Recently at the Rosewood Hotel in London – a world away from the shimmering blue waters and picture-perfect beaches of the Caribbean – Hotel Designs attended a press preview of the work being carried out at the Estate House; the signature bar and restaurant of the Jumby Bay Rosewood Resort, a stunning luxury retreat set on its own 300-acre private island two miles off the coast Antigua.
Having been given an introduction to the island and the resort by Rosewood MD Andrew Hedley, the resort is everything you would imagine of a Caribbean hideaway – accessible only by boat, a strong colonial feel with a touch of West Indian charm, and tropical paradise environs. And in January of this year, in a bid to bring that aesthetic to the bar and restaurant, the Estate House was closed for a complete overhaul.
“Already renowned as one of Antigua’s most sought after dining destinations, the reimagined Estate House will emerge as the Caribbean’s ultimate social club for gourmet fare, sophisticated mixology, and mingling from day to night,” Andrew says.
Heading up the project is Dennis Irvine and Hotel Designs had the pleasure of catching up with him to discuss the project and his work as a designer.
Dennis’ background in interior design is a rich one having grown up drawing and making, his passion for all things creative led him to studying interior architecture, to working with Mary Fox Linton to eventually setting up his eponymous design studio. It’s from this standpoint that Dennis was tasked with breathing new life into the Estate House, Jumby Bay.
Combining the colonial impressions of the main resort with a contemporaneous perspective on the locale, the Estate House’s redesign represented a challenge of capturing the spirit of the island, something wholly embraced by Dennis. But was it hard to balance aesthetics and practicality? “Not really,” Dennis says. “Our design concept was the modern interpretation of the ‘colonial spirit’, so it was a matter of taking inspiration from history with careful curation and playful references that created an aesthetic which drew on the past and used modern materials appropriate to the environment,” he adds.
Retaining historical elements of the original structure, the redesign will pay homage to the Estate House’s roots in empire-era glamour with subtle nods to the island’s history and traditions throughout – something achieved through ‘putting in the hours as it were’. Dennis says: “Spending time in Antigua and absorbing local life was absolutely vital. Our team invested time and effort into researching this former plantation house’s history as well as the island’s traditions and landscape.”
A two-storey, vaulted ceiling will provide a dramatic entryway to the bar, while an airy courtyard, connecting the main restaurant, three private dining rooms, and the Wine Room, will serve as an idyllic outdoor lounge space to savour pre-or-post-dinner drinks, amongst tropical plants and a fountain made by a local artist. Curated local artwork depicting local Antiguan life, flora, and fauna, and vintage maps will adorn the walls, while sophisticated tableware and accessories in bespoke Ginori china, silver and crystal will offer a refined dining experience.
Indeed, Dennis tells HD that sourcing pieces from the island and its artists was one of the more challenging but at the same time worthwhile aspects of the project. “Working closely with local architect Andrew Goodenough, who has had a practice in Antigua for almost forty years was fundamental to getting this right. Engaging local people such as artist Dina Debozzi for trompe l’oeil island scenes for the Blue Room was very important to us too,” he says.
HD asks Dennis how working in what appears to be a remote location compares to working in Europe. “Although it’s remote, the reliability of communication is excellent, better than in London or Paris in fact. There are lots of logistical challenges though. Everything has to be shipped in which takes time, coordination and patience to ensure the project is delivered as originally envisaged,” he tells us.
Inspired by the island’s starkly verdant landscape, a colour palette of rich greens will be employed, and handcrafted furnishings in ebony, teak, rattan, and wicker will emulate the style of past travellers and explorers. Sweeping terraces will offer unparalleled views of the island landscape. In keeping with The Estate House’s new look, restaurant and bar staff will wear fashionable uniforms designed by acclaimed designer Emilia Wickstead.
The design of the three private dining rooms – The Map Room, The Tent Room, and the Blue Room – will embody different facets of the island’s character. The Map Room will personify wanderlust and discovery through carefully curated objects and antique maps from the golden age of exploration. The Blue Room will feature hand-painted trompe l’oeil island scenes and rich blues inspired by the twilight sky. Draped fabric ceiling and walls in the Tent Room create a romantic Empire-era dining experience. Lighting throughout has been supplied by Croydon-based Dernier & Hamlyn, a collaborator with Dennis on previous projects.
So, has Dennis been given a free rein to bring a ‘design philosophy to the project?
“I was given a great deal of independence to translate spaces as I felt they should be. Having said that, we really appreciated the invaluable input we received from Rosewood who have been based in the Caribbean for many years. Selecting relevant and suitable suppliers is always key to the success of a project so working with an experienced procurement agent, in this case Argenta Projects, was crucial.”
Rejecting the idea of being tied to one style, he adds: “Good design is never formulaic. There will never be a Dennis Irvine Studio style. I am always very respectful of a building’s history if it has one. Or if it’s a new site will give very careful consideration to what else is happening locally so that, while making its own statement, the design is empathetic and complements its surroundings. If asked to sum up our ‘design philosophy’ it would be about respect. For the building and its environs, for the client’s brand and vitally for each other within our team.”
HD asks where this project ranks for Dennis in his portfolio of work. “It’s the first one that has been completed under the Dennis Irvine Studio name so it is my most rewarding in many ways.” Work on the horizon includes a country house hotel at Langley Park, Buckinghamshire. Judging by the work carried out by Dennis at the Estate House, it’s going to be a gem – and slightly closer to home…