Built in the 1980s in the style of a plantation house and extensively remodelled in 2018, The Great House is like a romantic pocket in time. From the genteel gathering spaces to the inviting sleeping quarters and throughout the exquisite grounds, an air of relaxed glamour and easy living settles over the entire property.
Perched on the northwest coast of Barbados, The Great House is a collection of traditional-style buildings – a main house, cottages, pavilions and gazebos – connected by meandering flagstone paths that wind their way around the park-like gardens. Beyond the gently curving flowerbeds and dense clusters of palms, past lily ponds and lush green lawns, lies a 330-foot stretch of pristine beach. And across the road, on an adjacent parcel, stands a vast entertainment complex built around a tranquil courtyard garden.
The original Great House had seen various additions over the years, but the refurbishment that began in 2018 tore these down, leaving only The Great House itself, with its rounded coral stone facade, standing. However, even this was gutted, while other structures were completely rebuilt.
Bajan architect Michael Gomes, of MGA Inc, who had previously worked on The Great House, redesigned the entire property. He kept many of the buildings in a similar style to the original but with more generous dimensions, adding a concrete core for strength and then cladding them in timber or coral stone to maintain an authentic look.
“The intention was never to follow the prevailing trend for slick, contemporary houses, but to retain the spirit of the originaldesign,” he explained. “The owners wanted to maintain the look and feel of a Barbados-style plantation house, but to enhance what was there and add exceptional amenities that would allow for a modern version of luxury living.”
Interior designer Leslie Sturm worked alongside him to ensure that the elegant style of a bygone age carried through to the interiors as well.
The gardens were already well-established and the owners were adamant that as many mature trees as possible were preserved. The redesign therefore had to work around the existing palms, mahogany, frangipani and casuarina trees. Even a vibrant royal poinciana situated next to the pool, which would inevitably drop leaves into the water, was kept. Now, the pool is simply cleaned more frequently.
A multi-faceted project, landscape designer Zak Stuart worked concurrently with the contractors and decorators, each week finding an area he could attend to undisturbed, to transform the landscape into an exuberant Garden of Eden. The vibrant greenery now wraps around every building and spills indoors, setting the tone for the whole property.
Nature is such a dominant feature that Sturm chose to complement it in the interiors rather than compete with it. She opted for simplicity and grace and let the views do the talking. A single soft, off-white was used on all the walls, ceilings, and sometimes floors throughout the entire property. The vivid green of the gardens paired with the cool tone lends the interiors a fresh, clean character.
Sturm, who is based in Switzerland, spent time immersing herself in the island’s history before approaching the design. She visited plantation houses and Oliver Messel homes, met local artists, artisans and historians and absorbed the colour and character of Barbados. Charmed by the whimsical design details, she subtly incorporated these into the redesign, often repurposing and up-cycling existing pieces.
“There was no question of throwing everything away and starting over,” Sturm emphasised. “The goal was to remain true to the essence of The Great House, and much of the existing furniture and art told a certain story, so we reused as much as we could.”
In the original Great House, which contains four-bedroom suites with private verandas, coral stone walls lend a pink hue that is balanced by the white-painted floorboards and floor-to-ceiling white shutters. The generous proportions, colonial-style furniture and artwork featuring local flora and fauna combine to add a rich sense of history to these almost-new rooms, with accent colours in the soft furnishings that inject warmth.
Adjacent to this, the main pavilion, once a rather stiff and formal gathering space, was transformed by simply removing walls and doors.
“Taking out the doors made a huge difference to how you feel in the space,” Gomes reflects. “You’re now part of the gardens. Even the main bar that wasn’t used much before is now a favourite space.”
A soaring ceiling with exposed rafters and wraparound verandas protect interiors from the rain. Still, the space is open to the pool and gardens on one side, and jalousie windows on the other side allow for cross-ventilation, eliminating the need for air-conditioning. Polished mahogany floors and a well-positioned grand piano lend the open-to-the-elements space a sense of grandeur, enhanced by two large aquariums filled with local reef creatures that frame the entrance to the bar area and serve to screen the powder rooms.
Elsewhere, two cottages based on traditional chattel houses – simple, wooden structures with steeply pitched roofs that could be picked up and moved – were rebuilt larger and stronger, clad in timber and decorated with beadboard panelling. Simple, locally-made furniture is a perfect match for the architectural style, and fresh white interiors keep these characterful spaces serene, while a coral stone-walled patio in one conceals an idyllic open-air bathroom where one can soak or shower under the stars.
The Carriage House and Hillaby House contain several more suites, each with its particular charm, be it inviting windows seats, private porches or deep, freestanding bathtubs. A few well-chosen antiques and simple wood and rattan furniture – much of it repurposed – lend them a timeless quality.
Whether glimpsed through louvred shutters, represented in artworks or repeated in leaf-print textiles, the connection to nature is a constant throughout the property’s various buildings.
The refurbishment didn’t stop with the bedrooms and social spaces, however. Dotted around the gardens, pretty gazebos with gingerbread trim provide additional areas to eat, drink and relax. On the shore, an all-new beach facility with a bar, kitchen and pizza oven ensures days at the seaside want for nothing.
Over the road, the recreation space, which looks into the soothingly symmetrical courtyard, with a long lily pond at its centre, includes every amenity one could wish for: a large, airy gym, a cosy movie room with a grand projector screen, a spa, a games room, conference facilities and more.
Spread over two and a half acres and two sites, with multiple buildings featuring a variety of architectural styles and a plethora of outdoor retreats, The Great House is, as Gomes says, an assemblage of different parts. The key for Gomes, Sturm and Stuart was to create a common thread that would make it all – accommodations, amenities, gardens and common spaces – mesh.
And that is the overriding success of this magical property. The sum of its parts feels so seamless that the sense upon entering is of having arrived in a place of profound and timeless calm.
For more information or for reservations contact The Great House:
Call: +1 246 422 4804