By Marisa Spyker
Some people spend years dreaming and searching for their perfect island escape, but for Ray Booth and his partner, John Shea, all it took was a matter of hours while on vacation on Vieques Island, Puerto Rico, to realize they'd found their home. "We were getting sandwiches and fantasizing about what it would be like to own a place here," recalls Booth, a residential designer and partner with McAlpine, Booth, Ferrier Interiors. "Next thing you know, we're going to see a house. We entered into a contract with a real estate agent just hours before we had to leave, and then John turned to me and said, 'That was either the smartest or the dumbest thing we've ever done.'"
Situated on a hilltop boasting 180-degree ocean views, the two-story modern retreat stands solitary atop a blanket of untouched greenery. "The Caribbean sea vistas were immediately what sold us," says Booth, who splits his time between Nashville, Tennessee, and New York City. "On a clear day, you can see St. Croix in the distance.
"The structure itself, however, was far from perfect. "The existing home was smaller, had a ramshackle wood roof, and was shrouded in banana plants—it felt a little like Swiss Family Robinson," Booth says with a laugh. "But the walls and floors were built from beautiful concrete. I knew that would be the base from which we'd grow the rest of the house."
Outdoor Dining Room
Inspired by a minimalist eco-resort on the island, Booth set out on a four-year renovation project to elevate the home from its humble beginnings, starting with taking the organic dwelling down to its concrete shell. To maximize interior living space, he increased the home's footprint, enclosed former outdoor areas on both levels, and took down walls to open up rooms within. The wood roof was replaced with a stronger stuccoed concrete one, which has a slight overhang that provides shade to outdoor lounging spaces below.
Booth designed bedrooms as "sleeping porches," situating them in the home so ocean breezes can flow in and out through screened louvered doors from two sides. (Fortunately, the home was sited perfectly on the hilltop property, rendering central air unnecessary.)
The neighboring baths are outfitted simply, with concrete vanities, porcelain vessel sinks, and doors that lead out to alfresco showers enclosed by three walls of stuccoed concrete. "We embraced the indoor/outdoor living," says Booth. "We wanted the house to feel like it was part of the environment."
Get the Look: The green side table in the outdoor shower is from West Elm.
For aesthetics, Booth chose Honduran mahogany doors and windows to reflect the home's connection to nature. "I joke that the house is made of concrete and more concrete," he says. "So bringing in that natural material was a way to add warmth to the architecture."
Inside, Booth softened the modern structure with gauzy drapes, textured rugs, and wood and rattan furniture. Midcentury-style pieces recycled from Shea's former digs served as the starting point for a contemporary-meets-Caribbean look that juxtaposes new finds with pieces the couple inherited from the home's previous owner, such as a colorful abstract painting of the island by a local artist that hangs in the first-floor lounge. "It's a mix of past lives, both ours and the house's," says Booth.
References to the home's island setting are scattered throughout, from a pair of framed antique Caribbean maps that hangs in the kitchen to a tropical photograph and painted surfboard that decorate the master bedroom. To balance the organic hues of the architecture, Booth punctuated these spaces with textiles, rugs, bedding, and artwork that bring out the greens and blues of the palms and sea. "To feel well placed and integrated, an interior palette has to always be a reflection of what you see outside," he says.
Get the Look: The kitchen stools are from BDDW, and the framed maps are antique.
Views are, after all, the crux of the house and its secluded hilltop locale. The uninhibited ocean vistas and the distinctly Vieques sights remind Booth and Shea that they're a long way from their city lives. "One of the first nights we stayed there, I woke up to a tromping noise from out in the forest," Booth says. "I popped out of bed and went to the porch to see what it was, and found wild Paso Fino horses in our backyard under the bright light of the full moon. It was an extraordinary moment."
Get the Look: The pool’s chaise lounges are custom.