The Deserted Dome House of Cape Romano

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An otherworldly attempt at sustainable living is a picturesque winner of the Loves Vote for Tiffany Phillips

A cluster of geodesic domes squat off the Florida coastline. Windows gaping, the dwellings hover precariously, waves swarming between the stilts that prop them out of the water. Unnatural, otherworldly, they appear to have been landed from outer space into a landscape that is inexorably swallowing them up. This is the Cape Romano Dome House, built by retired oil producer Bob Lee in the 1980s as part of a pioneering experiment in sustainable living, albeit one that was ultimately thwarted by Florida’s unruly weather conditions. Once securely situated on the end of the barrier island, hurricane force winds have literally swept the land from underneath the structure, leaving it entirely at the mercy of the elements. Yet despite the constant headshaking at the beginning of every hurricane season, with naysayers prophesising that this will see the end of the domes, they still prevail, something that jewellery designer Tiffany Phillips is thrilled about as they are a key point on her American road trip this summer.

All this talk of road trips has got us planning our own summer adventures, so as we start thinking about getting away from everything, we ask Phillips how she'd reinvigorate this collapsing home, and other pieces of architecture that have inspired her work, alongside amazing images of the domes then and now. 

Why did you love these domes?
We are planning our summer vacation/research trip. Architecture is a big part of our inspiration and these are just amazing. We’ll start the drive in Miami and make our way up to Florida’s Forgotten Coast on the Gulf of Mexico, with the goal of seeing the real Florida. We found these as a must see in Cape Romano, close to the Everglades and couldn’t believe they are still even standing. The domes are a family project that started in the 80s and have slowly withered away into the Gulf of Mexico as hurricane after hurricane erodes the coastline of Florida.

Where would be your ideal place to situate them if you owned them?
Further up the Gulf Coast, in Cape San Blas Florida where I spent most of my childhood and adolescent summers. It’s an absolute dream and completely undeveloped compared to surrounding beach towns; there are just two restaurants on the whole cape and one petrol station, a lot of pine trees and a gorgeous national park.

What’s the dream outfit for a day in the dome?
A Mara Hoffman bikini, Missoni lurex trousers and a red “Made in USA” bandana on my head tied do-rag style… with a sun tan and Ray Bans!

How would you decorate?
Oh so major, it would have a table my husband has designed in the middle of the dome where we all gather with drinks and snacks and card games, sitting on some Eames DSW chairs all around; Prouvé Potence Lamps on the walls; Art from all our friends like Laurence Owen’s big 4 x 7 metre pieces he’s working on for his final show at the RA and a ton of local seashells on the walls, in bell jars and framed in shadow boxes. With as much natural light as possible!

What is your favourite piece of modern architecture?
I love the Teatro Popular in Niteroi, Brazil – although I’ve never been I reference it in work quite a bit. I also love the Pompidou in Paris so much; this one I have been to a lot.

What deserted location would you like to rein habit/invigorate?
There are a lot of places in Chile, where I was born, that would be amazing… in the Patagonia or the Atacama desert there is incredible light and really special energy, away from all the madness of the world. 

Urban dwelling or beachside living?
Both! I’ll have the cake and eat it too please.

What are you excited about for summer?
Our road trip, sand in my toes, cold beers on the beach, fishing and building sand castles with our little nieces Eva & Luna.

What was the last thing you bought?
A coffee from my friend Marcus on Gillett Square where our studio is based.