Yemanja House, Mustique, St. Vincent
Yemanja House, Mustique, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, a Caribbean epic.
Words by Juliet Austin. Photography by Curtis Dale.
You may have heard told stories of Mustique's halcyon days - the hedonistic epoch of the 'Lord of the Revels', the late Lord Glenconner. Part of the Lesser Antilles’ archipelago, the dreamy private island hideaway, ever the go-to getaway of royals, aristocrats, celebs and socialites alike, still retains its erstwhile glamour and exclusivity, only now, properties like Yemanjá House commanding Mustique’s tranquil easterly shore, are redefining what it means to live the high life; rewriting the legend under the sun in a new, more soulful architectural language.
Emerging phoenix-like from the shell of a previous home, Yemanjá possesses something of a mythical quality befitting its glamorous proportions and impetus. Named after the Goddess of the Sea, revered in African and South American cultures as the source of all water and representing the essence of motherhood, providence and fertility, the home’s curved walls and soft, feminine lines are the perfect counterpoint to its imposing stone-clad façade. Dreamed into being as a multigenerational family retreat, the fortresslike character speaks to the strength of family, a recurring motif embodied in the pebble-mosaic five wave emblem found in the entrance foyer and echoed throughout the abode. Representing the owners’ five children, it reveals the guiding principle to this masterstroke of design: a home whose ultimate gesture of extravagance is its ability to draw people together; to proffer an escape from the everyday, for the chance to dwell as one in paradise.
Scaling new heights of luxury 300-feet above sheltered bays, sandy coves and boundless aquamarine, the très chic, Latin-inspired retreat frames beauty at every turn; a visual extravaganza existing in tandem with the monumental splendour of its setting. Ingeniously designed by internationally acclaimed Mexican architect, Manolo Mestre, to echo the island’s promontories, Yemanjá creates, “an undulating and sensuous connection with the landscape.” Built in 2004 on a sprawling seven-acre lot rich in towering palms, mature shade trees, aromatic frangipani and brilliant bougainvillea blooms, a steep driveway leads past the charming guest cottage to the circular courtyard and, in turn, up a curved ‘drawbridge’ staircase to the stonewalled entrance foyer. Here, a golden-hued painting of the namesake goddess welcomes visitors into her protective care. According to Mestre, “Approaching the property, there is a feeling of conquering the summit.”
With 19,000-square-feet of living space masterfully designed on multi-levels to maximise vertiginous views, the vast estate unfurls, compelling visitors along cut-stone pathways into its heart, the dramatic open air Mexican palapa – a soaring, palm-thatched pavilion around which all else revolves. What could be more splendid than the reward of uninhibited 360° views out over the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean from the comfort of goddess-worthy daybeds; more intoxicating than night-swimming under a starfilled canopy in the sensual infinityedge pool, the blue ribbon lagoon that cradles the contours of the home, flowing like a mystical moat around the hilltop haven?
Conceived as an island nucleus where guests can ‘moor’, the central palapa provides, “a breathing space for the rest of the house,” with no corners for evil spirits to hide. Harnessing prevailing breezes, it is imbued with the ancient wisdom of the Mexican vernacular, cleverly tempered by a show-stopping blend of innate Caribbean chic and Brazilian flair, courtesy of the well-travelled owners. Nature uninterrupted, the incorporation of huge boulders, the previous zenith of the hill, alongside warm natural hues, voluptuously curved furnishings like the fat rattan Oggetti armchairs and gently-rounded walls suggests a place that has grown out of the earth. Amplifying Yemanjá’s epic scope, the etched concrete floor design radiates outward, creating a ripple effect like a water droplet on a still pond. Grounded in the moment, Mestre’s “tactile architecture” enfolds visitors in the spellbinding power of the exotic, as they become rooted in the intense contrasts of light and colour at the core of Caribbean living. “Life in the Tropics is about living outdoors whilst being protected at the same time – you have your bathing suit and a hat… the palapa is a big hat that fits a lot of people,” quips Mestre.
Favouring locally-procured materials, traditional wooden shingles create a sublime, sun-washed patina that “soften(s) the vocabulary,” while casually sophisticated Jerusalem stone floors, inlaid with artfully-designed pebble rugs, lend spaces an air of barefoot grandeur – every detail testament to virtuoso craftsmanship and quality.
Named after assorted Brazilian fruits and delicacies, the five exquisitely appointed ensuite bedrooms of the main house feature Brazilian linens, thick sisal matting, intriguing antiques and carefully-sourced one-of-a-kind furnishings, delivering a classic, colonial ambience, drawn together by individualised colour palettes. In the sophisticated master bedroom, a grand four-poster bamboo bed is coupled with exotic prints of African dancers inspired by Carybé, while French doors spill out onto a private terrace – the perfect vantage from which to appreciate nature’s full glory.
Elsewhere, an eclectic trove of Brazilian and African furniture, decorative artefacts and collectibles from around the globe fuse with contemporary elements, all handpicked from the iconic High Point Furniture Market. The owners’ wanderlust reveals itself in the smattering of enthralling visual surprises adorning the home: wall lanterns discovered at a foundry in the Dominican Republic; a vast oval dining table, crafted from shaved bone in Bogotá; candlesticks custom-made by Indian designer, Rojesh Bojay and the organic form of a Roberta Schilling sofa, expertly handcrafted from an Amazonian tree trunk. Coconut shell and bamboo cabinetry by Industrias Exporenso add a touch of the Tropics while recycled South African railroad ties and personally selected artwork from, amongst others, Chinese painter, Yukang, give the home a truly multinational feel. To complement the scheme, soft furnishings include fine fabrics from China Seas, Brunschwig and Fils and Quadrille as well as handembroidered pillows by Chilean, Pablo Mekis and the ever-in-vogue, Dransfield and Ross.
Additionally, down below lies the beguiling, self-sufficient three-bedroom guest cottage, Bahai, tucked away discretely in ‘secret garden’ splendour amidst swaying coconut palms and wild tropical blooms. Complete with a private palapita, alfresco dining area and shady bougainvillea-clad terrace, the lower master bedroom opens out onto a long, grassy lawn with an infinity lap pool which takes this utopian dream-of-a-place over the edge.
And while adults embrace the insouciant escapism of this Caribbean nirvana, children can live their very own version of the high life in the ultimate playground in paradise. With his-andhers children’s bunkhouses sleeping up to sixteen, a specially earmarked plunge pool, dining area and an ‘all-the-bellsand- whistles’ Media Room, Yemanjá is every child’s Neverland.
Surely one of the most beautiful places on Earth, despite its vast scope, Yemanjá’s luminary design retains an intimate human scale. Mestre enthuses, “I believe in the healing properties of architecture. I create lifestyles that embrace nature and heal the soul. At the end, while focusing on those healing processes, the beauty of the architecture emerges effortless.” And so, rising up from the seas, ever within the goddess’ protective embrace, Yemanjá stands: proud testament to the power of unity.
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