Villa Azura, Antigua
Perched high on Antigua's dramatic Long Bay peninsula, Villa Azura beckons travellers home.
Words by Juliet Austin and Alisa Bowen. Photography by James Neal.
Set in the hypnotic balance between the sea and the heavens above, Villa Azura's vertiginous cliff top promontory extends eastward, slicing boldly through the lazuline waters, like the prow of some celestial ocean liner. With awe-inspiring panoramas out over the Atlantic Ocean, there is a palpable sense of being on the cusp of earth and sky: grounded, yet ready, at any moment, to cut ties and float off into the great beyond. Seduced by the bold interplay of elements – the soaring fifty-foot limestone cliffs of Dian Point with its brisk, on-shore tradewinds – lifetime travellers, James and Amanda Neal, heard the spellbinding siren’s song luring them forth. Instinctively they knew that this was the perfect slice of paradise to provide a hiatus from their wanderlust and put down roots.
Inspired by acres of untouched arid topography, including tropical succulents, cacti and aloe, so reminiscent of their time in Costa Careyes, Mexico, the couple engaged the expertise of architect, Andrew Goodenough, conspiring to create a design, largely driven by the elements, to deliver a colourful Mexican- Caribbean fusion. Encompassing open-air living and embracing the circumferential ocean views, Goodenough recalls, “Our idea was to create a cluster of buildings to form a small organic ‘pueblo’, allowing us to angle the buildings away from the wind, in such a way as to create a series of sheltered and connected outdoor spaces that face the ocean.”
Cypress poles lend a raw look to the structure, while the combination of quintessential Caribbean hipped roofs, Mexican-style flat roofs and kitchen and barbeque chimneys evokes the feel of a small village. Says Goodenough, “The house appears like a series of buildings that have grown organically over a period of time.” Seasonal shifts in the sun’s path – its rise and fall – deliver a striking sculptural silhouette as light plays on its multiple façades. Steps ascend to a whimsical rooftop terrace with 360° vistas, northwest to the North Sound Islands and south down the coast towards Half Moon Bay. At night, the distant lights of the capital, St. John’s, create an enchanting backdrop for evenings of moonbathing and stargazing.
Extending the view ever outward, the sparkling waters of the infinity pool merge with the ocean in a dramatic design coup d’état. Tied together by shady walkways and a pretty outdoor sitting room, the expansive poolside terrace forms the heart of the home. Flanked by loungers, it is the ultimate sunseeker’s dream, but for those in need of a shady respite, the sunken gazebo offers a blissful nook to tuck up one’s toes with a good book. Accentuating the easy flow, earth-toned walls with a sun-washed patina are rounded and smooth, creating sensual forms with a primitive appeal, underscored by wooden vigas – horizontal roof beams with a cross-hatching of latillas used to create shadow patterns that are straight out of Africa. Punches of vibrancy come, courtesy of cobalt-blue louvred shutters and doors, echoing the magnificent blue yonder and, simultaneously, framing views from the inside out.
Welcoming all to Azura’s blue heaven, French doors yawn open invitingly to reveal an interior characterised by polished grey poured concrete floors and towering cathedral ceilings. Ever mindful of the environment, the intelligent design utilises American Clay for interior walls with the adobe-like appearance of sundried earth. Natural and non-toxic, the medium ‘breathes’ with changes in temperature and humidity – perfect for countering the often-harsh climatic conditions of the region.
Designed by the Neals themselves, rooms abound with customised furniture from Bali, which as Amanda explains, “is mostly whitewashed, or painted, to keep an element of lightness inside the house.” Avid travellers, their passions are reflected in an intriguing union of collectibles. Bright swathes of fabric, redolent of the couple’s wanderlust, contrast dramatically with the natural palette, introducing an intriguing ethnic flavour.
Crewelwork from rural South Africa, potato print textiles from Zimbabwe and kitenge fabric cushions from Zanzibar – each part of the Hansel and Gretel trail leading deep into a storied past. Rounding up the eclectic medley of decorative artefacts adorning the interior are exotic hardwood doors and a custom-crafted glass and Balinese wood treasure table, showcasing a thirtyyear trove of shells and corals collected from across the globe.
“The house appears like a series of buildings that have grown organically over a period of time.”
Each with their own charming, shaded pergola, ensuite bedrooms feature eco- and energy-friendly Evening Breeze air-conditioned canopy beds cleverly designed to create cool zones over sleeping areas. Topped with bright African kangas, the innovative beds allows louvres to remain open to the elements, enabling peaceful nights of slumber accompanied only by rolling waves and rustling palm fronds. Defined by funky, African-themed, handmade tiles from Pesamuan Ceramics in Bali, bathrooms lead out to private courtyards where outdoor rain-showers are framed by tiled accent walls and cocooned by lush tropical foliage.
Landscaped by Carrie Crotty, Azura’s relaxed courtyard is artfully planted with rainbow shower trees, elephant ears, dwarf banana trees, fishtail palms and intricate spider lilies, the epitome of Caribbean living. Revelling in intense contrasts of colour and light, bursts of intense bougainvillea and hibiscus blooms are tempered by the creamy, aromatic splendour of frangipani. Growing in harmony with indigenous trees like the gumbo limbo, seagrapes, Barbados cherry and the magnificent flamboyants, Crotty planted a sausage tree along with two baobabs, creating a horticultural allusion to the Neal’s days spent under African skies.
Enfolded by nature, and effortlessly blending bold Mexican, African and Balinese motifs, Villa Azura brings the world to its doorstep, lured by the siren’s captivating song. Replete with its trove of treasured memories, the house stands as a unique personal sanctuary, a refuge from the nomadic life – at last, a place to call home.
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