DecoratingOnTheEdge

Master of the House

What began as a project that was meant to involve making a few little adjustments to the Lundin’s beautiful villa Alumbrera quickly snowballed into redesigning all of the various parts of the house. Eight years later, I have worked on every corner of the grand villa from the bathrooms to the guest rooms to the pool to the landscaping.

This villa was my third project in Mustique and I felt I was finally hitting my stride. I had still been under Peter Marino’s excellent tutelage while I was working on Ocean Breeze and had gotten my bearings doing a project on my own at Yemanjá, but this project was just on such a massive scale. More than any client before, Eva put a great deal of faith in me to head up all of the design work for the house. I not only did my regular interior work but managed everyone involved with making improvements on the home.  I simply adored the Lundins from the start; they have always been very supportive of me and my career. Being Swedish they had a particular affinity hiring and supporting the work of women: they even had a female butler who ran their house, something that is almost as rare on Mustique now as it was in 19th century England.

Though I had worked with a variety of architects, electricians and other skilled tradesmen on the other two villas, Alumbrera was where I really learned to manage a project from soup to nuts. The Lundins put a lot of confidence in me and my ideas and after two other houses on the island, I found I had the courage to run with things.

The Lundins traveled frequently so I was often at the villa on my own with whoever else was working there. It was then that I had to learn delegate as I couldn’t possibly micromanage the work that every tradesmen was doing on a home that size.

It’s always easy enough to find people who like the idea of working on Mustique. When people first arrive to work on the villas, they tend to be a bit starry-eyed at the unbelievable beauty of the island. They think they’ve landed a job in paradise! The honeymoon only tends to last a week or so as they soon realize how difficult it is to get things done, how few natural resources the island has and what a production it is to get a project completed.  I’ve seen some situations with workers that have gone spectacularly awry, like the married house painter who fell in love with the butleress and refused to leave the island, or the tile worker who had a bit too much sunset rum (which you really don’t want to mess with unless you have the fortitude of a local) and hallucinated that he was gorilla. But mostly I’ve worked with spectacularly talented craftsmen at Alumbrera, some of whom I will tell you all about in my next post!

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Seeing the Light

Though Alumbrera was a breathtaking property even before I began working on it, the lighting left quite a lot to be desired. The house is very heavy structurally and Mrs. Lundin could often be found carrying a flashlight around because the interior was so dimly lit. As I’ve discussed before: lighting is one of my very favorite elements of interior design so I couldn’t be more thrilled to dig in and let Alumbrera be seen in its best light.

There are a number of elements that make Alumbrera a challenge with regards to lighting. As with many of the villas on Mustique, the outlets and voltages in Alumbrera were all over the place: no uniformity whatsoever. I’m also very much against the idea of having any furniture against the walls, I prefer a floatier room plan where people can walk around all of the furniture; it feels less claustrophobic that way. But this presents a challenge in that you must figure out something to do with the chords to any lamps you’ve put in the room.

I called in a couple of experts to help me with this one. First was Anthony Bartolomeo, one of the founders of Integrate Electrical Solutions, a company out of New York that does amazing work with lighting. He transformed the rat’s nest of wires that used to power Alumbrera into an elegant lighting solution. Now, like magic, the mere push of a button will illuminate an entire room.

For help with lamps, I brought in the incomparable lamp doctor to the stars Gabriel Delasquez. We found some beautiful lamps for Alumbrera and used twisted silk chord that blended in perfectly and look very chic. Because so many of the rooms are indoor/ outdoor, there is always the issue of lamps blowing over in the high winds so we had to weigh them down. I’ll never forget the image of the elegant Gabriel trotting down to the world-famous Macaroni beach to fill the insides of our lamps with sand to keep them from blowing away.

After much work, the lighting at Alumbrera is divine and you won’t find anyone wandering around with a flashlight!

Though Alumbrera was breathtaking property even before I began working on it, the lighting left quite a lot to be desired. The house is very heavy structurally and Mrs. Lundin could often be found carrying a flashlight around. As I’ve discussed before: lighting is one of my very favorite elements of interior design so I couldn’t be more thrilled to dig in and let Alumbrera be seen in its best light.

There are a number of elements that make Alumbrera a challenge with regards to lighting. As with many of the villas on Mustique, the outlets and voltages in Alumbrera were all over the place: no uniformity whatsoever. I’m also very much against the idea of having any furniture against the walls, I prefer a floatier room plan where people can walk around all of the furniture; it feels less claustrophobic that way. But this presents a challenge in that you must figure out something to do with the chords to any lamps you’ve put in the room.

