s flourishing transportation company and with the help of his wife, Jacquelyn, and son, also grew Sticks and Stones. How all these experiences helped prepare him to apply his passion and skills to building a villa 1500 miles south of Toronto is another happy bit of serendipity.
Like many Canadians, the Garrard family like to trade the snow and cold of Canada for a couple of weeks each year in a sunny climate. The Dominican Republic and Mexico were frequent destinations and eventually Glenn started dreaming about owning tropical real estate. It was a three-day trip to Turks and Caicos (islands just south of the Bahama chain) that sealed the deal. Even before the plane landed the love affair with Turks and Caicos, he says, began. “When I flew over the island I was captivated by the ocean. Wow, that water! The island’s beauty held my heart.”
He quickly planned a return trip to hunt for land and surprisingly, found his paradise in a more remote area at the very tip of the island. The spot for the daring design he would create was an acre with 500 feet of oceanfront at the end of a dirt road. “It looked like a moonscape of jagged gray rock,” he says. Those rocks he would come to venerate are called “ironshore,” a type of craggy limestone dating back more than a million years. Where others saw an insurmountable challenge, Glenn saw a “slice of paradise.” “My wife said I was crazy and that the land was too far, too much and too hard to build on,” Glenn says laughing. For Glenn’s part, this spit of land was the perfect place for a man who loved stone and hard work to build a home.
He assembled a devoted crew. He had backing from his brothers and from a good friend. “Whatever you want to do, we’re in,” they told him.The construction was handled by a team of just two, Glenn and his son Tyler. They would build a cool, contemporary house with the feel of Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece, Falling Water. Tip of the Tail would be airy and with its glass walls, seamlessly integrated into nature. Further, the construction process would use 21st century construction technologies. “I wanted to build a house that would give the feeling of being on the stern of a yacht looking out to the sea where you can hear the waves hitting the rocks,” Glenn says.
He also wanted the home to be energy efficient, attractive and provocative. “I wanted the ‘wow’ factor,” he explains. He turned to a modular building system using ICF (insulated concrete forms), a method and material currently revolutionizing the construction industry. Using ICF, concrete walls are made of stackable, interlocking foam forms in the shape of blocks and panels. Each form is put into place, locked together and filled with concrete on site. The construction is energy efficient and disaster resistant. “This house is hurricane proof,” Glenn says proudly.
Another 21st century eco-experiment in innovative technology incorporated into the build are some of the basic elements of the Tesla solar powered system. Glenn, who jokingly says he has man-crushes on Nikola Tesla and Elon Musk, hopes at some point the villa will be 100% solar powered. While at this point there is no way to connect photovoltaic systems to the grid in Turks and Caicos, the house stands like a sentinel on the sea, ready for the future.
Approach the house by its white pebbled walkway through a carefully curated landscape of giant banana leaf, coconut palms and purple bougainvillea, and there is, indeed, the feeling of entering ‘paradise’. Swing open the lustrous sapele wood pivot door and you can see right through the main living area to the sea and sky, a dramatic view of multiple shimmering shades of blues and greens.
Inside the villa the muted palette of sand color tile floors and white walls pop with aqua accents. The contemporary look throughout the house coexists seamlessly with the reclaimed and exotic wood used in the furniture and cabinetry. For example, Glenn says, there is a live edge rustic dining table and a circular glass tabletop resting on an Indonesian teak root ball.
The show stopping home also has 2,000 square feet of outdoor living space. A glass-walled swimming pool and a hidden splash bar offer expansive views of the beach, the channel and seemingly endless mangrove which is home to hawksbill turtles, star fish and sting rays. Here the family and guests swim, snorkel, paddleboard and kayak.
The temptation is clearly to never leave home, but the surrounding area is beautiful and fascinating. For history buffs a visit to the ruins of the 18th century Cheshire Hall Plantation is a window on the island’s cotton trade. Nature lovers can hike the wetlands of the Bird Rock Trail and see ospreys, green herons, Antillean nighthawks and doves.
By far the most unique site on Turks and Caicos, however, is the world’s only commercial conch farm. At Caicos Conch Farm visitors can learn about the life cycle of the curious mollusks. Turks islanders are conch crazy. They dive for, eat, talk and sing about conch. Every restaurant from the toniest to the popular local hangouts feature conch. It seems as if every eatery boasts four or five different versions of conch. Conch stew is even the national dish.
Bugaloos Conch Crawl is one of the Garrard family’s favorite haunts. The restaurant boasts no fewer than nine different conch dishes, from conch fritters to conch salad. Glenn loves the setting, atmosphere and live music on the beach. But home is where the heart is, he says. There is really no place on earth for him like his dream house on his adopted island. “This is simply the best ocean view in the world,” he says. And of what he learned in the process of creating his masterpiece? “You can do anything you want if you work hard to figure it out.”