Simplicity, Mustique, St. Vincent
Diamond in the raw: a return to first principles in Mustique, St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Words by Juliet Austin. Photography by Tom Arban.
Luminary architect, Jack Diamond, has forged a career designing cultural edifices. His landmark civic structures span the globe: an opera house in his hometown of Toronto, Canada; a symphony hall in Israel; and, most recently, the Mariinsky II Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia. Yet, paradoxically, all the ‘houses that Jack builds’ share one poetic motif: like meticulously crafted Haiku, the unnecessary is eliminated so that the necessary can speak. Such is the case with Simplicity, his three-bedroom barefoot beach house on Mustique’s undisturbed eastern coast. Carefully edited, deliberate and unpretentious, it seems to belong organically to the hillside into which it fits… a house of the hill.
Original shareholders in Mustique, Jack and Gill Diamond purchased land in the late 1970s, but it was 1990 before Simplicity took form. Seeking refuge from the onslaught of monochromatic winters; a gathering place for children and grandchildren; an escape from the artificiality and pressures of urban life where they could fall asleep to the sound of the waves, the vibrancy and warmth of the Caribbean seemed the perfect sensory antidote. Fifty-five-feet above sea level, on a steep hill overlooking the coral sands of Pasture Bay and nearby Rabbit Island, Simplicity’s story began to unfold, guided conceptually by lines from Derek Walcott’s poem, Omeros: “When you have seen everything and gone everywhere, cherish your island for its green simplicities.”
Hewn from the hillside and cocooned by nature, the design’s innate eco-sensitivity is borne of basic economics and a return to first principles. Understated and restrained, functionality is a central design factor, with cut and fill used to create levels of vertical interest. Connected via landscaped walkways, shady terraces and vine-laden pergolas to a paved courtyard nucleus, a magical clearing-in-the-forest, living areas and bedrooms occupy separate pods; airy, pared down pavilions like ingenious private theatre boxes. Complete with verandahs for casual alfresco dinners or curling up with a good book, and outdoor shower for the ultimate at-one-with-nature experience, show-stopping views past the tropical pool oasis and wind-sculpted trees culminate in the rolling ocean, the home’s wildly beautiful centre stage. Sheltered by a small promontory and naturally cooled by southerly breezes, like Diamond’s opera halls, there are no bad seats in the house: performer and viewer are honoured simultaneously.
Green by design and driven by practicality and authenticity, Simplicity is anchored in place and time: undeniably modern, yet imbued with the wisdom of the Caribbean vernacular to sit lightly on the landscape. Traditional tension bars provide strength, while meticulous siting and orientation optimise light, wind and shade patterns, using a system of deep eaves to protect against inclement weather. “A building should fit the location comfortably, the way a great horseman fits the saddle,” explains Diamond. Designed à la lanterne, broad, unadorned portals become nature’s ever-evolving canvases, masterpieces of colour, texture and light. Amplified by limited use of reflective glass, doors and windows frame picturesque views, bathing rooms in natural light while ensuring cross ventilation from near constant Tradewinds.
Furthermore, a system of ingenious double roofs means that no surface is heated directly. Sandwiched between sun-washed exterior cedar shingles and interior bead-board tray ceilings, ventilation spaces with louvers at the apex, generate a Venturi effect, circulating air and drawing heat from the home. Coupled with the cooling power of energy efficient fans from the Big Ass Fan Company, the home is a model of naturally-derived, open air comfort.
Contextually responsive, exterior walls of coral-hued stucco evoke the natural texture of wet sand. Inside smooth interior walls of pure white create a sophisticated ambience of timeless simplicity. Working louvered shutters, blue as the Caribbean sky at sunset, compound the effect, making what Diamond calls, “a virtue out of necessity.” Hardy stucco-on-concrete floors, favoured by flamboyant island designer, Oliver Messel, are cool, clean and fresh underfoot – perfectly suited to the humid, tropical environment.
Inside, Simplicity’s appeal is enchanting. In the living room, whitewashed rafters, raw wood furnishings, and bookcases built into niches in the plastered masonry walls create welcoming spaces complemented by seagrass seating clusters and deep slipcovered sofas from Jasper Conran’s Habitat collection. Punctuated by powder blue throw cushions and accent tones, the effect is elegant and calming. In the same vein, bedrooms feature crisp white linens, dreamy beds shrouded in romantic mosquito netting and artwork, including screenprints by the couple’s daughter, Suki.
Nevertheless, the real pièce de résistance must be the recently added dining pavilion. Set on stilts – four recycled telegraph poles from St. Vincent – at the end of a foliage-lined path, the wide beam structure, topped with cedar shakes and reinforced by scissor trusses, commands a scene-stealing 180° vista, delivering what Diamond calls, “ultimate openness.” With no water or power, the table is illuminated by the hypnotic glow of hurricane lanterns as guests are invited to savour nature’s own light show: the rising of the moon and the burst of a million stars.
In this way, nature’s abundance is heightened by the eloquent simplicity of design, materials and scale. Mature shade trees grow up undisturbed. Dramatically uplit at night by LED spotlights, their shady canopies become integral elements of the home’s dynamic. Cliff rock, dislodged from clearing the footprint, goes to form three garden terraces, watered using drip irrigation from the large 65,000 gallon cistern and brimming with exotic fruit trees bearing lime, pawpaw and bananas. A fig tree, grown from a seed from Kew Gardens, thrives alongside aubergines, tomatoes, rocket and beans, a tropical harvest like no other.
Pure and noble, lack of excess brings clarity. In synchronicity with nature, time slows as senses engage. In brooding skies, primordial frigate birds circle as storm clouds gather over the bay. As the sun sweeps the hillside, a chorus of cicadas bursts into song. Here, with the fragrant aroma of night-blooming jasmine blown in on the breeze, is the grounding presence of earth beneath one’s feet.
Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke observed, “If you will stay close to nature, to its simplicity, to the small things hardly noticeable, those things can unexpectedly become great and immeasurable.” So it is, on the idyllic isle of Mustique, a place accustomed to the follies of the rich and famous with their lavish great houses and decadent mansions, that the selfless walls of Simplicity seem, more than ever, to resonate with a time-honoured wisdom. Here, in this special place, ego is silent, allowing Nature’s voice to soar.
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