Kempa Kai, Cayman Islands
From a distance, the sloping, tiled roofs of Kempa Kai peek above the palms in the tranquil coastal community of Cayman Kai, giving only a hint of the Balinese-inspired beach retreat within.
Words by Natasha Were and Finn Jones. Photography by Heather Holt.
Meticulously designed and impeccably styled, the 9,000 square foot property is comprised of a magnificent two-storey main house with seven bedrooms and a separate two-bedroom bungalow, positioned among swaying palm trees on a fine white sand, starﬁsh filled beach.
The owner, an entertainment entrepreneur, had visited some of the world’s finest boutique hotels and resorts, for business and pleasure, and incorporated elements of these in his own family vacation retreat.
“My concept was for an attractively designed, yet laid-back inter-generational space, that felt like home,” the owner explained.
Particularly inspired by Sir Richard Branson’s Necker Island, a private island retreat in the BVI that is heavily influenced by Balinese design, the owner persuaded Branson to assist as an informal design consultant for Kempa Kai.
"I wanted to take what were, for me, the most appealing touches of Balinese architecture, while implementing the modern twist of luxury features," he explained. "So, while retaining several of its traditional aesthetic elements, design artistry and craftsmanship, I added contemporary and Cayman-inspired aspects."
To assist in achieving this vision, he enlisted the services of award-winning architect John Doak, who fused the high ceilings and ample use of hardwood and thatch work typical of South East Asian design with the indoor/outdoor living concept and clean lines of modern Caribbean architecture. It’s a style he has termed 'Cay-Bali'.
To ensure the architectural vision was built to the owner’s quality expectations, BCQS Limited was contracted to manage the construction.
Michelle Butler and David Wilson of Design Studio worked their magic on the dramatic spaces to create a sense of calm and easy flow between indoors and out. Design Studio was also integral to interpreting the owner's vision by designing and importing unique furniture and fixtures from around the world. An important element of Balinese design is the inclusion of the natural environment, whose cleansing and rejuvenating properties are said to bring harmony into a home. There are water features, a profusion of indoor and outdoor live plants, stone and wood – including indoor and outdoor beds and closets custom made by John Bird of Martlet Designs – that all play a part in bringing nature in.
A stone driveway leads through the private gated compound to a covered portico, flanked on either side by koi carp ponds. The grand wooden front door leads directly into the great room, a magnificent double height living space where woven bamboo thatch covers the ceiling, a tribute to both Caymanian and Balinese traditional thatch work. Wall to wall foldaway Panda glass doors allow unhindered views across the pool to the sea and the continuous use of natural stone flooring, sourced by ITC extends from the living space out onto the terrace creating a seamless transition between indoors and outdoors.
Impressive staircases on either side of the vast living space lead up to the east and west wings and create a pleasing symmetry. Design Studio expanded on this with an equally symmetrical, linear arrangement of furniture in the centre of the room. This draws the eye through the interior and out to the fresh, white paved terrace and long infinity pool. To further reinforce the sightlines, potted palms positioned in rows begin indoors and continue along the pool deck, and ultimately blend with the natural palms that stand sentry on the beach.
In one corner of the great room, the owner’s treasured artefacts from Havana have found their home behind the semi-circular bar which appears to have been carved out of an earlier place and time. Ideally positioned between the living area, kitchen and dining room, it’s the perfect spot to mix a pre-dinner cocktail, before adjourning to the 16-seater dining table, locally crafted by John Bird and lit by David Wilson's rustic rope chandelier. With glass doors on three sides, the dining room offers an experience that is as close to alfresco dining as possible with the added convenience of being adjacent to the bar and kitchen.
Designed with entertaining in mind, the kitchen is dominated by a large central island with a glossy marble countertop supplied by ITC and the bright and sunny ambience is enhanced by Ann Sach's custom designed yellow tile. The folding windows running the length of one side completely open onto an outdoor bar and BBQ area. The chef-grade appliances are ideal for home cooking and when catering to larger parties there is an adjacent service kitchen connecting to the outdoor cooking area.
The upper level of the west wing is the owner’s private sanctuary, with a stunning bedroom with retractable glass doors on three sides that provide wraparound sea views and the ability to open the space to the elements. With two private balconies, there is space to enjoy moments of solitude. The third and largest balcony, furnished with Balinese daybeds, overlooks the pool and beach and connects to the beachfront suite in the opposite wing.
In the bathroom, a freestanding oval tub placed next to a long window provides views through the trees to the sea while enjoying a long soak. A huge walk-in shower, screened in glass, keeps the space open and light.
Also in this wing is the owner’s study with a stunning live edge hardwood desk and a custom made foldaway bed in case of extra visitors, and a spiral staircase that leads up to a roof terrace – a perfect spot to lounge in the jacuzzi and soak in the views as the sun sets.
As the owner’s extended family are regular visitors, the residence was designed to accommodate everyone with their own private suite. The other three suites in the main residence are thus equally inviting, with a commissioned portrait by local contemporary artist Dready of each family member in their respective bathrooms.
The suites all feature the same sophisticated but simple aesthetic, with restful white, cream and brown colour schemes reminiscent of a luxury hotel and are furnished with dark mahogany beds, intricate Balinese wood carvings, natural fibre rugs and billowing white curtains. Although no two bathrooms are alike, the interior designer explained, all were designed to offer a luxurious spa-like feel. Natural stone and wood tile floors were kept continuous in the shower, vanity and bath areas to maintain an open concept, with discreet storage and high-end fixtures adding to the sense of sleek sophistication.
“One of our favourite en suites is in the guest bungalow, where we were able to use the outdoor, walled garden area as an extension to the bathroom,” Michelle said. “The shower is located in this courtyard where Cayman stone walls and wood screening afford total privacy. The effect is truly magical.”
The separate two-bedroom guest bungalow was inspired by the children’s story 'Swiss Family Robinson'. Ideal for young families, it features a bright kids’ room with custom-made bunks and turtle shell reading lights, and a connecting master suite or nanny suite. Both open onto a secure, walled garden perfect for safe play. From the bungalow, guests can peacefully access the beach via tree-lined stepping-stones.
A miniature private resort of its own, Kempa Kai’s outdoor amenities are sublime: the centre piece is the shimmering infinity pool that stretches from the main residence down to the beach. It is flanked on either side by crisp, white cushioned loungers; scattered among coconut palms, on the sand are white woven hammocks and carved wooden sofas. Under a thatched cabana a swinging day bed is suspended from the rafters. No shortage of places to relax and recharge.
Indoors further relaxation spaces include the custom-built entertainment room with the ultimate laid-back lounger for the entire family to recline. Overlooking the great room and adjoining two bedrooms on the east wing, is an expansive built in seating area featuring an original commissioned brush stroked painting of stingrays by Guy Harvey, a nod to the local marine life.
Alongside the opulence, however, the owner was keen to incorporate sustainability. Thus, the residence features a smart energy management system that shuts off the A/C when doors or windows are open, propane appliances supplied by A. L. Thompson’s, with the main gas system efficiently installed by Go Gas, solar and Tesla power wall wiring, drought-resistant plants to reduce water consumption, and ample recycling bins.
It took four years and a strong team of experienced professionals to give shape to the owner’s vision. The end result is a spectacular fusion of architectural influences and design details that have endowed Kempa Kai with both the quiet elegance of a luxury resort and the warmth and character of a private home.
For more information contact, Kempa Kai
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