A $29 Million Mansion on Grand Cayman Comes With a 100-Foot-Long Pool
(Bloomberg) -- Twelve years ago, Michael Maes decided to give up his life in Antwerp, Belgium, and, he says, “move towards nature, away from the mainstream.”
Maes was then in his early 40s and a serial entrepreneur who’d owned a software business, auto dealerships, and equity in Bank Degroof Petercam, a large, privately owned Belgian bank. Determined to leave all that behind, he began, with his wife Ellen Cuylaerts and their two children, to look for a new country of residence.
“We wanted to make an offer on a property in Scotland,” he says. “The lawyer started to tell me about the U.K.’s property taxes and inheritance taxes, and it was like boing—it caught me by surprise.” He didn’t mind paying taxes, he explains, he just didn’t want to pay more than he already was.
Maes returned to the drawing board. This time, he hired a consulting agency tasked with finding a house that met the following criteria: close to nature, safe, secure, and of course, taxes no higher than Belgium’s.
The resultant list included Hong Kong, Singapore, Monaco, Andorra, Vanuatu, and the Cayman Islands. Previously, Maes says, he’d thought of Grand Cayman as “an island of P.O. boxes,” due to its reputation as a tax haven. When he and his wife visited, though, they found “totally the opposite of that bias.”
Five days after visiting, they bought a house on Grand Cayman Island.
In 2014, Maes, now a professional wildlife cinematographer, felt comfortable enough with his life on the island that he started to plan his dream home. He purchased nearly six-and-a-half acres of beachfront property, hired a contractor, and began what was supposed to be an 18-month project that took, when all was said and done, more than four years.
The result is a 15,000-square-foot, eight-bedroom home and a 100-foot-long pool that Maes says is the largest private pool on the island. From the ground floor, which has been raised 18 feet above sea level, are unobstructed views of crystalline ocean.
Less than two years after moving in, though, he’s put the property on the market. It’s listed with Cayman Island Sotheby’s International Realty for $29 million. After all that, and more than a decade away from Europe, he’s been pulled back by his new profession.
“Our business is increasingly shifting towards Europe,” Maes says. He recognizes that he’ll have spent less than half the amount of time living in the house as he did building it. “We’ve had to travel back and forth a lot, which wasn’t really our intention.”
A Fantasy Location
When Maes and Cuylaerts set out to build the house, they wanted a home that was built in multiple pods—an area for their adult children to live that felt separate from the parents’ home. Eco-friendly construction was important: The house is designed so wind passes through its various structures, cooling it both inside and out. And they didn’t want shutters or grills on the windows to obstruct their views. The house also had to take advantage of 540 feet of private beach frontage, one of the largest such stretches on the island.
Maes describes the final product as “contemporary, minimalistic, and very bright.” The left-hand side of the house has the master suite, with bedrooms on the ground floor that open onto the beach and Maes and his wife’s offices on the upper floor. The right-hand side is for the children’s rooms, where the layout is reversed, with bedrooms on the upper floor.
The middle of the house is devoted to entertaining. There are grand, double-height living areas, an informal dining room, and a kitchen with Italian cabinetry. At the top of the building is a small, glassy room they use as a library, which connects to a rooftop deck. Spanning nearly the entirety of the main structure is a pool, over which there’s an elevated footbridge. “The pool is over 100 feet long,” he says, which is a massive amount of water. So we also have a massive underwater tank to feed it.”
Nearby, a smaller, two-bedroom guest house also looks out on the ocean. That house has its own kitchenette, living room, and bathroom.
The house, Maes says, has “huge potential for entertaining small groups or huge groups,” but he and his family “are private people, so we have friends over, but we don’t throw huge cocktail parties or receptions.”
He’s mostly content to enjoy the house, the views, and its location directly on the ocean.
Prepared, Should “All Hell Break Loose”
The house’s beachfront location is something of a double-edged sword. “It’s very exposed,” Maes acknowledges. “The ocean is straight in front of us.”
In order to protect his dream home from hurricanes, he elevated the land. The house now sits 15 feet above sea level; its ground floor is another three feet above that, so storm surges would have to reach 18 feet high before they flood the home.
“That alone was a crazy thing, if you think about the budget to raise the property. But I’m happy we did it,” he says. (Maes declines to say how much construction cost: “We’re European; we’re private about stuff like that.”) He also lowered the elevation of the land behind the house, a move meant to divert water from hitting the home directly. “If the sea comes in, the house will sit on its own little island,” Maes says.
Finally, he buried a six foot-high seawall under the sand to serve as a break, should “all hell break loose,” Maes says. (If a surge were to wash away the beach, the seawall would obstruct the rising water.)
The house is also equipped with solar panels built to withstand a Category 5 hurricane, a backup generator that should power the compound for two weeks, and an underground water cistern that, in calm moments, feeds into the pool but could provide potable water during a storm.
Maes has yet to see the house tested by extreme weather. So far, it’s been beach, water, and sunshine.
“I really fought with the idea” of selling it, he says, “Come on, it’s finally finished, there are no more disruptions, we can enjoy our privacy, it has everything we want,” he says. But he realized the time had come. “I will be sad to see it go,” Maes says. “But I’ve never regretted my decisions.”
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