Villa Mare, Cayman Islands
This sumptuous, classical home flies in the face of the old adage, 'All that glitters is not gold'. That is not...oh, but it is! Twenty-four carat gold leaf gilding accentuates every detail, from the tops of columns and mouldings to the detailed curve of a cornice or the ornate leaf motif on the banister railing, giving the home a genuine and palpable ‘glow’. In a surprising combination, an original Andy Warhol, given as a gift by the man himself, hangs alongside countless works of important nineteenth century and contemporary art, including some that would surely be at home in palaces and museums across the globe. Plummeting dramatically from the upper balcony, a sanctuary lamp, formerly housed in a Roman Catholic Cathedral in Québec, casts its special light across the hall, flanked on either side by a perfect pair of pedestal chandeliers – the ‘ladies’ of the house. There is not a surface of this home left unadorned, each room and each surface is a feast for the eyes.
Designed on a grand scale, in every sense, a stimulating colour palette has been used to full dramatic effect. The grandeur and elegance of the great room is breathtaking with its 25 foot-high ceilings, its faux-marble brickwork, magnificent sienna marble columns and sinuous lines. Honeyed light cascades through the large arched windows and doors adjacent to the impressive entrance hall. Each is dressed to impress in lavish golden fabrics specially made in Kent, England in the workshops of Genty Fine Interiors. David Genty, designer and interior decorator of some of the most prestigious English houses from country mansions to fashionable pads in Chelsea, Knightsbridge and Mayfair, worked tirelessly with the owners to create a distinct European Italianate feel to the home. A spectacular pair of eighteenth century Czechoslovakian chandeliers sparkle mesmerisingly and the juxtaposition of marble, Venetian mirrors, Lalique crystal, rich wood hues and the perfectly symmetrical crisp white formal seating areas at either end of the vast room, gives this grand abode a distinctly regal ambience.
No surprise then, that the ‘pièce de résistance’ is a specially commissioned staircase carpet, handmade in Galway, Ireland by a company whose handiwork has graced the floors of the White House and the decks of Bill Gates’ yacht. The luxurious red and gold design, which was eight months in the making, was inspired by the carpets from the château at Cheverney in the Loire Valley, France; however, the real coup d’état is the fact that it is completely seamless, comprising one single, uninterrupted layer.
Also inspired by the châteaux of the Loire, the innovative use of fabrics is key to creating not only great elegance, but a calming acoustic effect. Several rooms utilise an extraordinary fabric-walling technique called tissus tendu (literally, ‘stretched fabric’) whereby selected fabrics, sourced from amongst others, the famous fabric houses of Rubelli in Venice and Pierre Frey in Paris, are mounted to produce a truly unique wall façade.
It is the intense attention to detail that transports this home into a league of its own. Curtains are inter-lined with ‘domette’ to give a beautiful fullness to each fold. All hand drawn, the swags and tails are cut on the bias so that the fabric drapes in the best-weighted manner. Handmade in Italy, the exclusive golden tassels are at once modern and yet, timeless. The sheer scale and scope of the décor is nothing short of palatial, making the two bronze conquistador statues that guard the main doors onto the patio, seem particularly fitting.
In an unusual departure from the norm, retro-fitted antique doors, dating from the late Napoleonic era, lead the way to the sumptuous private master bedroom suite which is completely disconnected from the common living areas, upstairs bedrooms and office.
Nevertheless, a decided practicality belies the romantic veneer. As famed eighteenth century designer, George Hepplewhite, once said, furniture should, “unite elegance and utility and blend the useful with the agreeable”. And this is certainly the case here. Beyond the collections of irreplaceable works of art and the priceless antiques, every effort has been made to ensure that the house contains every modern commodity. All curtains and blinds are operated by motorised tracks with remote controls for ease of operation. There is a fully equipped gymnasium with all the bells and whistles and a private guest cottage. Even the baby grand piano is fitted with a sophisticated computer allowing it to play beautiful music sans pianist.
This is a house designed to entertain, and entertain it does. One’s gaze is invariably drawn to the dramatic red, Chinese lacquer-effect dining room located off the great room with its long, Georgian table set immaculately in red Versace and accented by a stunning crystal chandelier, extravagant candelabras, antique silverware and window dressings that once hung in a palace in Oslo.
Continue on round and you will find the kitchen. Complete with top-of-the-line Sub Zero appliances in stainless steel, this is the hub of the house: “This is where everyone likes to hang out,” states the owner, wryly. To that end, a row of uniquely designed bar stools, courtesy of popular Cayman metalworker, Karoly Szucs of Artisan Metalworks, lines the work area, forming a sort of tasting gallery. Where once a wet bar sat, the centre island boasts an oversized inlaid chopping board, feeding cleverly into a discreet waste disposal – a family trick passed down through generations of women who are consummate entertainers. The ambience is bright, homely and welcoming. In contrast to the splendid stained concrete stone flooring gracing the rest of the house, the kitchen’s maple flooring installed by Mario&Son offers warmth, while the impressive black granite marble maintains the aura of grandeur.
Yet, somewhat ironically, it is the ‘claim-to-fame’ rustic outside beach grotto that truly takes your breath away. This is for the dinner parties that start but rarely end! Made entirely of driftwood collected from Cayman’s shores, weathered Cuban doors lead along a bamboo-lined tunnel out onto a magical scene: a table, scattered with wild flower petals, set upon a pure white sand carpet, a calabash chandelier and an old, abandoned fishing boat buffet table all nestled under a traditional, thatch work roof built by Cayman’s own, Tennyson Bodden. “There could be a monsoon rain, and you wouldn’t feel a drop of rain in here,” laughs the lady of the house. Shoes are strictly optional along the sandy paths that weave along the ocean front past the statue of the lady staring out to sea that is mounted on the ironshore – an ‘offering to the sea’. Veering off from time to time, one can stop off at the daybed – perfect for a midnight snooze under the stars. Alternatively, there is the intimate cabana from which to gaze out over the vast expanse of ‘big blue’ or, failing that, swim in the black-tile pool with its exquisite statue waterfall and outside shower/spa where you can cast off the worries of the world amid the lush, whispering grasses of the beautiful gardens.
This is a residence designed as a convivial masterpiece of epic proportions; intended for sharing friendship, fine dining and conversation amidst its palatial splendour. It has all the accoutrements of a fine mansion; however, when all is said and done, when the gates close, what is most memorable is the gracious reception given to all who are welcomed into this beautiful family home.
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