Tour a Gorgeous Retro-Caribbean Beach House
Return to Paradise
"When I think of the Caribbean during the 1950s and "60s, I think of Babe Paley vacationing at Round Hill in Jamaica or Princess Margaret's vacation residence on Mustique," says designer Gary McBournie. "There's a beautiful nostalgia to these places, with their large-scale florals and well-crafted wicker, bright island color and grand rooms without barriers to the sea." These classic design ideals, contends the veteran decorator, are just as relevant today as they were a half century ago, and more than fitting for his recent update of a client's 1950s vacation home on Antigua.
The beachfront escape was originally designed by architect Robertson "Happy" Ward, a noteworthy design figure behind a string of iconic Caribbean resorts, including Barbados's Sandy Lane Hotel and the Cotton Bay Club in Eleuthera. "He disliked pretense, loved nature, and really enjoyed playing up the casual spirit of the island," says McBournie. The refurbished result is a breezy 21st-century escape that exudes the joie de vivre of its midcentury original. Here are a few of his secrets for mirroring that quintessential island style.
A Cool Private Courtyard
Get the Look: Paurotis palms and bougainvillea frame the entrance wall, which is painted Sunlit Coral by Benjamin Moore.
The street-side entrance to the single-story house resembles "the inside of a conch shell," McBournie says of the stucco's peachy-pink hue. The walled courtyard, louvered doors, and local stone pavers are hallmarks of Caribbean entry facades.
An Open Air Lounge
A major focus of the home's renovation was opening up a central great room to the outdoors. "The space is designed to feel like an extension of the beach," says McBournie. Sandy tones on the walls, hot pops of sunshine yellow, and tropical greenery blend with the island landscape.
"It's everyone's favorite room in the house," says McBournie of this guest room. The centerpiece is a lacquered four-poster bed that the designer retrofitted for added height—"we wanted it to really soar, to have a grandness to it"—and outfitted with cotton botanical-print curtains. "The Caribbean has a long tradition of mixing very refined decorating with rustic, natural elements," he adds, noting the painted wood-paneled ceiling.
Naturally Aged Wood
Get the Look: The mirror is painted in Lake Tahoe by Benjamin Moore.
In the guest room, the vintage furniture is made from crabwood, a material native to the island. "The wood ages to a graceful, whitewashed effect."
Large Scale Tropical Florals
"Big floral prints are so reminiscent of 1960s island style, and remain timeless," says the designer, who paired this orchid print with tropical fish art and natural wicker and rattan. These vintage island power players shine as brightly today as they did decades ago, especially in rooms that have plenty of access to the outdoors.
Brightly Painted Ceilings
Get the Look: The ceiling is painted Spring Meadow Green by Benjamin Moore.
Hot pink bedding and valances (which hide mosquito netting) are a vibrant contrast for painted lime ceilings. Local wood paneling is common in older Caribbean resorts, "but over the years, the sap discolored the wood, so we painted the guest room ceilings in bright colors. This became a turning point for the color schemes of these spaces."
Vintage Hand-Hewn Furniture
Get the Look: The pair of vintage lamps are crafted from contrasted wallpaper rolls.
"Because of the islands' remoteness, furniture in the Caribbean is often designed and crafted specifically for a house and then simply passed down from one owner to the next," says McBournie. In this sitting room, he refinished a hand-carved sectional, coffee table, and end tables (all original to the house) in an updated gray wash. "The older furniture really embodies the spirit of the era, and the designers that were so influential during that time."