I called in a couple of experts to help me with this one. First was Anthony Bartolomeo, one of the founders of Integrate Electrical Solutions, a company out of New York that does amazing work with lighting. He transformed the rat’s nest of wires that used to power Alumbrera into an elegant lighting solution. Now, like magic the mere push of a button will illuminate an entire room.

For help with lamps, I brought in the incomparable lamp doctor to the stars Gabriel Delasquez.    We found some beautiful lamps for Alumbrera and used twisted silk chord that blended in perfectly and look very chic. Because so many of the rooms are indoor/ outdoor, there is always the issue of lamps blowing over in the high winds so we had to weigh them down. I’ll never forget the image of the elegant Gabriel trotting down to the world-famous Macaroni beach to fill the insides of our lamps with sand to keep them from blowing away.

After much work, the lighting at Alumbrera is divine and you won’t find anyone wandering around with a flashlight!

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Burying the Island’s Dead

I wanted to illuminate something on the island that is both private and very serene, but also very easy to pass by without much notice. As a disclaimer, I happen to find cemeteries very appealing for their inherent peacefulness and for the insight they provide into different cultures, so I tend to visit them when traveling. In recent years the Mustique Company set aside a plot of land on a gently sloping hill near the airport to serve as a permanent burial ground for the island’s natives and villa owners alike, should they chose it to be their final resting place. The cemetery is bordered with a hand-made, white fence along one side and by dense trees on the other three. So far the island has been fortunate to have lost very few from their community – there are only about seven plots which have been filled to date.

Graves are dug by the loved ones of the departed and a burial is followed with joyous celebration of life (and probably some local rum too!). Each grave is lovingly bordered with a small enclosure of poured concrete which creates a natural flower bed in the center and delineates the plot. Some are decorated with conch shells, which can be found in abundance on the island’s beaches. Each headstone is identical in size and style, putting everyone on a level plane. The stones appear to be made of poured concrete as well, which has debossed black lettering. In the end, they all exhibit a beautiful restrained simplicity.

As one would expect on an island, cemeteries eventually become very crowded. There is no way to expand when you’re surrounded by water. For many years cemeteries such as that in Venice, Italy have been placed on a system of rotation, where a family has access to a particular plot for a finite number of years, at which point the body is exhumed and the plot turned over to someone else. The cemeteries on St. Vincent are to a point of over crowding as well, though there there are frequently no markers, so one wouldn’t guess when visiting the cemetery. The Mustique Cemetery has provided some relief for this problem and a permanent final resting place for the island’s wonderful people.

Interestingly, another option is a burial at sea. One villa owner chose this route not too long ago, requesting everyone to wear white. The beach was flooded with loving bystanders who assisted in pushing the flotilla out to see.

When you visit the island, take a moment to stop by the Mustique Cemetery and see for yourself.

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Alumbrera

Though Monica and Walter would go on to give me an excellent recommendation (they were very generous this way) to my third and longest running client on Mustique: The Lundin family, it was actually Eva Lundin’s adorable Jack Russell terrier Babe who made the initial introduction. Since Alumbrera was right below Yemenjá, I used to always see them walking together when I was out on runs. When I saw them one night at Basil’s, I finally introduced myself.

Eva’s husband Adolf Lundin had created a name for himself on a global scale as a self-made Swedish billionaire who’d taken many risks and reaped many rewards for himself and his investors, first in mining and then in petroleum. By the time I started working for them, Adolf had been diagnosed with Leukemia so he and Eva were spending a lot more time at their stunning home on Mustique, a massive villa that sits atop a cliff overlooking the famous Macaroni Beach. They’d named their island paradise Alumbrera, after one of their copper mines.

Eva said that Monica had told her all about my wonderful work on Yemenjá and would love it if I could ‘come over and look at a few little things’. Alumbrera is an extraordinary villa, and the Lundins were one of the island’s most beloved and respected families so I was thrilled at the idea of working with them on a project of any scope.

True to everything that I had heard about them, the Lundins were some of the sweetest, most generous people I’d ever met, so much so that they didn’t want to say anything negative about the designer who had been working on the house previously. But when I arrived at the house to meet Eva, I was somewhat shocked.

The giant indoor/ outdoor living room of Alumbrera is the most prominent space in the Lundin’s home but the way it had been designed, it looked half-finished. There was a large woven rug that was only covering two-thirds of the floor and the lighting in most of the house was so awful that Eva had to carry around flashlight to be able to see anything! Despite the not-quite-realized décor, I could immediately see the potential of the house.

