The proud parents of five children and seventeen grandchildren, the Pauls were living on Sullivan’s Island in 1989 when Hurricane Hugo struck. “The last nail hadn’t even been pounded on the major remodeling project we were doing when Hugo came through and we lost everything,” Huiet says. Determined to rebuild, the Pauls enlisted help from their son, George. Taking his cue from shells found along the nearby beach, George sold his parents on the idea of a concrete monolithic dome in place of their previous traditional home. “I like to say the idea transpired after lots of coffee and late night drives,” George laughs. Construction started in 1991 and took a year and a half to complete. “We originally designed a round house but eventually because of the lot and the view we increased the linear footage and ended up with more of an elliptical shape,” says George. The Paul home is called Eye of the Storm and was designed to be indigenous to the seashore by reflecting the curve of the beach, the dunes, and the seashells.
Eight huge openings, several of which are used as parking garages, along with storage areas, and a play area for the grandchildren, make up the home’s ground level. With its aerodynamic shape, wind and rain curve around and travel through these openings, eliminating pressure buildup. During a hurricane or tropical storm, these openings allow nature’s fury to pass through, leaving the structure unharmed. One-piece solid reinforced concrete and steel construction also means that Eye of the Storm can withstand up to a category five hurricane and any subsequent tornadoes. Concrete pilings were driven into the marl stopping one foot above the earth’s surface. One by two-foot reinforced concrete footings were poured on top of the pilings. A nylon balloon-like fabric was then inflated to the desired size and shape and interlocked with the footings. Rubberized stucco mixed with walnut shells for added texture was used to finish the exterior, while the interior was completed by installing additional insulation, concrete, and stucco. Cut into the exterior are several covered porches, each placed for a spectacular ocean view.
Eighty feet wide and fifty seven and one half feet in length, the Paul home has three separate interior levels and a total of 3800 “round” feet. The three levels weigh in at 250 tons and hang from the dome’s main shell, basically holding the roof in place. The lack of a “traditional” roof, with no gutters, eaves, or overhangs lessens yearly maintenance. Because of design and construction materials Eye of the Storm is very energy efficient and interior temperatures are easily maintained with minimum cost. Ground heat is drawn up into the shell through the concrete slab and helps to keep the home at a comfortable temperature; while continuous ocean breezes flow through the seaside wall of windows.
Exterior concrete stairs gently curve around the side of the home and lead into the main living area. This second level is home to a large open kitchen, dining, and great room, along with three guest suites each with a private bath. Running inside underneath all the ocean-side roll-out casement windows is a built-in concrete and stucco ledge topped with Italian tile showcasing the Paul’s thriving houseplants and sweetgrass basket collection. Outside covered porches feature the same type of ledge and provide plenty of additional seating when all the children and grandchildren are visiting. The great room has a wood-burning fireplace and a built-in-home entertainment nook both sculpted into the concrete walls while the home was under construction. Keeping with the circular theme of the home, the great room sofa sectional and separate reading chairs are all curved, along with the rounded kitchen center island.
The Paul’s grandson, Ryan Krusac, owner of Ryan Krusac Studios, handcrafted furniture in two of the guestrooms. “While my grandparent’s home is very contemporary, we have a tradition of passing down family heirlooms so I took a long-term approach in my designs. I wanted a balance of modern and traditional,” Ryan says.
An interior free-floating stairway leads to the third level and duplicates the exterior staircase. Helen and Huiet’s primary living quarters, complete with full kitchen and den are located on this level; affording them absolute privacy during family get-togethers. Branching off and surrounding the master bedroom is a separate double vanity area. A deep soaker tub is surrounded by windows and provides a spectacular view of the Atlantic. “Baths are my passion, and from here I have one of the best views of the ocean,” Helen says. Hidden in one of the rounded walls in an oversized shower room with tile benches. No shower door or curtain is required due to the location and design.
Accessed from the kitchen/den area is yet another curving flight of steps leading to the fourth and final level. Now decorated as a guestroom, at one time it was Huiet’s office. “My oval office,” Huiet laughs. A large skylight is positioned directly over this fourth level. When the house was originally constructed the skylight could be raised and lowered for ventilation, but is now sealed glass. ‘During a storm with 93 mile per hour winds, the original skylight got sucked out,” Huiet says.
While Eye of the Storm was conceived due to a horrific natural disaster, it has over the years become a source of harmony, tranquility, and peace of mind for Helen and Huiet. Not to mention they always have a sure-fire conversation starter.