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Labouring for Love

By Steve Fox, OBMI BVI

This month, I’ve been asked to write about designing for Love. A fine subject; I think most architects tend to be hopeless romantics, and I’m no exception. We all want our buildings to lift the spirits and stir the emotions.

I learned recently that Google’s most searched phrase of 2012 was What is love? So, clearly, there’s no simple definition of this elusive and mysterious concept. We all have our own ideas, experiences and expectations. So, as usual with any design project, there is no catchall approach. Designing with love in mind is always going to be very subjective. I think it’s safe to say that every client we work for wants to invest his or her home with this special kind of quality, and this is particularly true when designing and building in the beautiful setting of the Virgin Islands. But the end results will ultimately be as widely varied as our individual responses to the What is love? question.

Photo of Carlisle Bay, courtesy of OBMI.

 Think of a setting for love and romance: It’s easy to imagine a cozy mountain lodge with a crackling fireplace, a chic glass penthouse in the city, or a secluded lakeside cabin. And perhaps the ultimate fantasy setting, a breezy tropical island hideout. Of course the VI fits firmly into the latter category, and is replete with all the qualities we associate with this romantic ideal: the beaches, the views, the seclusion, the weather and the landscape.

The trick in coming up with a great design is to be totally sympathetic and in tune with the setting—to take full advantage of everything it has to offer. To maximise the best views, nestle into the landscape, and enjoy all the positive aspects of the climate in order to be fully in harmony with the environment. The key concept here is comfort. The building should help to make life easy and effortless, be a private place to relax, forget your stress, and focus on your loved ones. And the garden and landscape design is as important as the building design; they should be perfectly in tune.

While designing a romantic home, we often take tips from some of the ideas employed in hospitality design. The best hotels and resorts usually aim to enhance the romantic experience, to provide a backdrop for escaping from the mundanity of everyday life, a short but sweet getaway from the daily grind. So what could be better than incorporating these ideals into your full-time home, to make every day feel like a holiday? The trick is to balance or adapt the more whimsical and quirky ideas to make them practical for everyday life.

For instance, it’s fun and exciting to aim for indoor-outdoor living in the tropics, and many of our homes feature fully external circulation between rooms, with bedrooms in “pods” separate from the living areas; you cross through courtyards and gardens to go from room to room. I once lived with my family in a lovely small wooden cottage in the trees, with an external staircase linking the upstairs bedrooms to the downstairs living room. This was wonderful on a sunny day, but in times of heavy rain, we found ourselves wading through a chilly, muddy waterfall to go to bed, which may or may not be seen as romantic, depending on how you look at it.


In the bathroom, it’s becoming more common to see a tub or shower freestanding in the space, often fully open to the bedroom, where you can luxuriate in the wide open space and enjoy the view. This is another idea borrowed from upscale resort (or the Playboy mansion) design, which can be fun and exciting but may not translate to the everyday home, depending on taste.

Similarly, some people love the idea of an outdoor shower, where you (and possibly a friend or two) can expose yourselves to the world and be truly at one with nature. Appealing for some, but I’ve seen other more conservative homeowners recoil in horror from this idea.

Ultimately, love is more than erotic passion and desire. The other aspects, of intimacy, affection, commitment and understanding, all need to be remembered and considered. And as usual, we architects need to listen closely to our clients, to help them build their ideal, dream environment, and to love doing it.


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