The inimitable Sally Henzell brings barefoot bohemia back at Jakes Resort in Jamaica.
Words by Juliet Austin. Imagery courtesy of Jakes Resort.
Pablo Picasso once ruminated, "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain [one] once he grows up." Thankfully, the charismatic and "thoroughly Jamaican" Sally Densham Henzell, owner and creative visionary behind the quirky, captivating Jakes Resort (named after the family parrot), is living proof of the power of imagination. Fearlessly guided by her inner compass, her capacity for delight pervades every nook and cranny of the colourful Treasure Beach property that she loves so passionately. Rescuing her son, Jason, from life as an investment banker, the mother and son team rejected the paradigm of the clamouring all-inclusive super-resorts to the north, choosing instead to follow their intuition. Soon, the wild and whimsical barefoot bohemia on Jamaica’s southern shore, so reminiscent of the artist colonies of the 1930s, simply emerged.
“One night,” Sally recalls, “when there was nothing to eat in the town, I decided to open a restaurant. This meant moving out of the house, thus the first two rooms were built and so on, until it dawned on me that now we had a mini hotel. My son, Jason, saw the potential, bought the neighbouring land and said, ‘Go, Mummy, build.’” Set along the jaunty pot-holed lanes of the sleepy fishing village of Treasure Beach, cradled between the dramatic Santa Cruz mountains and cerulean seas, Jakes boasts eighteen of the most charming chic shacks ever to grace the Caribbean – the sort of place where, “if you’re snuggled up in the outside
bed… eleven shooting stars might whizz by.” Jason laughs, “I will never forget the day the phone rang and someone from New York asked if he could land a helicopter at Jakes. This was the signal that Jakes had changed the game in Treasure Beach.” Self possessed and with a delightfully lopsided appeal, cottages with names like Starfish and Jelly, Seapuss, Calabash and Cockles and Muscles, combine all the charm of the ‘old’ West Indies with an eclectic, earthy intimacy borne of Sally’s fascination with artist, Anton Gaudi, and her love of all things Moroccan.
A place of sundowners in heavenly hammocks and watching dolphins from your dream bed, you can hunt for sea glass or doze in magical bathtubs, cool off under shady driftwood porticos or moonbathe on exotic rooftop azoteas. As Jason explains, Jakes aspires to “… provide an authentic community experience which resonates with our guests in a memorable way.” Deeply embedded in the community, locals come to debate Jamaican politics or relive Usain Bolt’s record shattering wins – “wid dem shoelaces undone” – over a Red Stripe and dominoes at Jack Spratt’s, a grassrootsy hut serving fish plucked fresh from the sea. Here, visitors can immerse themselves in a place where honouring culture and history is everything – being in Jamaica is everything. “I remember in the 70s,” Sally recalls, “when there was that diaspora of people leaving, my husband and I looking at each other saying: ‘Imagine waking up in a place, and you go outside and there are no Jamaicans there. No sah!’”
The mythical story of how the Henzells came to be in Treasure Beach is as enchanting as the place itself and goes some way towards explaining their bodacious approach to life. Acting as navigator on the sloop of an affluent American, Sally’s Uncle Lionel’s round-the-world voyage came to an abrupt end, when the owner found himself bankrupt in the wake of the 1929 Wall Street crash. Having stopped in Jamaica on their penultimate port of call, the stars collided to ensure that the Densham clan would never again leave the reggae island’s beguiling coves. A telegram sent to Sally’s father, Basil, read: “Sell everything. Bring #9 Hardy fishing rod, polo sticks and come.” He duly did, soon meeting his wife, Joyce, and having two daughters, June Gay and Sally. Like the exiled Russian count that went before them, the couple bought land for a mere £100 in 1940, building Treasure Cot and sealing the Henzell’s fate in the land of milk and honey. “My parents had great enthusiasm, courage and foresight,” she reflects. “They were always busy. They would tell us, ‘There is no such word as CAN’T in the English dictionary.’” Later, marrying filmmaker Perry Henzell of The Harder They Come fame, Sally’s creativity exploded. “Perry, my darling, departed husband, encouraged me to go further, to have free expression, to let nothing hold me back.” And so, dubbing her architectural style Whimsical Fantasist, Sally imagined into being “the coolest place to stay in the world.” Complete with twinkling fairy lights, secret lily pond gardens, perfectly imperfect faux-washed walls and fanciful handmade mosaics at every turn, Jakes tumbling flower garden is a thing of loveliness, making you want to curl a vine around your fingers in the hope that it will hold your ineffaceable mark forever, should it disappear at the blink of an eye.
“I always loved the dear little Spanish walled houses… brightly painted with verandahs and fretwork,” Sally says. “I wanted mine to meld right in with what was already here.” In a holdover from her childhood, nothing was wasted, and like her hero, Gaudi, treasured broken crockery became interior ornamentation, “so I could still see it and love it,” she explains. Inspired by all manner of objets extraordiaires that caught her magpie-eyes, her travels to Barcelona and photographs of Morocco’s crenulated ramparts, adobe walls and arches, Ali Baba domes and towering minarets, other influences soon crept into her vernacular. With conch and driftwood screens, bejewelled walls of embedded coloured glass, she wove her heart and soul into the property, enhancing each space with swathes of romantic mosquito netting, Moroccan doors, glowing lanterns and exotic shade sails like some dreamy Bedouin encampment.
With its rustic quaintness, its sense of wonderment and discovery, guests at Jakes unfailingly leave richer than when they arrived. Crafted with the eye of an artist and a heart filled with pride for her homeland, Sally Henzell’s barefoot bohemia offers the ultimate antidote for a modern world’s yearning for authenticity: