Real Estate

Habitat: A former New York Times journalist built this beachside fortress in P.E.I.

When ‘The Outlaw Ocean’ founder Ian Urbina searched for a piece of land by the water to plant new roots he set his sights on the coast of P.E.I.
Alex Cyr

Ian Urbina, a longtime New York Times reporter, spent 17 years abroad reporting on human rights and the environment in Cuba, Mexico and Spain, but his travels rarely brought him to Canada. Before last year, Urbina’s only link to the Great White North was a colleague who couldn’t stop musing about his summer property on Prince Edward Island. Urbina was based in Washington, D.C., but he was enraptured by his co-worker’s tales. “He would tell me about this magical island with miles of beaches that his kids loved,” Urbina says.

By 2022, Urbina had left the Times to found The Outlaw Ocean, a non-profit organization that produces investigative journalism about human rights, labour and environmental concerns at sea. He longed for a peaceful place near a body of water to think and work, and P.E.I.’s North Shore—battered in September by Hurricane Fiona but normally quiet and serene—appeared to fit the bill. So he gave into his curiosity and, despite never having set foot on the island, started shopping online for properties.

He found a 10-acre piece of land on the water near the eastern hamlet of Naufrage. From his research on Google Maps, he could tell the area would be quiet—a two-kilometre-long driveway separated his plot from the island’s network of paved roads that extended for 75 kilometres before reaching Charlottetown. The privacy appealed to him so much that he bought the land sight unseen, with plans to build a vacation home. 

Urbina needed a contractor who could build something modern and compact with a view of the ocean. He was a carpenter in his younger days and, armed with his craftsmanship and aesthetic preferences, he found his match in Lloyoll, a Nova Scotia–based construction and design firm that specializes in minimalistic fortresses made mostly of wood and glass. Urbina chose the Skali High Cuboid model: a two-bedroom, 768-square-foot glass and weathering steel box with 11-foot cedar ceilings and sprawling windows, all for a base price of $345,000. He loved how the home’s copper-coloured façade matched the earth. “It melded perfectly with the surrounding soil because of its reddish colour, and stood out starkly from the shoreline because of its futuristic shape,” says Urbina.

The developers transported the box to Urbina’s lot in early December, and he visited the province for the first time three days later. He was taken aback by the frigid temperature: five below with a brisk breeze. “The winter had not even really started, but it was cold like nothing I had experienced. The wind on that North Shore was no joke,” he says. But his early brush with Maritime weather did little to dampen his enthusiasm about his new place, which came winter-proof and fitted with a wood-burning fireplace, an air-source heat pump and electric heaters behind the cabinetry—all wrapped in high-density insulation. 

Urbina loves the thoughtful details that went into his new house. The windows and doors are custom designed, the Douglas fir panels are made by Lloyoll, and the black and copper fixtures give the place a Scandinavian look. The home is also highly functional: the kitchen comes with Bosch appliances, the bathrooms have heated floors and spotlights line the cabinetry to make the place glow at night. The building’s outer skeleton of hardwood, glass and stone is not equipped to support a television, so the developers built Urbina a hideaway stand that folds down from the ceiling. 


Last summer was Urbina’s first on P.E.I. He marvelled at the island’s resounding calm, the quaintness of Charlottetown and sunsets unencumbered by city lights. “What captivated me most was how few people there are,” he said. “It creates a deep quiet that makes it so easy to write and relax.” 

His next trip to Canada from D.C. will be in April, when he will show off his new home to a few of his friends. Around that time, he plans to build a back deck and prepare the place for summer getaways with his wife, son, step-daughter and grandson. “I think I lucked out: first by choosing P.E.I. as a place to build, and second by picking the perfect contractor,” Urbina says. “I feel like I won the lottery twice.”