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Ultimate Escape

Fantasy, it turns out, comes at a price.

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Guests come for the bonefishing and snorkeling and sailing. They eat Continental and Bahamian cuisine in the clubhouse, swim in the freshwater pool and luxuriate in three guesthouses, each decorated in a distinctive, relaxed style. Fowl Cay accommodates up to 18 visitors at a time, plus those who drop in by yacht to dine on the island. Each house comes with its own boat and golf cart, and unlimited food and drink.

But that's now.

What it took to get there is a matter of mind-boggling logistics. The Browns knew what they wanted — luxury in the form of granite countertops and Italian tile floors, high-end furnishings, worldly artwork. Before they could have any of that, though, they had to create an infrastructure on the 50-acre island. Roads, electricity, water. "We built a little tiny city in the wilderness," Libby Brown says. "We had a crew of 45 men who lived on the island for two years, five weeks on and one week off. We had a wonderful contractor, Cavalier Construction of Nassau." The crew tore down three uninhabitable buildings and created six new ones.

"I'm a huge list maker and scheduler — that's the mantra of my life," she continues. "But the logistical feat of this is beyond belief. We averaged a 150-foot barge every two months. If you don't have the right things on the barge in the right order, it's a domino effect that can put you back six months. We did have to fly some things in at huge expense to get things done, like calling the Home Depot in Miami and having a wrench flown in for five times the cost. The numbers drive themselves."

When it came time to assemble the floor plans, furnishings and finishes, the Browns called upon former colleagues Betsy Gates Moore, an interior designer, and Weezie Christian, who managed logistics.

They had to submit to customs a 100-page document itemizing everything they would purchase, from lamps to dental floss. "We submitted that list before the first stick of furniture was bought," Moore says, "and organized a very systematic plan to fill an 8,000-square foot warehouse in Richmond." Everything from rubber door mats and tool kits to sofas and rugs filled the space. Items included Kravet and Pearson upholstery, Palecek seagrass furniture, and earthy Tibetan rugs. Sources included Greenfront Furniture, the High Point furniture market and Arcade on Grove. "Antiques and artwork came from all over," Moore says. "If we got a piece in France, it had to go through the Cotswolds to Wilmington to Richmond to a container shipment from Ft. Lauderdale to a boat to Fowl Cay. We had eighteen months to do it all."

"Libby is a teacher and trainer," Moore says, "and this was the penultimate relationship. She's very organized and articulate, knows what she wants and when she needs help. Instead of the usual cookie-cutter hospitality notion, this project is personalized, more like a bed-and-breakfast. The reason I'm in design is because I love line and form and the transformation that can take place in a space. This is like living in a postcard, in the casual, elegant style of the Browns. It's such a sense of satisfaction seeing their dream come true."

Libby Brown says she still works 12-hour days with her husband with help from her son and daughter-in-law, who will now manage the resort and live on site. She exults about the beauties of the island: "It's all green, covered with Palmetto trees and now coconut trees and hibiscus. There are two beautiful white sand beaches, the turquoise water, and all that's in the water — we've seen octopus, leopard rays, dolphins, huge lobsters, all the tropical fish, incredible fish…"

It is the family life, though, that inspires her most. "The most satisfying thing was when we opened our clubhouse for dinner the first night. It was Christmas Eve, with our children and our brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews and grandchildren. That was very emotional and very, very rewarding. That was the reason we did it. It is first and foremost a family compound. We built it to keep our family close together." HS

www.fowlcay.com

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