A Central Ohio couple shares a peek at their tropical island property

While spring-break getaways and tropical retreats are a main topic of conversation this month, one Central Ohio couple has built many memories on the remote island of North Captiva, just off the Gulf Coast of Florida. This is the story of Mike and Sarah Rapp, a Granville couple that has spent much of the last few decades building a fantasy lifestyle that others only dream about.

North Captiva Island, a breakaway island from Captiva Island, flourishes with lush, tropical vegetation and white, sandy beaches, essentially untouched by the over-commercialization so common in many vacation spots. At just 4 miles long and a half-mile wide, it is accessible only by boat or light aircraft. Residents and visitors get around the island using golf carts and bikes on scenic pathways. Walks along the beach often include views of manatees, dolphins and turtles.

The island's protected landscape appealed to the Rapps, who purchased land there in 2001—a decision that would become a fruitful financial investment over the years to come.

By early 2003, the couple built a four-bedroom, 3.5 bath house with a pool. The 2,000-square-foot space is an upside-down layout typical of beach properties. Situated high off the ground on stilts, the bedrooms, with sleeping space for 10, are positioned on the lower level and the great room, kitchen and dining area are located on the highest level.

The main living spaces in this home open to a lanai with additional seating, gulf breezes and views of the bay. Just above is a rooftop sun deck that offers views of both the Gulf of Mexico, as well as the bay, and is one of the homeowners' favorite features of the house. “You'll see a lot of people on North Captiva … watching the sun set, having a glass of wine,” says Sarah.

Because the island offers so many reasons to get outdoors, such as world-class fishing, kayaking and birdwatching, the Rapps chose informal, carefully-curated interior furnishings to fill their space—one of the many aspects of remote living that requires much planning.

“It's a pretty arduous process because the water creates all of these [challenges] you have to figure out logistically,” says Mike, an investment leader at Owens Corning.

Before the home was built, initial infrastructural elements like building a well for water and setting up a septic system were put in place because the island does not have a water or sewage plant. After the house was designed, all building materials had to be transported by barge from the mainland to the island, picked up by a truck and driven through the island's pathways to be delivered to the job site. Daily transportation of construction workers to the remote island also had to be considered.

“If you get out to the island and you don't have all the pieces and parts, you're kind of stuck,” adds Mike. “You can't go to Home Depot down the road.” A similar process followed when it was time to acquire furniture, décor and housewares.

Sarah and a friend, who is an interior designer, visited a similar home on the island, pre-construction, to determine several details, including the interior and exterior colors as well as every piece of furniture needed, in the correct sizes required.

Sarah then began shipping things to be stored in a warehouse near the island. Meanwhile, smaller items such as wall hangings and linens were kept in the family's basement in Granville until it was time for Mike and some friends to load a moving truck and drive to Florida. Once in Florida, the group then picked up all of the furniture being stored at the warehouse. The entire truck was then sent, by barge, to the island where the builder set up the furniture and beds.

“Basically, in the cost of building your house is the whole cost of getting all the belongings out there and put in the home,” Mike says.

The Rapps had a grand plan, though. Even though they planned to use the house as a vacation spot, they also intended to operate it as a rental home for vacationers. Inspired to test its rental potential, Sarah posted a listing that advertised the home on one website and her efforts quickly paid off.

“I kind of hit the jackpot,” she recalls. “I mean, I booked the house off of the advertisement probably a good 20 weeks [that first year].” With a steady stream of revenue coming in from the house, she started getting approached by other North Captiva homeowners interested in having their own properties marketed. Eventually, she pursued a real estate license and launched a vacation rental business, Beach Vacations 4 Me, which she continues to manage remotely from Granville.

Though much different from a previous career in the health-care field, Sarah says that over the years this opportunity provided the flexibility to be at home with her children when they were younger and the ongoing opportunity to work with other homeowners on the island. Her personal experience owning a property on the island has helped contribute to the business's success, she says.

The homeowners say owning a remote vacation rental property has certainly come with some unique challenges, including the fact that grocery lists must be planned in advance and ordered from the mainland grocery store. They've also suffered a few hardships—including significant damage following Hurricane Charley in 2004. For the most part, the experience has been rewarding and enjoyable for their family and the many friends who have visited over the years. Additionally, they credit the business for building friendships with people from around the United States they probably wouldn't have met otherwise.

“In the beginning, we'd maybe go four weeks a year, and now that my children are grown, we spend probably a couple of months there,” says Sarah. Their trips include Thanksgiving each year with family and friends, a tradition they can now also share with their first grandchild, who's been to the island many times since he was born.

The family has also donated a week's stay at the North Captiva home to a variety of charities in Central Ohio. “It's just a magical place that we all love,” says Sarah.