DecoratingOnTheEdge

Across Forever Home

I always like to say that any project in Mustique is akin to a baby turtle that has hatched from its shell and is trying to make it down the beach and into the water without first being snatched up by a seagull or falling prey to some other force of nature; really it’s a miracle any of them make it. This simile is especially apt for Mustique, where a variety of fauna, everything from bats to turtles to manicous (Large, rather easily perturbed rodents that populate the island) will at some point become a design factor. The outdoor is your indoor in Mustique. Because of the perennially lovely weather on the island, no one ever wants to be inside so most of the spaces open up into partial outdoor. This means you have to find materials that can weather the elements on Mustique, especially for a home located on the Atlantic side of the island, as Ocean Breeze is, where the winds can be incredibly fierce.

This wild, untamed quality is actually one of the things I love most about Mustique. The landscape in some ways reminds me of South Africa, where I spent time as a child and which has always influenced my design aesthetic; it’s one of the things that makes the island so special and also so challenging when it comes to designing for it.

Something I can’t get enough of when I’m doing the interior design is lighting. Honestly, I could probably make an entire career out of doing lampshades alone.  Mustique is not exactly a friendly environment for lampshades however, with all of the al fresco spaces at Ocean Breeze, the first few rounds of lampshades I used just didn’t work at all! They would just spin and spin in the high winds — it was madness! I finally realized that you more or less have to batten down everything and started weighing down all my lamps with sand.

To be honest, high winds make me a bit anxious so this was quite a scene for me up at Ocean Breeze. I stayed there almost non-stop during that fall when I was working with Linda and at night the wind would kick up and the entire house would rattle like it was about to come apart. There I would be running around the house in my billowing white nightgown trying to secure lampshades and chasing the furniture at it crashed across the patio. It was like a scene from The Haunting.

Between the elements and the animals, the island just seemed to devour the furniture I was using at Ocean Breeze, which meant that I was always looking for replacements for various things. This had the happy consequence of me spending lots of time in what was then called Across Forever (now my very own Across Forever Home), buying up half the furniture in the store. Little did I know then how big a part of my life Basil and the little shop would become…

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JDB DIY: Upgrade your Lamp

I always love giving friends little, easy-to-implement design tips so I thought it would be fun to share some of these with you all. Welcome to JDB DIY!

I’ve discussed before that lighting is one of my very favorite parts of home design. It’s amazing the ways in which good lighting can instantly transform the look and feel of a home. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the idea of making changes to the lighting in your home–with visions of emergency calls to electricians dancing in your head–but a simple place to start is with your lamps.

There are a couple of things that bother me about modern laps. First of all, most of them have dreadfully ugly cords and secondly, most lamps have the on/off function buried way up under the shade in the deep nether regions of the lamp. I hate this design because I just feel like I’m sticking my hand up someone’s skirt: awkward! Fortunately these quibbles are easily solved. You can refit any lamp in a snap by either taking it to your local hardware store, or even making the adjustments right there at home if you’re a little more intrepid.

First, if you want to make your lamp truly chic, a twisted, cloth (rayon) covered cord is a must-have. Cloth cord was used for decades on all kinds of household appliances, but has since been replaced with the more utilitarian, durable plastic-covered cord we’re used to today. This is fine if you plan to keep all of your cords hidden away but a twisted cord is much prettier and will add to the look of the lamp. Luckily, spools of it can be found online, like the one here, which we found on eBay. It’ll probably run you about $1.30 per foot so it’s cheap to boot.

Now, about that on-off switch and our ‘up the skirt’ design woe. Fortunately even if your lamp has its switch so placed, you can bypass it with a toggle switch on the cord. If your lamp happens to have the switch on the cord already it may have one of those switches with a wheel function, which everyone struggles with and can be just plain annoying. A simple toggle switch (like the one picture above) is a much better option. These come apart with a small screwdriver and a notch is cut from one of the two wires so that when switched it will make the complete connection. This part might be best to have professional do just to be safe. The switch should be placed at a distance from the base of the lamp so that it falls just off the edge of the tabletop and is not easily visible, five inches from the base at least. It should be easily accessible though, so measure from the base of the lamp to the edge of the table and add another inch or two to be sure it’s completely off the edge but not down too far, you don’t want to pull a muscle reaching for you lamp switch!

These little tricks will do so much to improve the look of your lamps. See for yourself!

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Ocean Breeze: Shipping Nightmares

When shipping anything to Mustique, it’s safe to assume that anything you can imagine (and probably a variety of things that you can’t) can and will go wrong. As I’ve mentioned before, there are numerous design conundrums that come into play when you’re working on a remote private island like Mustique that just don’t exist in a place like New York, where you can have anything shipped to you at any hour. When you order something to be shipped to Mustique, it has to work its way through customs in Saint Vincent where it can easily be stalled indefinitely, never to emerge.

While I was frantically trying to get Ocean Breeze ready for its inaugural season, I ordered this gorgeous four-poster bed from India, which shipped in pieces, all numbered. Linda’s butler Bashie kept calling customs to find out what the hold-up was.  Now, Vincentians are lovely people but can be quite loathe to ever deliver bad news, which can make the where and why of an item’s progress through customs all the more difficult to divine. We at last discovered that the many, many pieces of the bed had somehow ended up separated from each other in different parts of the massive customs warehouse.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t already in complete panic mode trying to get this project done on time, what a cherry on the top of the utterly chaotic sundae! It was then that I began to develop a sort of no-holds-barred resourcefulness that has served me well throughout the subsequent years I have spent on Mustique. I booked myself on the next available charter flights (the only way to get from island to island in those days) to go see what was really going on at the customs house.

