Permanent Vacation

Tria Giovan
Palm trees rustling in the breeze whisper a wake-up call. A lazy stretch and
sleepy blinks reveal the silhouettes of birds soaring against the warm sunrise over turquoise Harrington Sound. Though others flock to Bermuda as tourists, this family lives here. And they enjoy its glory every day.

Much like couples anywhere else, Blake and Jack Collier get their two sons, Jack, 6, and Ford, 4, up and ready for carpool and school. But their lives are anything but typical. "Jack will come home from school, put on his snorkel, fins, and mask, and swim in the little bay just picking up shells and looking at fish for hours," says Blake.

She and her husband both grew up in Houston, and were living there when―four years ago―Jack got a call from a friend who was working to set up an insurance company in Bermuda. He asked Jack to join him in the venture. Jack's response was doubtful.

"I told him we had a 2-year-old and my wife was pregnant," he says. "But when I got home that night and told Blake about it, she said, 'Are you crazy? Call him back―we'd love to go!' " That was in February. Four months later, the Colliers packed up and moved.

They found a temporary house and settled into Bermuda's slower pace. The number of houses available for non-Bermudians to buy is limited, so most expatriates lease from longtime Bermuda property owners. Such was the case here. A house named Blue Harbour, built in the mid-1800s by the Outerbridge family and doubled in size in 1930 by the second generation, became available.

Typical of many Bermuda houses, coral limestone quarried from a nearby hillside covers the home's exterior. The 10-inch-thick walls keep the house cool in summer and protect against wind and weather. The roof, also coral limestone, slopes to gutters that channel rainwater to an underground cistern that provides drinking water.

With solid architectural details as her canvas, Blake made bold strokes with her decor. While she appreciates the traditional English decoration in many Bermuda homes, she opted for a different look. "I wanted it to be comfortable. I didn't want to look at the living room and think a kid can't walk in there, especially while my children are small. We entertain a lot so we [needed] a room where you could have fun without worrying."

Blake hired Houston's Jacomini Interior Design to help pull the living room together. "I really wanted to bring the outdoors in," says Blake. "That's why we used the turquoise and the brown palms on the fabric. I wanted it to be natural, islandy, casual, and fun."

One of the first things Blake did to transform the empty space was paint. When the family moved into the house, everything was cold white. Blake's mother, Lynn Baker, a decorative painter, changed that right away by painting a faux finish in the dining room, giving it a warm Tuscan feel. Blake liked it so much, she painted the entryway and kitchen, giving one a parchment-colored finish and the other a wash of azure.

The design firm worked with Blake long distance to select just-right furnishings and accessories. "It was tricky. It was a lot of work getting everything back and forth," she says. "They would e-mail digital photos to me of furniture and FedEx fabric samples. It probably took more than a year to get everything ordered."

Having never seen the space, designer Kathy Jacomini Masterson says she worked from photographs and a floor plan. "I have a picture of it in my head, and that's it," she says. "You have to be able to visualize it."

The final design is one of comfort and ease. The living room furnishings complement the view out the double, arched window. Here, sofa and club chairs are slipcovered in a pale blue linen. "We wanted it tropical, cool, and casual, but with a nice zip to it," says Kathy.

Blake also brings colors from the landscape to her interiors with the native plants and flowers she cuts from her yard. "I don't really garden; there's no need. There are so many natural plants just outside my door that I bring in and throw in a vase―it's wonderful."

The Colliers are not sure how long they'll stay, although Jack says the insurance business in Bermuda has grown. "You could be in New York or London in terms of a level of sophistication that you encounter in the business world here. But you just happen to be sitting in an idyllic setting surrounded by turquoise water."

Their time in Bermuda has been an adventure for the Collier family. "The children probably don't realize what kind of paradise they're living in because it's all they know," says Jack. "It's an incredible life―they fish, they swim right off the beach. We just hope we live here long enough for them to remember it."

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