Grand Cayman is one of the hottest spots to visit in the Caribbean this year and the addition of a new, stunning home only makes it even more so. Owned by the Watkins’, a couple from Zimbabwe who are semi-retired after a lifetime of manufacturing and distributing powdered milk in Africa, what initially began as a vacation home project turned into a frontrunner for the couple’s primary residence because they ended up loving it so much. They own several homes, but now spend most of their leisure time in this Grand Cayman manse.
For the heavy lifting, they enlisted Miami-based designer Bea Pila to bring their dreams to life. To get themselves better acquainted with each other, they invited Pila to one of their homes in Antibes, France, where she learned more about the couple’s style.
“They saw a hacienda-style home I did on HGTV five years ago. They loved the look and feel–it was high end, but user-friendly, so they reached out to me to create something similar.” – Designer Bea Pila
The design process was very detailed, Pila explained. “I started to uncover their lifestyle desires and had to ask a lot of questions. In this case, we joked that we built the house around the wine cellar. When we first met, they had met with an architect to draft initial plans. After talking with them, I noticed how much he loved his wine cellar–but it wasn’t a prominent room in the house. So, we rearranged to highlight their respective loves more. Now, it’s not only a wine cellar, but a tasting room where he can store bottles but, more importantly, share and enjoy them with loved ones.”
“It’s a very personal process with my clients,” she says. “I uncover their innermost desires in what they seek in a home. In this case, it was creating an inviting space to entertain their friends and family.” – Pila, regarding her “Design Enlightenment” process
Recreating a signature hacienda style, the 25,000 square-foot, oceanfront estate is anchored around a central courtyard with several guest houses so the couple can host what they call an endless revolving door of guests. Pila’s overall inspiration comes from her special process, which she calls “Design Enlightenment.” “It’s a very personal process with my clients,” she says. “I uncover their innermost desires in what they seek in a home. In this case, it was creating an inviting space to entertain their friends and family.”
Also integral to the design process was the couple’s heritage and history. “Every detail means something to them,” Pila explains. “A floor mosaic of elephants on parade nods to their Zimbabwean roots, while a pineapple and shell floor detail in the front foyer symbolizes hospitality. Mrs. Watkins isn’t afraid of color, so there’s a lot of vibrancy in this home.” She also noted that they had to be careful not to overdo the Mediterranean theme, per Mrs. Watkins’ instructions. So, they added contemporary lighting alongside tropical elements to balance things and pay homage to the Cayman Islands.
In the dining room, Pila commissioned a local artist to paint the arches leading up to the room. “I inserted my first boat-shaped table to reference the locations, but to also make conversation easier. Red curtains further stimulated the energy in the room.”
Another signature feature is the division within the main house: design-wise, it was split in half to reflect a “his” and “hers” aesthetic. On “his” side is a bar and club room, which leads up to Mr. Watkins’ beloved the wine cellar.
“Her” side reflects Mrs. Watkins’ love of cooking and entertaining by employing a massive kitchen with adjacent family room and outdoor dining terrace. In the kitchen, Cuban tile flooring of her favorite colors was inserted, as well as two full granite slabs, which made up the island. An antique Indian door covers her walk-in refrigerator.
The hallways contain installed artwork and furniture arrangements, “to make them beautiful gallery vignettes, as opposed to a mere transitory space from room to room,” Pila informs. A main staircase cuts straight through the middle of the house, leading to the master bedroom, which has, of course, the best view on the entire property.
All of this was unsurprisingly intentional. Pila and her team scouted the location to find the perfect vista for the couple. Pila paid special attention to this room, noting, “the master bedroom is their ultimate sacred space. The aqua scheme is reflective of the ocean vistas and incorporates rugs from Istanbul. Similarly, the glass, onyx and mother of pearl inlays in the master bathroom also mimic water.”
The Watkins’ treat their eight guest suites as if they were in a luxury hotel, meaning that each is outfitted with a kitchenette and a singular decor theme. Similarly, the 15 bathrooms and powder rooms each contain a different design scheme. In a nice personal touch for Pila, the cabana bathroom features a proprietary Banana Leaf vanity which had been Pila’s first design. “I was so honored that Mrs. Watkins selected this sentimental piece for her home,” Pila says.
Keeping up the surprises, Pila was instructed to include a chicken coop. The architecture mimics that of the main house, except this house outputs up to 18 eggs, daily.
Overall, the goal was to steer away from pretentiousness–a hallmark of couple’s philosophy about hospitality. “The house needed to feel welcome, so their guests could feel truly relaxed,” Pila emphasized. From the looks of it, it seems Pila and the Watkins’ succeeded in creating an oasis for them and their guests.
By Jackie Bryant