Every piece Soane creates, whether furniture, lighting or fabrics, holds a story, from its historic design influences to meticulous manufacturing by our skilled British craftsmen. At Soane we thrive on exchanging these stories – they capture our imaginations and enrich our daily lives. The Journal offers an opportunity to take these conversations further and delve into other subjects that excite and inspire us. We warmly invite you to share in our musings

Lulu Lytle

Founder & Creative Director

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    Historic Houses of Barbados

    Fustic House, Barbados
    Fustic House, Barbados
    The Drawing Room, Cobblers Cove Hotel, Barbados
    Cobblers Cove Hotel, Barbados

    This summer, Barbados is the idyllic setting for the launch of Soane Britain’s latest rattan, fabrics and wallpapers collection. The alluring Caribbean island, combining tropical scenery with British influenced architecture, lends itself beautifully to Soane’s designs. Classic and timeless, they nevertheless have a flamboyant influence thanks to co-founder and Creative Director Lulu Lytle’s love of the exotic. Prints celebrate bold blooms and fabulous fronds in richly saturated colours drawn from Lulu’s extensive collection of antique Oriental fabrics. Soane’s rattan designs are made by Leicestershire weavers whose forebears honed their skills creating elegant yet practical furniture for British expatriates living in the tropics. This natural material is perfectly suited to a Caribbean lifestyle that seamlessly flows from inside to out.

    Barbados is home to some wonderful historic plantation houses that were influenced by Britain’s architectural heritage. Adapted to the Caribbean, they were built in blocks of coral rock hewn from local cliffs (in contrast to other Caribbean islands where wood was mostly used) and incorporated distinctive features such as deep terraces, verandas and window shutters to accommodate the sun, heat and tropical downpours. Lulu loves the whimsical pink painted St Nicholas Abbey. One of the oldest houses on the island it was built in 1658 as a sugar plantation house and is a rare example of Jacobean manor house style. For classical elegance, Heron Bay, built in 1947, stands out. Designed by architect Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe, it is thought the owner, British politician Ronald Tree, had a close influence on its Palladian revival style, following his travels to Veneto.

     

    Of all the historic houses, Lulu is most charmed by those designed by ‘amateur architect’ Oliver Messel.   The former theatre designer moved to Barbados in 1966 at the age of 62, exhausted from his work. He had enjoyed a prolific career in set and costume design, working on productions such as the lavish ‘Caesar and Cleopatra’ with Vivien Leigh and legendary Royal Ballet production of Swan Lake starring Margot Fonteyn in the 1940s. The warmth and atmosphere of the island reinvigorated Messel and his creative talent found an outlet in house design and decoration. Messel remodelled or built nine signature houses on the island and seventeen on Mustique (he was well-connected in British society, designing the island home of Princess Margaret, who married his nephew, Anthony Armstrong-Jones).

    Whilst in Barbados for the Soane launch, Lulu visited one of Messel’s early projects and own home, Maddox.  His wonderful transformation of a practically derelict eighteenth century plantation house into an elegant villa attracted many visitors and future commissions. Messel was brilliant at maintaining and enhancing an historic house’s classical style whilst, through spatial configuration, designing for modern ‘indoor-outdoor living’.  The original house had a side wall facing the sea and Messel reoriented it, such that open loggias and sitting areas could take advantage of ocean views. Lulu says, “it has the most extraordinary charm and proportions that feel so perfectly right.”

    Fustic House, set in 10 acres of lush gardens on the St. Lucy parish coastline, is perhaps his most impressive project and is understood to have been his favourite house. It is not difficult to see why; the house is blessed with the most beautiful natural location, elevated above its own private beach, with wonderful sea views and refreshing breezes. The original coral stone Great House was built in 1740, but it was in the 1960s, when Oliver Messel was commissioned to remodel the property, that its transformation into a truly paradisiacal place began.

    The house has a fittingly theatrical approach with a drive passing through groves of ancient mahogany and fig trees. The house path leads visitors into a central loggia, whereupon wide arches (for which Messel was known), give way to spectacular framed views of the sea beyond. Messel built on the existing character of the Great House and added new spaces, creating glorious views and vistas through windows or door openings. He understood how to live elegantly in the Caribbean, adding large terraces, balconies and living areas that linked house to garden. Architectural historian Jeremy Musson said in his book, “Fustic House and Estate – A Messel Masterpiece” (2010), that, “he was very conscious of the romantic atmosphere…and very aware of how gardens and buildings might be illuminated at night,” being one of the first designers to use electric uplighters outdoors. He worked closely with local craftsmen and carried his vision through to interior details, designing mahogany furniture and composing with patterns and colours drawn from indigenous tropical plants. His trademark use of a soft sage green paint for shutters, woodwork and metal furniture became so popular on the island that it was coined “Messel Green.’

    Lulu is a great admirer of Messel’s approach, believing that creating atmosphere in interiors, whether through bringing elements of nature indoors, the use of bold colour or the creation of soft light, is key to their enjoyment. An exciting project emerged from Soane’s decision to launch a collection from Barbados and at the quintessentially British Cobblers Cove hotel. The hotel owners decided that rather than see the new pieces shipped back, they should like to keep them – and furthermore, asked Lulu to create some new entirely Soane decorated room interiors using these and other designs. We share below a few photographs from the newly complete “Soane rooms” – the entrance hall, drawing room and “Lazy Bones” outdoor dining gazebo. In a nod to the visual delights of Barbados, its architecture and Messel, Soane have also launched a new rattan paint colour – Messel Green. A little of the distinctive charm of Barbados to be enjoyed wherever you are!

    Images of Maddox and Fustic House from “Oliver Messel, The Theatre of Design” by Thomas Mesell and by kind permission of fusticbarbados.com, © Fustic House photo credit – andreajones.co.uk

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