Little did I know that what began as a project of fixing ‘a few little things’ would become the never-ending job on Mustique, that I would move from designing one room to another for the next eight years of my life.

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More Recently on Mustique

The story of Mustique takes a dramatic turn in 1958 when the 1,400 acre island was purchased for less than $68,000 by the unforgettable, eccentric Scottish aristocrat Colin Tennant (also known as Lord Glenconner or more formally 3rd Baron Glenconner). At the time of Tennant’s arrival the island had more or less returned to its natural state of untamed but breathtaking beauty. There wasn’t so much as a single dock or jetty in the harbor and wild cattle and sheep could be found roaming around. The population consisted of about 100 people, who were living in a ramshackle village known as Cheltenham near where the Cotton House is today. They worked as share croppers and were cultivating small quantities of peas, corn and of course, cotton. Tennant became obsessed with turning Mustique into a private island paradise and began to sink his family’s wealth into the island as well as the private estate he constructed for himself, now known as The Great House. Tennant was good pals with perhaps the island’s most famous figure Princess Margaret and he presented her with a 10-acre plot of land as a wedding present in 1960. She constructed a beautiful and famous villa there which she named (Les Jolies Eaux or The Beautiful Waters in English).

In 1964, a new village called Lovell above the harbor was constructed and the original inhabitants of the island were each given a plot of land and a newly built home. The island still had a 250 acre cotton plantation and groves of coconut palms were also cultivated (though they fit in very well with the scenery, palms are not naturally occurring on Mustique) as well as various citrus trees and vegetables. The wild cattle were sadly exterminated, which is a shame as it’s fun to imagine them mingling with the island’s rich and famous visitors.

There were also numerous fishermen from Bequia and St. Vincent who camped out on Mustique’s beaches before returning home with their catches. The fishermen were also been granted a permanent settlement along the waterfront in Britannia Bay, which is now the brightly colored collection of buildings you see as you make your way to Basil’s Bar (as you certainly will do at some point on your vacation to Mustique).

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Mustique’s Early History

 

I wanted to back up for a few moments and tell you a little bit more about the history of the fabulous island where I spend so much of my time.

Since the island rarely allows press to visit, Mustique hasn’t been talked about very much other than to mention the who’s who of guests who come there and the rarefied amenities of the island.   Though it’s small and not very populated, the island itself has a fascinating and colorful past.

Mustique is part of the Grenadines, a small chain of islands that resulted from a volcanic eruption of Grenada. Politically, the northern islands, which include Mustique, are part of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which on a broader scale is within the Commonwealth of Nations (a former colony of the British empire). Though the island is no longer technically under British rule, the British influence remains strong and the famous face of Queen Elizabeth is on the currency to this day.

The earliest inhabitants of the Grenadines were pre-colonial people who likely arrived from the Orinoco Basin in South America around 2,500 B.C. Various archeological findings would indicate that the Arawak people (as they were named) likely called the islands home between 250 B.C. and 1,000 A.D. More recently the Caribs (from which the Caribbean gets its name) made their home on Mustique and the other islands in the region.

Spanish sailors took to the crystal clear waters of the Grenadines in the late 15th century and called them “Los Pajoros” or The Birds, because from a distance they looked like small birds. Less imaginative pirates who hid and repaired their ships in the bays of the islands in the 16th and 17th centuries referred to the islands as The Grenadines and that name managed to stick. French fishermen were also drawn to the Caribbean for the purposes of hunting sea turtles from about 1650 to 1750 and took control from the Caribs. The island was known for its tall trees and lush greenery and the Europeans who were now coming to the Caribbean in greater numbers soon discovered that the islands were perfect for growing sugar. and the West Indies suddenly became significant economically. Sadly, this meant that the island was cleared of its entire population of tall trees and therefore many other dependent species of plants and animals. The Grenadines passed to the British with the Treaty of Paris in 1763, at which time British farmers Alexander Campbell and John Aitcheson bought the island of Mustique.  This tradition of Brits on Mustique has continued throughout the years with the likes of Princess Margaret, Mick Jagger and countless others.