There happened to be, in the basement of Ocean Breeze, many cases of Riesling that had been left over by the former owners. It was a very fine wine but not to Linda’s taste and so she had instructed me to do whatever I pleased with it. I figured if my wits and charm were not enough to get the problem solved once I got to St. Vincent, perhaps the wine would help.

Once I got there, I became fast friends with my customs broker and within a couple of hours, all of the many pieces of the bed had been rounded up and were ready to ship. What a relief! Yet another lesson in doing business on Mustique, a friendly face-to-face (and some wine) will get you everywhere, staying put and making demanding phone calls will get you nowhere.

If only customs was all I had to worry about!

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Ocean Breeze: the Beginning

Ocean Breeze was the incredible project that served as my introduction to Mustique. I was working for Peter Marino at the time and during this period he was working almost exclusively on these incredibly large scale homes, 30,000 square feet and up, so he sent me to take care of his client Linda de Pecciotto in Mustique. He had designed a home for the de Pecciotos in Cap Ferat, a project that had gotten a ton of press and was something of a jewel in his crown, so I knew how important this client was to him. To be trusted with something like this was a huge deal for me, so I was both thrilled and bit nervous to take it on.

Luckily for me, Linda was about the loveliest woman I’d ever met. She was incredibly warm and we hit it off immediately. She was this exotic, beautiful, elegant woman and everyone who met her just fell in love with her in an instant. The house itself had previously been owned by a German couple who built it with the name Honeymoon House, which turned out to be a horrible irony because the couple only visited it twice before they got divorced. It was henceforth referred to on the island, sadly, as Heartbreak House.

I first went down to meet with Linda in August and she wanted to have the house ready for the holiday season, a very big to-do for homeowners on Mustique. Considering the Byzantine customs process that it takes to get anything onto the island, it was pretty much going to take an act of God to get it all done in time. To say that designing her home was a dream project for me would be an understatement. I came down there with lots of ideas about what I wanted to do, John Robshaw wasn’t so well known at the time but I was an early fan and I basically cleaned out his showroom to bring it down with me for the first meeting. I immediately envisioned an Africanist design (I spent time in South Africa as a child and it’s always influenced me) for her because she was so exotic and she loved natural-looking materials. It was an intense process as she wanted absolutely everything custom: woodworkers from Chanel, the best of everything.

I spent a lot of time up at the house during that fall and there began to be a bit of a buzz about me and about what was going on up at Ocean Breeze. Mustique is, by design, a fairly sleepy place so any new person who starts spending time there causes a bit of a stir, let alone a crazy single blonde girl running around. It was around this time that I first met Basil, who would go on to become extended family, but more on that later.

I was feeling incredibly inspired but the idea of getting such an elaborate project done in such a brief period of time was completely overwhelming. Little did I know how much this experience was going to change everything for me…

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Decorating on the Edge: Design Adventures on Mustique

 

My job is nothing if not an adventure. I like to think of myself as the Indiana Jones (Indiana Joness?) of interior design, which is what feels like sometime wrangling furniture and supplies for the homes I design on the fabulous but remote island of Mustique. It’s hard to believe that’s it’s been over a decade now that I’ve been designing homes on one of the world’s most beautiful and exclusive islands but isn’t that just the way it goes? What starts out as one incredible adventure becomes your life.

For the unfamiliar, Mustique is a private resort island in the West Indies that was purchased in 1958 by eccentric Scottish visionary Colin Tennant (also known as Lord Glenconner). He was about the biggest character this island has ever known (which is saying something); I had the pleasure of knowing him, but more on all of that later. The exclusive island community has grown to include nearly one hundred villas as well as two of the chicest hotel you’ll ever see with The Cotton House and The Firefly. The island regularly sees visitors like Prince William and Kate Middleton and counts people like Tommy Hilfiger and Mick Jagger, among others, as homeowners.

I first came to the island in the year 1999 while I was working for brilliant design maestro Peter Marino. My very first project on Mustique was designing an interior for a villa called Ocean Breeze, which was owned at the time by an absolutely wonderful woman named Linda de Picciotto. In addition to my design work with custom high-end residential interiors in New York, I had done plenty of work in exclusive resort communities like Palm Beach but boy did I have a lot to learn about designing on this island.  It became clear quickly that Mustique was going to have its own special challenges to the design process: harsh elements that devour outdoor furniture, animals that will find their way into any and all spaces and all of the many intricacies of designing for a rarefied lifestyle that resembles something like Downton Abbey meets Gilligan’s Island.

Despite all of its challenges, Mustique is a nothing less than a magical place to spend time and work. I fell head over heels in love with the place during my first visit and some twelve years later, it’s become such a big part of my life and design aesthetic that I wanted to share my experiences. I feel incredibly lucky to have spent so much time on an island that most could only dream of visiting. I hope to bring a little bit of the incredible beauty of the villas of Mustique into your world with stories, anecdotes and even some DIY tips for designing your own luxurious home life!

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