Driftwood and Pinkie Palace, Cayman Islands
Pinkie Palace, a restored century-old cottage, and Driftwood, a newly built home designed in traditional Caymanian style, weave together an eloquent story that touches on history, sustainability, transience, and the owners' globetrotting adventures.
Words by Natasha Were. Photography by Kari Castrogiovanni and Heather Holt.
Heidi Bassett Blair and her family had first encountered the half-forgotten wattle and daub cottage, tucked in among the seagrapes on South Sound Beach while on vacation thirty years ago. Once home to a renowned midwife, Nurse Pinkie, Heidi felt the humble property embodied, “the romanticism of the seafaring culture and the women of the past who held the community together.”
Charmed as much by its prime position on the beach as by the history contained within its layers of peeling paint and time worn doors and shutters, she never dreamed it would one day be hers.
The years passed, the family moved to Bali and travelled throughout Asia, eventually settling in Cayman seven years ago. Three years ago, they were finally able to purchase the 115-year old cottage and the land around it.
Restoring the cottage was Heidi’s priority. With the help of Dean Scott and architect, John Doak – an ardent advocate for the preservation of Cayman’s architectural heritage – the concrete block extensions that had been added over the years were peeled away, revealing ironwood posts, wattle and daub walls and beams with Roman numerals carved into them by the original builders. Almost 100% of these were preserved. Once the walls had been strengthened and a new roof, new floors and hurricane-rated windows added, the whole structure was lifted and moved 100 feet inland, making way for a new family home – Driftwood – to be built later on with the help of Jonathan Correia of Tropical Construction Management and Bavan Antonysraj.
“It is such a gift to be able to live on this land, that the best way to give back was to preserve the legacy of those who were there before us,” Heidi reflects. “I felt strongly that we should celebrate the past and bring it up to date so that we may continue to create stories and educate this generation by bringing the cottage to the road side.”
An artist by nature and a photographer by profession, Heidi took on the interior design of Pinkie, and later Driftwood, herself. Drawing on a treasure trove of artefacts collected on their travels, she transformed the one-room interior into an eclectic studio and guesthouse, breathing new life into the historic home with bright tones and personal keepsakes. Wooden furniture, oriental rugs and cushions, her own photography and Caymanian handicrafts all stand out against the fresh white walls, ceilings and floorboards. Rather than a perfectly styled space, she has created a sense of carefree, boho-chic, filled with colour and fun.
The renovation of Pinkie inevitably shaped ideas for a second building on the same piece of land. John Doak ’s design philosophy of creating houses that are “of this place Cayman” meshed perfectly with the owners’ desire to respect the integrity of what was already there.
Designed to embrace the ever-changing contours of the beach and the threat of hurricanes, instead of building sea walls or fences, Doak emulated the age-old technique of building the house on posts so that storm surges could flow underneath it. By framing and finishing it in hardwood, the home not only ‘breathes’ to ensure healthy indoor air quality but, “will expand, contract or resist wind movement, earthquakes or otherwise,” he notes.
The owners were inspired to maintain a legacy of modesty when designing Driftwood so, rather than creating a wish list of all the things they wanted in their dream home, they focused on what they could leave out. The essentials boiled down to a huge covered terrace and enough bedrooms for the couple and each of their three children.
The two-storey home therefore features an open plan kitchen, living and dining space with huge glass sliders that connect to a deep, shady veranda, two bedrooms and bathrooms downstairs and two further bedrooms with en suite bathrooms upstairs.
The beach and existing vegetation were left virtually untouched, but have been enhanced with native landscaping, with advice from Vigoro Nursery, to increase their privacy with ‘natural walls’ of foliage.
The living space, therefore, looks out onto lush greenery and open sea. To harmonise with this, Heidi created an interior palette that is, “a fusion of nature, organic textures, handmade items and family memories.” It’s a creative jigsaw that melds old and new, local and exotic: furniture collected on their travels sits alongside items purchased on island; rustic wood, patterned floor tiles and natural stone blend with leather poufs and soft white sofas. Layered onto this are a series of black and white family photos, stacks of books and musical instruments that illustrate the family’s collective story.
The bedrooms, in contrast, are designed with each occupant’s personality in mind. The master bedroom, for instance, features simple cream tones to ensure a serene space for the artist’s busy mind to rest. The younger daughter’s room is a playful, wood-panelled hideaway with an inviting reading nook and sloping ceilings that lend it a nautical feel. A sturdy four-poster bed and animal print fabrics give their son’s room a more masculine ambience, whilst in the design-student daughter’s room, she has created an arty vibe with a bed made from shipping pallets suspended from the ceiling by hemp – a nod to Cayman’s seafaring and rope-making past – and given the bathroom an elegant, vintage style with smoked hexagonal tiles, glass sconce lighting and driftwood sculptures.
Determined to source as much as possible on-island, Heidi combed local stores for furniture, fixtures and appliances – a far more rewarding experience than buying online, she says.
“I worked with A.L. Thompson's on most of the bathroom appliances, fans and some lighting and with ITC for the counter tops and tiles,” she says. She found quality bed linens at Bedside Manor and colourful rugs at Rugs Oriental. One of the few things she ordered off-island were the Tom Dixon pendants that hang above the kitchen island.
“I fell in love with them when I was visiting my daughter in New York last summer,” she recalls. “They reminded me of jellyfish, and I thought it was such an ephemeral reference to the sea and would accent the space with both organic elegance and the artistry of the hand crafted.”
Despite her carefully curated arrangement of existing, re-purposed and new pieces, she remains very aware that a hurricane or natural disaster could sweep it all away. For this reason, nothing in the house is irreplaceable. Attachment, she observes, is not synonymous with island living.
And that is why she named the home Driftwood. It’s a reference to the silvery, sun-bleached wood that the waves bring ashore and it’s also a metaphor for how historically many people drift on to Cayman and also away from it. But more than that, it is an acknowledgement that living by the sea is a transient existence. The ocean washes things in and washes them away again – and the best we can do is to go with the flow.
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