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Nirvana, Cayman Islands

Historically described as Grand Cayman’s ‘green heart’, South Sound is nowadays more likely associated with the luxury villas and contemporary mansions lining its shores. Yet, Nirvana, an innovative, thoughtfully conceived eco-property, cocooned unobtrusively in a lush seagrape forest, may just turn the tide in favour of more environmentally sensitive shoreline chic.

Free of exterior ornamentation, this 5-bedroom, 4-full bath home, capable of sleeping 14, integrates with the surrounding landscape with what the owner calls a, “composed simplicity,” allowing separation from the distractions of modern life and, “space to appreciate the natural environment and one’s sense of place in the world.” Inspired by a mid-century modern design aesthetic, Nirvana possesses a rare, one-of-a-kind authenticity; uncompromising and brave. Anchored in the personal, cultural and environmental, it is a home built with intention. With its axis grounded in rationality, the owner states, “Real beauty exists in the harmony between what already exists in nature and the structures that we build.”

Completed in 2010, following 16 months of careful construction and project management by LG Contracting Ltd., the owner thoughtfully cleared only the building footprint by hand to allow the land and beach to remain healthy and stable. Having spent his boyhood here, playing on the powdered sands, swimming in the clear waters and building tree houses in the lofty casuarina pines, the owner developed an innate sense of the corrosive impacts of the sea. Later, intimately observing the effects of Hurricane Ivan (2004) – its powerful storm surge and accompanying sand ridge – when it came time to build his own family’s three-storey oceanfront estate, featuring three independent family suites, it seemed elementary to create ultra-low maintenance, durable structures, powered by the sun’s energy and capable of withstanding extreme weather and, equally importantly, ones that worked symbiotically with the native coastal landscape of his childhood.

A roadside approach establishes Nirvana’s unapologetic blend of architecture and nature. The gate, repurposed metalwork salvaged from a downtown office block and used ingeniously throughout the home as a recurring design feature; the winding sand driveway lined by unmanicured seagrape, silver thatch, red birch, mahogany and cocoplum to ensure seclusion – a self-sustaining salt and drought tolerant ecosystem without need of elaborate irrigation systems; the ornate metal grill, fashioned after a sea fan plucked off the beach and handed to a master metal virtuoso; and finally, the entrance through the rough-sawn mahogany pivot door, both stylish and practical. Quintessentially Caribbean jalousie louvres, a peaceful Buddha statue by Sticks and Stones, and purposely low-tech traditional ship’s bell add detail as you move through the mirror-lit entrance foyer and upstairs to the upper living levels.

Make your way there from the seaside, however, and it is an entirely different affair. Intensifying the connection between nature and built forms, statuesque plateaus emerge boldly from swaying coconut palms, topped by shady overhangs and wooden pergolas to create visual drama. Ground floor coralstone pathways connect shady seating nooks, private patios and alfresco dining areas. The pure turquoise infinity pool by Oasis Pool and Spa and surrounding sun terrace, watched over by the omnipresent Buddha, are a reminder to breathe in the beauty of here and now, while the inky depth of a reflecting pool creates stillness and calm. Nearby, a self-contained family suite elevates the bohemian feel, featuring a vintage wooden four-poster bed complete with a pair of textured teal hanging lanterns, an ornate Indonesian closet from Sticks and Stones, twin-over-twin bunk beds, a wealth of evocative tropical artwork from quirky, oversized photographic prints, to an original vibrant 1970s canvas by a local artist. Step outside to the expansive outdoor bar behind which four bookmarked slates of scene-stealing striated Italian Verde Luna marble emulate the swelling of the ocean tides. The spacious adjacent sofas beg for lazy evenings whiling away the hours with friends. The relaxed, barefoot vibe feels refreshingly unforced and authentic, echoed in unexpected personal touches – the framed bottles plucked from the sand, the sun-bleached turtle shell – each anchoring the home in time and place.