After the British took over the island they built three stone fortresses to protect the island. These included Fort Liverpool, Fort Percival, and Fort Shandy and their ruins (in addition to the occasional cannon) can still be found. A long blockade cut the French off from West Indian sugar and eventual victory over Admiral Villeneuve in 1804 ensured British control, but soon farmers discovered that sugar could be grown in Europe and they abandoned the island. All of the sugar plantations that had been in operation, including the Endeavour, Rutland, Old Plantation, East Lot, Adelphi, Campbell Valley, and Aberdeen were shuttered. In 1835, two plantations were reopened on Mustique by the British government, as they were still considered economically viable. In 1865 the two were merged into one estate by members of the Hazell family of St. Vincent, but Mustique continued to exist in a state of limbo.

Only the sugar mill at Endeavour and its “Cotton House” (which has since been converted into the famous hotel) remain. Next up some more recent history!

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Windex Be Gone!

Most of the houses I’ve worked on in Mustique come equipped with a full, dedicated staff to do everything from cooking the meals to cleaning the house to bringing the lucky guests their mid-day poolside margarita. Most of us have to do our own household chores of course but that doesn’t mean we can’t bring a little bit of luxury into the equation! Most cleaning products come in utilitarian plastic packaging that is ugly, thoughtless and just plain no fun! Who could get excited about a Windex bottle?

One day many years ago I was at my mother’s house and stumbled upon one of her beautiful old perfume bottles, the glass kind with the atomizer pump and tassel attached to it. She always had a collection of them on her dresser when I was young and this one still worked. It  made me reflect on how women had so much more time to luxuriate in her generation and taking your time was not considered criminal. Even the act of applying perfume was done with more flair! Then it dawned on me. I should replace my boring Windex bottle with this little treasure, Sure, it might not hold quite as much (since people didn’t buy perfume in bulk size at Costco in the 1950s) but not only would it make the chore of wiping up the finger prints on my mirror a little more whimsical, it would look so much nicer in the cabinet. In fact, I could even leave it out on the counter the way my mother did with her fabulous perfume bottles.

I’ve been storing my window cleaner like this for years and I take it even a step further by actually adding a little perfume or something scented to the Windex so it doesn’t have such a strong cleaning supply smell. Naturally I wanted to share this little cleaning secret with you but I also wondered how easy it would be to find a bottle to use, after all not everyone has a chic and fabulous mother whose closet they can raid. But wouldn’t you know it? Ebay has about a million antique perfume bottles! I’ve included images here of some rather exquisite examples I found in my search.

Of course, this chic bottling technique need not only be used for Windex. If you’re having a dinner party and want to wipe up a spill without walking around with a big spray bottle of clorox cleanup and making the culprit feel like an idiot, imagine how much more discrete a tiny perfume bottle of cleaner would be. And if you’re like me, you’ll have fond recollections of your mom every time you use it.

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Yemanjá

Monica and Walter Noel hailed from Greenwich, CT. They had purchased a giant home called Discovery. It looked like a set from a James Bond movie á la the reign of Roger Moore. The bedroom had open construction walls and a pool in it that connected directly into the living room, providing a convenient view. The Noels knocked it down and constructed a palapa in its place, called Yemenjá. It expressed Monica’s Brazilian heritage. The name Yemenjá originates from the Brazilian Goddess of the ocean and motherhood. This home was meant to be their big, showpiece vacation place and it was a giant property even for Mustique.

I had met Monica at Linda de Pecciotto’s opening night party at Ocean Breeze. The party turned out to be not only a fabulously fun and exciting night for both Linda and I, but the best possible advertisement for my work that I could ever have hoped for. There were certain pieces that I still hear about from people, which they found unforgettable upon seeing them that night. In particular people were stunned by the pair of mirrors I commissioned for the dining room, they were by an artist in Paris who crafted them out of black muscle shells dipped in pewter, which were a tasteful interpretation on traditional shell mirrors. They were really stunning and people couldn’t quite get over them.

One of the guests whose interest was piqued by my design flourishes was Monica. She immediately inquired through Linda about working with me. Linda, who was always generous when it came to sharing resources and was incredibly supportive of my career, put us in touch. At the time I was still working with Peter Marino and that turned out to be not the best fit for Monica and Walter. However, when I was ready to go out on my own several years later, Monica was the first person I talked to and she immediately brought me on to complete Yemenjá.

She had made a rather heroic attempt to design it herself, but a 50,000 square foot resort home that sleeps eighteen is a challenge even for a seasoned pro. As this was my first big project on my own, I was glad that it wasn’t also my first job on Mustique as I might have lost my mind. Designing on Mustique is akin to designing on another planet so at least I had some of the basics down, but Yemenjá would bring its own unique challenges to the table.

