A new landmark: Palapa Pineapple Monolithic Dome home stands tall
Dave Spellings knew exactly what he wanted to do in life. “I wanted to do some traveling,” he remembered. “I wanted to start Dave’s Local Bar. I could be the local enlightening all the tourists and such. But then I saw Xanadu.”
This was in the mid-1990s, and Xanadu Island Resort was taking shape near San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, Belize’s largest island. Xanadu still bills itself as the first and only Monolithic Dome resort in the world — “as far as we know.” Spellings, a surveyor with some civil engineering training, was immediately intrigued with the idea of building something just as unique on a tropical beach somewhere.
Xanadu’s domes, of course, are designed for a luxury experience, offering well-appointed suites with up to three bedrooms. Spellings envisioned something simpler, layering one room on top of another, creating a simpler structure that would fit in better with a beach environment. “What I did was squeeze it, trying to get something that I could make into an island-type place that would fit in better,” Spellings said. “That’s how it started out. It was just an idea.”
And it would remain just an idea for years.
Fast-forward to 2011. Spellings crossed paths with artist Mary Pentecost Shirey during a monthly car show and market near his home base in East Texas. “Something clicked,” he remembered, adding neither were looking for a relationship at the time. “But the Lord smiled on us very graciously.”
Her artistic influence sparked Dave Spellings’ imagination, and he returned to his house-on-the-beach idea. Sketching it out proved challenging, though. “It was round, and I couldn’t do the dimensions,” he recalled. He ended up building a scale model using wooden blocks and a glue gun.
They married Feb. 14, 2012, and honeymooned on Caye Caulker, one of Belize’s smaller islands. A narrow channel called the Split divides the island. On the north side, the Spellings came across a property that caught their attention, one overlooking the Caribbean Sea. What captivated them then is what makes their home there perfect now: its beachside location.
“We like being right on the water,” Mary Spellings said. “There’s a wonderful breeze most of the time and that’s great — most of the time you don’t need to run the air conditioner. And we put in plenty of windows to where we can keep it cool.”
The Monolithic Dome Institute entered the picture at the suggestion of Dave Spellings’ brother, Joel, who drove by its Texas headquarters on a regular basis. The Institute worked with the Spellings on the design and training for the project. The Institute also helped the Spellings gather a lot of the equipment to build the dome, load it all into a packing container, and ship it to Belize by sea. Monolithic also sent experts to Belize when needed to help train the crew and navigate trickier aspects of the build.
The Spellings’ plot of paradise didn’t have electricity or running water when they first set eyes on it in 2012, but they were willing to go off the grid to live there. By the time the dome’s foundation ring was poured in June 2018, though, the island offered both.
“We had a deal going we called PMA — positive mental attitude — and so many good things just happened to us,” Dave Spellings said. “We didn’t even have to make a phone call. We just said, ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be neat if we had this,’ and the next thing you know it’d show up in our lives.”
The work stretched through the rest of 2018 and into 2019 with local crews supplying most of the labor. Dave Spellings spent a total of 230 days in Belize in 2019 working on the dome, his wife accompanying him and sometimes not. In any case, Dave Spellings worked alongside the crew all day.
“The work was hard,” he said. “But it really wasn’t that bad, you know, working for yourself, and we had a really good crew.”
The construction was largely finished in December 2019, though the Spellings continue to work with local artisans to furnish and decorate what has come to be called Dave and Mary’s Palapa Pineapple. The finished home features a white polyvinyl exterior with rounded windows and a veranda on top. Inside, wooden staircases wind along the walls leading from one floor to the next, with a ship ladder connecting the fourth floor to the veranda.
Sound travels through the pineapple in unexpected ways, Dave Spellings said. “It’s kind of strange around the bedroom down to the kitchen — the acoustics are just so cool. You can hear when the breeze blows through. It’s been something to get used to, though.”
They look forward to spending even more time in Belize now that they have a home there.
“Before we started the actual building, we would go down there two or three times a year,” Mary Spellings said. “Now we’re just going to stay, depending on how things roll, since we don’t have to rent or anything like that. We can even go down and spend the cold winter months down there and get away from the yukky stuff here.”
A lot of Americans are building Caye Caulker’s north side, and the Spellings count Texans and New Mexicans among their neighbors. So far, theirs is the only dome, Dave Spellings said. “So a lot of people use our place as a landmark.”
Their lots are separated by thick jungle growth, but there’s still a spirit of laid-back neighborliness among them, he said. “It’s really cool because we always sit and drink our coffee on what we call our back porch that faces the road, and we wave to the tourists that are heading into town, the school kids that are going into town to go catch the boat and the workers coming in from the other way. They all know us, and we know most of them.”