The first of Nirvana’s two living levels rises 14-feet above the beach ridge, leaving the bulk of the house unaffected by the vagaries of the weather. A bridge connects to a second-storey thatched cabana, perfect for dinner under the stars. Interiors are built to exterior standards, with ornately patterned Cuban tile inlays and hexagonal cement tiles from the Dominican Republic inside and out. Come rain or shine, the house opens to the elements to take full advantage of balmy breezes and astute siting means that windows are oriented to catch the wind, minimised on the west side for optimal shading and with careful north-east swing direction elsewhere to capture winter breezes. Thanks to the cooling effect and shading of surrounding vegetation, windows never need to close on, what must surely be, the driving force of the design: some of the most spellbinding views the island has to offer, including the Wreck of the Pallas, caught in a 1910 hurricane, de-masted and carried onto the South Sound reef.

Uncomplicated and undeniably hip, the owner’s stylish stamp imprints every facet of the interiors. Tucked away on the main living level a queen bedroom boasts a dreamy four-poster bed and leads to an ensuite bathroom with funky Art Deco lighting. The adjacent multi-function media room combines space-saving twin Murphy beds – another demonstration of the home’s deliberate and brilliant balance of function, form and style.

Open plan, the living area is an eclectic mix of world influences, both in larger gestures – the Roche Bobois outdoor sofas, the delicate patterning and textures of the Designers Guild curtains and wallpaper and the ornamental metal detailing of the Moroccan window grills – and smaller details such as the Tibetan singing bowls, that ‘too-cool-for-school’ yellow vintage phone, the geometric wall tapestry from Rugs Oriental and the turtle shell from Cayman Turtle Centre. Salvaged and vintage items abound – mirrors, lights and furniture sourced from West Palm Beach, Detroit and further afield, give Nirvana a carefully curated flair. Add to this, family heirlooms: the storied antique TV cabinet and dining room sideboard topped with collected driftwood and boxed curios, and this inspired layering creates intriguing spaces, forever framed by nature’s ever-changing floor-to-ceiling vistas.

With Miele fixtures and fittings, besides its stunning teak island and custom cabinetry, the kitchen’s pièce-de-résistance must surely be its nostalgic nod to the colourful Cayman character, Edward Patterson, the self-proclaimed ‘farm soldier’ and proprietor of ‘God people market’, immortalised in artist, Charles Long’s, canvas. Bizarrely, a cow’s skull, brought to the island from Santa Fe in hand luggage, looks perfectly at one with the Moroccan pendant lantern and sophisticated glass chandelier overhanging the salvaged old-growth Douglas Fir dining table, fashioned in British Columbia.

Topped by pretty breeze block cut-outs, evocative of Cayman homes of yesteryear, modern concrete steps ascend to the uppermost level, where, along with a double queen bedroom, the simplicity of the master king suite allows unbridled views of sea, sand and sky to flood the space. Walls of glass retract to allow Nature to make the room her own. Self disappears and you have reached Nirvana. Vast, shady terraces invite introspection and soul-searching as colours transform with the sun’s sinking. Doorless, the bathroom is unadorned and immersed in natural light. A rain shower flows overhead like a waterfall and then there is the ultimate loo with a view. For a change of perspective, slip outside to the heavenly soaking tub and watch the passing clouds float by through skylights.

With unwavering honesty of design and mindful insight, and its unequivocal commitment to touching the Earth lightly, Nirvana creates synergy between structure, spirit and surroundings, and in doing so, creates a transcendent residential refuge where harmony prevails. And, as turtle mothers lumber ashore by the light of the moon to nest on Nirvana’s beach, as they have since ancient times, it is clear that the green heart of South Sound is still beating strong.

Construction and project management: LG Contracting Ltd.

Pool: Oasis Pool and Spa

Indonesian closet: Sticks and Stones

Wall tapestry: Rugs Oriental

Photography courtesy of Property Cayman and Heather Holt Photography

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