The house is not only immense but it’s on a steep incline. They hired an architect called Manolo Mestre who I had known for years. The moment Monica ‘introduced’ us was pretty hilarious as we immediately ran to each other and gave each other a giant hug. It seemed like incredible serendipity that they would have hired him.

Because she had been decorating the house by herself, Monica had already made a number of purchases. Monica has excellent taste and had chosen some great pieces that we were able to work into my specific vision for the villa. I became known as the “furniture butcher” for my reinventions of the existing pieces. This has since become one of my very favorite things to do. See this post for some tips on how you can do a little “furniture execution” of your own!

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My Island Home


For all I knew when I began the project, Ocean Breeze might have been my one and only experience working on the surreally beautiful, rarefied island of Mustique. I had gotten very close with Linda while we were working on the project. It’s natural to develop a certain bond with your client when you’re designing their home and share the same vision. The friendship that Linda and I formed while working together on Ocean Breeze was extraordinary. She was someone I strongly admired and she was embarking on a new chapter in her life with this beautiful showpiece home. The experience was proving to be just as life-changing for me. This incredible island was becoming Linda’s new home, and though I didn’t think of it this way at the time, it was becoming mine as well. I had fallen completely in love with Mustique by the end of the project and truthfully that was a good thing because it’s not an easy or uncomplicated place to love. Projects on the island get more and more complex and go over budget and between the elements and the remoteness of the island—it can feel like working on the film set of Apocalypse Now more than a fabulous private island. But I digress.

I’ll never forget the night of Linda’s opening party at Ocean Breeze. It was really most incredible guest list you could imagine. There was a ‘who’s who’ of bold name Brits from Hugh Grant to Fergie (the infamous royal, not the pop singer) to Princess Michael of Kent. It was beyond thrilling to have these people mingling in what I considered to be a piece of my artwork. Chills went down my spine each time I heard a party guest compliment something I had chosen or commissioned for the house. It was the height of my career so far. Mustique was still very dominated by the British at the time and therefore the British interpretation of what Caribbean design should look like still ruled. I took Ocean Breeze in quite a different direction, one that was both very global—with influences that ranged from Africa to Brazil—and very organic at the same time. I veered away from the hard, modern aesthetic that was so popular at the time and people were very interested in what I had done with her home.

The opening party was an excellent chance for people to see the home that Linda and I had created together and for me to mingle with some of Mustique’s denizens. The opening party was a bit of a blur for me. It was fabulous and exciting but somewhat stressful too, I found myself leaning over in and amongst the cocktail chatter to discreetly adjust a lampshade here and there that had been blown a bit off center by the wind. I also felt a bit of melancholy because I felt this was the grand finale of my work in Mustique. Little did I know that my work there was just beginning.

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JDB DIY: Tortured Scale


A dear friend of mine recently purchased a coffee table online, thinking that the design would fit perfectly in his fun and eclectic apartment. Online purchases can be tricky and sadly, when it arrived he felt that it somehow looked too tall for the space.

In reality, a coffee table should be relatively low but most American furniture companies (and all the Chinese manufacturers who distribute in the US) make tables that are too tall. A taller table can command too much space and attention and distract from everything else in the room. The table shouldn’t be eating the room. If you go into some of the nicer restaurants in New York, you will notice what I am talking about. Take Mr. Chow for example. All the furniture is a little lower than one might expect, but the room exudes class and refinement while still feeling comfortable. We live in a nation of oversized everything, but going big can make a room feel less comfy rather than more. A good place to look for furniture that’s the correct height for a room is West Elm, which sells reasonably priced pieces that are not too large.

In general, a coffee table looks most chic in a room when it stands at about 13″ tall. It is of course relative to the sofa, but it makes sense to try to keep the height of the cushions close to the height of the table so guests don’t have to reach too far up or down to rest something on the table. I have plenty to say about sofas, especially those dreadful  oversized ones, but I’ll save it for a different post.

Back to my friend with the too-tall table; would he have to send it back? No need, this one is an easy fix. We simply borrowed a hacksaw from the neighbor and trimmed two inches off the bottom. The original table had metal rings around each leg and they served as a perfect guide for running the hack saw back and forth. Now the tabletop is aligned with the cushions and the room is much more livable. Don’t be scared off by the tools, this took us about ten minutes and just look how much better it fits into the room! Much easier than the hassle of returning the table.

Catalog purchases can be great but you never know exactly how they’ll look once they arrive, so never be afraid to tweak them!

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