Friday Cabins #25: Q&A with Barbados Cabin-Builder Junior Sealy
The multi-hyphenate designer talks building his island homestead inspired by local and international architecture
Another week, another Friday. Which means another weekend-yay! We’re here with Friday Cabins, your favorite weekly newsletter brought to you by cabin experts, Cabins Etc. Every Friday we highlight cabins past and present among the digital pages of Field Mag, the internet’s go-to source for things at the intersection of good design and the great outdoors—the dream cabin location tbh.
In anticipation of the holiday weekend, whether you celebrate or not (ain’t much to celebrate about this dumpster fire of a country this year if you ask us), we're turning our eyes to the beach—a favorite place to pass any summer long-weekend. And there's none like those scattered throughout the Caribbean, where crystal blue waters are as warm as bath-water, and the sky is so open you can see a storm brewing over the ocean from miles away.
Today, we’re revisiting a Q&A with Barbados-born DIY cabin builder, fashion designer, and all around creative mind extraordinaire, Junior Sealy. It’s a favorite here at Cabins Etc, so read on, enjoy, and then go outside!
Trade this issue of Cabins Etc with a neighbor for some sugar
Multi-hyphenate designer Junior Sealy started his career as an accountant before pursuing fashion design, photography, woodworking, and other creative outlets. After six successful years of running Toronto-based label L A B & iD, his plan wasn’t to return to his home-island of Barbados permanently, but that was before a visit to his family’s land on the East Coast, where he fell in love with the country site and decided to start building a home.
Inspired by Japanese design and the vernacular architecture of Bajan Chattel Houses, Sealy built three separate structures over the course of three years. Below, writer Falene Nurse and Sealy discuss the construction of his handcrafted Bajan cabins, and what building 'sustainably' looks like through a lens more historically and racially diverse.
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What was the concept behind your home?
When I think of tiny spaces, Japan automatically comes to my mind. My research was mostly into Japanese architecture, home spaces, and dimensions during the planning phase, hence the names. But I wanted to put a Bajan spin on it. That's why there's a heavy influence of the Chattel Homes, many of which remain, especially in the nearby village (St. Elizabeth Village) and surrounding areas.
Give us a breakdown of the three unique structures?
In its most basic terms I spliced a singular structure into three instead. You have the Moon, which is 289 sq ft, 17 x 17ft, and Heaven is 336 sq ft, 16 x 21ft with a loft space that is 96 sq ft and almost 30ft off the ground. When complete, the Cloud will be 240 sq ft, 12 x 20ft, with a 12 foot walkway eventually between Tsuki and Tengoku. I'm drawn to the connected outside walkways in Japan; the goal is to connect all three this way. The Moon is an indoor/outdoor living space consisting of four skylights, a sleeping loft with a foyer, kitchen, bathroom, dining area, and indoor/outdoor lounge area.
What exactly is a Chattel House?
Bajan Chattel Houses are considered iconic here because of the people who built them, how and why, and what they represent. At first, constructed by slaves, these distinctive small wooden homes, with timbers pre-cut in standard lengths of 12 to 20 feet (even numbers), were built to move after Emancipation. Made without any nails (to easily disassemble), resting on a base of coral stone blocks or a groundsill, so their 'newly-free' homeowners weren't dependent on plantation land to live. In a nutshell, Chattel means home or property. So they represent freedom in many ways.
As with my home, there are three units. In a traditional Chattel House a single unit, the first step composed of two rooms, was nicknamed a "one-roof house." Next, the shed was in the back. Add another roof, a "shed roof," the three units became commonly known as a "one-roof house and shed." Usually, roofs were made of corrugated metal—its durability makes it an excellent green building material for today too. The reflective properties keep your house a lot cooler, as it doesn't absorb heat like stone can; that's the reason I've incorporated it so much.
Why a tiny sustainable home, and why were you drawn to the East Coast?
At first, the plan wasn't to return to Barbados permanently. Then I saw the plot again, that shed, and fell in love. By Bajan standards, I'm pretty country at heart; I remember when it was just banana trees and a hill to fly my kite.
Bathsheba lends to being off-grid and more outdoorsy. Naturally, it's more isolated and less developed. You get a real sense of being on an island. I'm a non-traditionalist in my fashion aesthetic, as a creative director, my general way of living. So it was a no brainer for me to choose something that wasn't exactly 'the norm,' I guess.
Then I began to deconstruct the Chattel House, which by design is a small space. A well designed small space is better than any gaudy McMansion—you don't need that to live life comfortably. I'm also super mindful of the landscape, the parish, and the history. It's what maintains the charm of the East Coast.
Also, who wants to clean?
Click the big green button above to read the full Q&A interview w Junior on Field Mag.