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Reigning Zen, Trinidad & Tobago

Trinidadian, Kaye Tench, creates her own Caribbean soul asylum in Tobago's Villa Ohana.

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Where the sea meets the sky, Villa Ohana's emblematic cliff top gazebo strikes a dramatic pose against the luxuriant ultramarine palette of Tobago’s Bacolet Beach. Steeple-like, its tapered curve draws the eye down from the heavens, to embrace the full scope of owner, Kaye Tench’s hilltop haven, from its powerful ocean vista where pelicans wheel and plunge to the intimate sandy cove to the south. Resplendent amid untamed foliage that tumbles unrestrainedly down the rocky headland to the lapping ocean below, the villa rises, a heartsong of serenity and romance on this original Robinson Crusoe isle.

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Villa_Ohana_PoolConsidered one of the last unspoilt secrets of the Caribbean, Defoe’s castaway island is easily invoked by Tobago’s cascading waterfalls, ancient volcanic ridges and mystical rainforests. Fuelled by the idyllic setting and childhood memories of growing up in the West Indies, the genesis of Villa Ohana took hold. “Eating fish, catching crabs, the smell of the sea, sleeping to the sound of the waves was unforgettable. This was the feel I was after,” enthuses Tench. Naming the villa ‘Ohana’, a Hawaiian word representing the bond that links a true family, not just by blood but by joy and respect, Tench envisaged a sanctuary; a resting place to “get under the skin” of all those crossing its threshold.

Enlisting the “ability for exquisite detail,” of local veteran architect, John Otway, the final design married two seemingly disparate aspirations: the nostalgia of Tench’s Caribbean upbringing and her desire for a contemporary house with Javanese influences. “Kaye knew the old beach houses in Mayaro, an extensive beach on the east coast of Trinidad, and was aware of the kind of magic some possessed,” explains Otway. And it is, perhaps, these intimate echoes, woven into the very fabric of its design that allow visitors to connect to the intangible but undeniable soul of this special place.

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“Each piece and its positioning within the house would call to me. It seemed so effortless.”

Villa_Ohana_CourtyardOriented to harness the cooling tradewinds and optimise the fall of the land to the sea and beach, Otway’s 7,000 square foot masterpiece resembles a village of tiny houses, each with its own intricate roofline, perched atop a bluff on the island’s eastern coast. Designed to entice, visitors are drawn into the villa down an entrance corridor, lured onward by tantalising peeks of glittering water and shady inner courtyards adorned with rustling bamboo and tropical flora, all meted out either side through open wooden latticework panels. The large ornamental koi pond, Jacuzzi and twin vanishing-edge pools are titillating precursors to the ultimate promise of the vast big blue languishing temptingly beyond tall wooden double doors. Open them, and the familiar horizon unfurls instantly to embrace 180-degree views of the Atlantic, exemplifying what Tench calls, “Otway’s mastery of space and drama. The space just opens out to beyond and beyond. It never fails to take my breath away.”

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Inside, the elemental living and dining areas combine an open-plan layout with vaulted ceilings and an amalgam of organic building materials to create a synergy between inside and out. Characterised by a prevalence of South American pitch pine, wooden floors add warmth and appeal while whimsical canvas sail shutters provide restful shelter from the intense heat of the tropical sun. A palette of creams and ochres delivers a mood of stillness and calm allowing the inherent beauty of nature to play out in full glory: the ultimate encapsulation of classic West Indian style.

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Villa_Ohana_Water_2Interiors brim with an infusion of the Far East, with a trove of personally selected and painstakingly refurbished antiques and expertly hand-carved pieces from Tench’s expeditions to Java. “I have design eyes like a hawk,” she laughs. “I travelled from village to village seeking out amazing craftsmen working in wood, stone and other organic materials. This all helps to lend an air of established time to the structure – leftovers from the Dutch East Indies/Javanese era that sit perfectly in their new context.” Channelling the Dutch East Indies connection, Tench establishes a profound and striking balance between East and West, borne out in the home’s classic lines and lavish oriental detailing. Yet, she humbly attributes Ohana’s harmonious blend to nothing more than instinct: “Each piece and its positioning within the house would call to me. It seemed so effortless.”

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Four luxurious ensuite bedrooms, complete with massive teak four-poster beds, crisp Egyptian cotton bedlinen, jewel-coloured silk runners and swathes of romantic mosquito netting, wrap around a large oceanfront sundeck, while private, hammockslung terraces appear magically suspended over water; all intended to, “entangle guests in an organic and spiritual way.” Open the window shutters to the master bathroom and bathe outside; curl up on a bolstered daybed and watch koi carp glide silently beneath the lily pads or feel the vibration of hummingbird wings as you wander the exotic flower gardens. At Villa Ohana, the senses are heightened, engaged subtly and subconsciously in reading this richly layered environment which is, at once, brilliant sun, shady recesses and saltspray; crashing waves, lapping tides and mirrored sunsets; sandy toes, aromatic frangipani and ripe mangos.

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More than just the sum of its parts, Ohana’s incorruptible and evocative presence offers a temple to the soul for asylum seekers: an exotic oasis where time stands still and the present moment magically falls into picture perfect focus.

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