Villa Aquamare, BVI
A labour of love in BVI.
Words by Wendy Helfenbaum.
Nestled between mountain and sea at Mahoe Bay, a breathtakingly beautiful stretch of beach on Virgin Gorda's western coast, sits Villa Aquamare. The luxurious villa enclave rises up, built testimony to the power of a dream and the strength of friendship. Offering spectacular views overlooking the Sir Francis Drake Channel, the villa’s story reads like a choose-yourown- adventure book, full of promise and challenges. Thankfully, for the well travelled partners whose dream of owning a lush beachfront holiday home in a tranquil spot that was easily accessible and not overrun with cruise ships, oversized jets or busloads of tourists, the perfect location soon presented itself.
Just a forty-minute plane ride from their homeland, Puerto Rico, Virgin Gorda, the third largest of the British Virgin Islands, measures eight and a half square miles, and features white sand beaches, verdant mountains and quiet coves. Named by Christopher Columbus in 1493 for the way the oddly shaped island resembled a ‘fat virgin’, the partners, Guillermo Paz, Pedro Collazo, Juan Herrans and Sergio Gomes, soon determined it was the perfect place to kick back and cut loose; an idyllic environment for their elegant vacation home that was both sophisticated and private.
Having found the ideal country in which to unpack and unwind, surrounded by nature’s unspoiled beauty, the owners got stuck into making their dream a reality. However, building on Virgin Gorda soon proved to be no picnic at the beach. “There were many restrictions on construction laws that had to be applied; it took fifteen months to get building permits,” explains co-owner Guillermo Paz. “A lot of things needed to happen, even before we decided what type of house to build.” And when faced with the astronomical cost to prepare one home’s infrastructures – building water catchment systems, roadwork, cisterns and a power plant – the friends realised it made more sense to build three homes rather than the one they initially planned for. “All we knew,” Paz recounts, “was that it needed to be a place where the only thing you had to do was indulge.”
“We wanted five bedrooms per villa, ample living space, plus tall ceilings, shingles and cut stones, because we wanted to respect the natural vernacular of the islands,” explains Paz.
"...all the design elements embrace the site and champion its unique character.”
Enter architect Liselott Johnsson. Married to one of Herrans’ high school friends, she had trained in Sweden, was living in the US and was inspired by French philosopher Gaston Bachelard’s book, which encourages architects to base their work on the sensual experiences it will provoke.
To maximise unobstructed views of the expansive cobalt sea, Johnsson cleverly designed each of the three 8,000-square foot villas to sit on different elevations; linking the buildings to the site through the movement of the landscape. “There’s a spiralling movement from the mountains down to the ocean, which finalises in the horizon. I integrated this notion of a spiral into my design ideas for the villas.” Soaring thirty-foot high vaulted Spanish cedar ceilings and floorto- ceiling windows flood the interior with natural light to create a delightfully open environment that lends itself to festive gathering with friends.
With five bedrooms under each cedar shingled-roof, every villa comes complete with a sumptuous one thousand-square-foot master bedroom, hammocks that sway enticingly on the balcony and invigorating outdoor marble shower rooms. To emphasise the grand theatrical vibe of the common areas while preserving privacy, balconies were designed five feet above the ground. “Being in between the mountains and the ocean is spiritual: the mountains are expressed in the sky, and the ocean is expressed in this horizontal eternity; we wanted to create the sensation that when you were on the deck, you were hovering between the mountain and the ocean,” Johnsson explains.
Durable, classic travertine marble flooring, coupled with customised terrace railings and stairs in dense Brazilian ipe – known for its ability to withstand tropical weather – create interiors that are at once stylish and naturally-inspired. Echoed arbor elements at the entrances and in showers, reflect the owners' predeliction for rustic materials, which is further played out in the beautiful stone-encased shower room, built with locally-quarried limestone. As Johnsson elaborates, “We tried to build as much as possible on the island, and to use as many local materials as we could.”
A classmate of Paz’s from the University of Puerto Rico Architecture School, Jean-Pierre Santoni of Basico Home, conceived much of the interior design scheme. Creating most of the furniture for the villas, including the dining tables and credenzas, living room coffee tables, bedroom nightstands, and bathroom vanities, Santoni achieved an airy feeling of casual comfort and breezy elegance with strategically placed hammocks, teak loungers and club chairs, in keeping with the owners’ laidback philosophy.
“Everything is comfortable, so that if you’re in a bathing suit, you can lounge anywhere,” he explains. A soft palette of light beiges and whites conveys a look of refinement, using the furniture as a blank canvas, and allowing nature to take centre stage. “We did simple slipcovered headboards, then used John Robshaw hand-printed batik fabrics, so each room’s pillows and bedding are different, yet have a unified look.”
Spacious living areas flow seamlessly from one to another, incorporating the sleek gourmet kitchen – complete with stained mahogany cabinetry, granite countertops and stainless steel accessories – with the marble infinity pool terrace, located just a few steps from the ivory-sand beach. Eclectic décor elements such as the Thai bronze rain drums used as tables on the terrace add a stylish bohemian flair.
While developing the beach park and surrounding gardens, James Craig, landscape architect with Craig Collins International, effortlessly blended the man-made villas with the surrounding forested hills and the ocean’s coral reef by way of local plant species. “Eightyfive per cent of the flora we used is native to Virgin Gorda and the Upper Leeward Islands,” explains Craig. “Mature mahogany trees, preserved during construction, provide contextual scale and a backdrop to the buildings, so that all the design elements embrace the site and champion its unique character.”
In the ornamental gardens, Craig showcased draught-resistant native fauna such as leeas and banana trees, while strategically placing 10-foot-tall coconut palms for added privacy between villas. Flowering accent plants are a feast for the senses, as are the villas’ kitchen gardens packed with basil, mint, ginger and thyme.
Although Aquamare began as four friends desiring a shared holiday home, the project soon evolved into a thriving business. The owners continue regularly to use the property – each September, Paz celebrates his birthday with a festive extravaganza – but since its completion in March 2008, they have built the enclave into an exclusive villa rental company. As Paz says, “The magic of Aquamare is that it feels like a home, not like a rental.”
Rising from a foundation built on friendship and love, Villa Aquamare fulfils its original promise as a haven for four lifelong friends who sought a tranquil, tropical haven from their busy lives. Forever yielding unforeseeable treasures and pleasures, the villa is their voice of calm in the warm Caribbean waters.
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