Living the Luxe Life, Barbados
Words by Juliet Austin. Photography by Dan Christaldi.
Not for shrinking violets, Cove Spring House in St James Parish - one of the biggest and most lavishly appointed villas in Barbados - presents luxury on an almost impossibly grand scale. Originally built in 1997 as the private family mansion of Blair Downes, its brief was bold and unapologetic: “Think big. If you cannot think big, go away.” Bought subsequently in 2001 by British-Canadian financier Ajmal Khan, the property underwent what Tatler called, “a crisp, Hamptons-style overhaul” at the hands of celebrated interior designer, Lynne Pemberton, and, overnight, morphed into one of the most highly coveted holiday villas in the Caribbean.
Faced with such a gargantuan task, lesser mortals may have quaked in their designer boots, but for veteran architects, David Senior and Charles Boyce of Barbados’ Robertson Ward Associates Limited, it was game on. Inspired by the colonial architecture of the grand old plantation houses once prevalent in the region, their 18,000 square foot modern, coral stone rendition of the traditional Palladian style wielded a ‘des-res’ whose stately columns, dramatic classical pediments, Georgian fanlights and imposing arches screamed decadence and announced the presence of the new elite, go-to getaway for the world’s rich and famous including Rod Stewart, Sir Elton John, Sting and Simon Cowell.
Despite its palatial grandeur, however, Senior’s design ethic is premised on simplicity as the keynote to good design. “The home is in principle,” he explains, “a ‘one-room house,’ with most of the rooms easily flowing into each other.” Encompassing a total of seven sumptuous and generously proportioned ensuite guest rooms, with French doors that open out onto private terraces to the west, and a further three guest cottages on the lushly landscaped grounds, the footprint for Cove Spring House forms an unusual, shallow symmetrical crescent, focusing the views towards the bay and ensuring both stunning views and optimal privacy.
“The west coast of Barbados is one of the most luxurious sections of the island, or the entire Caribbean for that matter,” states Senior, “so we needed Cove Spring House to reflect a strong sense of grandeur and scale.” To this end, the grand, two-storey pedimented portico and vaulted entrance foyer (think ‘Gone With the Wind’ meets Hampton Court) soars a heady thirty feet – the epitome of glamour and opulence with its impressive staircase designed to, “teasingly invite the eyes to an upper level of bedroom suites.” Coupled with the addition of a magnificent private cinema complete with twenty plush, reclining viewing chairs, Cove Spring rockets into a league of its own.
Classic without being staid, Cove Spring’s creamy coral stone walls speak to old world elegance, embodying ageless appeal and providing a soft backdrop further enhanced by indirect sconced and standing lighting that bathes the walls in a warm glow. An array of stunning suspended chandeliers adds an Oliver Messel-inspired romance to the scheme while Pemberton’s “collected-not-decorated” signature creates th e villa’s distinct personality and strong charm. Tray and coffered ceilings with pickled pine finishes add to the traditional feel with a palette of, “the gentlest of whites for a subtle paintwork finish,” avoiding conflict in bright, light-filled rooms and, “overlaid with taupe and punches of vivid blue, nectarine and the odd splash of vermilion red in the bedrooms.”
Inspiration came from early Ralph Lauren blended with the colonial style of the 50s and 60s and some East meets West design influences. Sourced on visits to France and the United States, with bespoke furnishings imported from Indonesia, the exquisite grand foyer chandelier, “was bought with my client on one of the hottest days of the year in a rare London heat wave,” recalls Pemberton. “But the standout piece is definitely the ironwood dining table on the west terrace, made from a twoinch thick solid piece of wood – it seats twenty-four and took twelve men to install.”
Having cut her professional teeth in the Caribbean, Pemberton’s scheme effortlessly conveys the essence of indoor-outdoor living with the transition occurring seamlessly. Achieved by opening up walls to create vast space where interiors spill outdoors onto huge terraces, both covered and uncovered, there are a plethora of areas for eating, relaxing and entertaining. Soft furnishings are kept to a minimum creating an uncluttered, sophistication that, while oozing luxury, cleverly escapes being ostentatious. “I had to be careful,” explains Pemberton, “given the scale of the house, it did not feel like a hotel – or too impersonal.” Unusual collections of artefacts blend with an eclectic collection of fine art including prints from the celebrity archive of fêted photographer, Terry O’Neill.
Outside, a half-moon shaped fresh water swimming pool and adjoining spa become exotic focal points in a sea of expansive verandahs furnished with sofas, armchairs and Balinese sun loungers. A meandering terrace to the water’s edge offers secluded day beds, shaded by palms, or sun-deck loungers with wrap-over umbrellas as well as two seaside gazebos for sunkissed al fresco lunches or intimate dinners by moonlight. Perched on an oceanside bluff, steps lead down to a secluded picture-perfect sandy beach protected on both sides by wraparound rocky headland and charmingly overhung by mature shade trees.
Cove Spring’s bodacious and arresting presence lives large on this tiny island hotspot – an emblematic Bajan beauty with star quality that revels in the lifestyle of the rich and famous, offering its guests the ultimate Shangri-La; an extravagant haven where more is more, big is beautiful and living it large is the order of the day.
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