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The Bermuda House

Pink sand beaches, tourists on mopeds, and men in shorts — that's the background for the latest This Old House project, as we take on the unique construction and renovation techniques that come with life on a remote island.

When most people think of Bermuda they think of pink sand beaches, cocktails with little umbrellas in them, and men in shorts. And that's not far from the truth — the 21-square-mile island surrounded by hundreds of miles of Atlantic Ocean has more than its share of seaside resorts, tourists on mopeds, and, yes, businessmen in colorful knee-length shorts.

For the 63,000 people who live there, though, Bermuda's not just a vacation paradise — it's home, with all the joys and headaches that accompany home the world over. For Delaey (pronounced "de-LOY") Robinson and Andrea Dismont, home for the last eight years has been a tiny apartment near Aunt Nea's Inn, the hotel they own and operate. Delaey, Andrea, and their two young sons, Kelsey and Miles, have been crammed into the "temporary" space while putting all their time and energy into improving Aunt Nea's. For years they've been postponing the restoration of their real home — a two-story Georgian called Harbour View, on a hill overlooking picturesque St. George's Harbor.

The simple but elegant structure sits in a charming historic neighborhood divided by narrow cobblestone streets. In fact, the ancient city of St. George has recently been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, joining an exclusive list of historical, cultural, and natural sites, such as the Taj Mahal and Yellowstone National Park, that are deemed to have global significance.

Harbour View was once Delaey's bachelor pad, but it's been vacant for eight years, and it shows. The house and a small outbuilding are in a state of considerable disrepair, which was worsened by roof damage from Hurricane Fabian this past September. Delaey and Andrea are now ready to repair the damage, expand the house for family living, and give the home the kind of loving restoration and renovation it deserves.

Downstairs, the main staircase will be relocated and the old galley kitchen will be torn out, as that part of the house is expanded into a living room. A former storage area will be reborn as a great room with a state-of-the-art kitchen. The new living room will extend as far as the former outbuilding, which will soon become part of the home as a guest wing. Upstairs, the master suite will be completely renovated and a new bathroom will be added between two smaller bedrooms for the children to share. Overall, the house will be made as hurricane-resistant as possible.

Bermuda construction is unique — it would have to be on an island with no forests and no fresh groundwater. Delaey and Andrea, both native Bermudians, will be working with one of the top architects on the island, Colin Campbell of OBM International, and an 11th-generation Bermudian contractor, Alan Burland of the noted firm BCM/McAlpine Ltd.

The chance to work with entirely different construction methods, on a beautiful nineteenth-century home, was enough to bring This Old House into the project. As we finish up at the Concord Cottage, the Massachusetts weather will put an end to outdoor construction for a while anyway, so this is the time of year we generally head south for warmer climes. The Harbour View project gives us the opportunity to spend the winter surrounded by 500 years of Bermuda history and culture, taking side trips to reefs, shipwrecks, and historic colonial sites, while immersing ourselves in Bermudian architecture and construction.

And if it means traveling around the island on mopeds or sitting by the beach with little umbrellas in our drinks, so be it. It's a tough assignment, but somebody has to do it.