A Room for Two
- January 31st, 2012
- in Yachting
A Room for Two with a View
There’s a romantic in each of us that keeps a collection of treasured love stories in our memories. They may be places we’ve been or places we’ve seen in movies or read about in books or they may be completely imaginary. But we all know romantic when we see it.
My own list includes an old colonial inn where my wife and I spent our wedding night and a sleeping car on a train hurtling across the Canadian wilderness that took us to a log cabin in the woods by a roaring river. There was a luxurious hotel room with a view of the Seattle skyline and a patchwork of rooms that made up a petite Parisian apartment.
Here in the Caribbean, the idea of the romantic getaway takes on a different look. We have a unique setting—dramatic mountainsides surrounded by the calming seashores—so that a place can be private and wide open at the same time. Almost every hillside site has an unimpeded view and, unless someone is passing by in a helicopter, complete privacy.
We spent our first few married months on St Thomas in a little wooden cottage on the north side, high above the waves. It was appropriately called The Love Nest, and that’s exactly how it felt. High up in the treetops, it was a ramshackle bungalow, all plywood and two-by-fours, just big enough for a bed and a bath and a little kitchenette. The porch held just two people, with a spectacular view of the surf on the rocks below. When the wind blew, the whole place swayed with the trees. On those evenings when the rain fell solid and steady, a chorus of frogs came out in full song.
With the season of love in the air, the question lingers: What makes a place romantic, and how is it designed that way? I think it comes down to a couple of themes: simplicity and intimacy. There’s a certain scale to a place that fits two people, that allows them to focus on each other, that frames the activities spent together in a particular place and moment.
Our first real house was a cottage in Secret Harbor. I had designed it when I was still a bachelor as the caretaker’s quarters for a client’s main house. At the time, I had no idea I’d be living there with my new bride. It became immediately known as The Honeymoon Cottage. Perched on the edge of a low cliff above a rocky beach, it was a small-scaled love nest: one bedroom, one bath, a small kitchen, a living room and a porch that cantilevered out toward the water. It was perfect for two people and the occasional guests.
And once, in the still nights that followed a hurricane, when there was no power for a fan or a light, we pulled the bed onto the porch to catch the night breeze. And in the middle of the night, waking to the full moon shining like diamonds on the water and casting an ethereal glow through the mosquito net, suspended in the breezy air above the waves, we were adrift in another world.
I was later asked by some friends to design a cottage specifically for honeymoon couples. The site was spectacular: a hilltop in the center of the island, with a postcard view of Charlotte Amalie harbor to the south and a broad view of the Atlantic to the north. The program was simple: living room, kitchen, bedroom, bath, a small pool and private outdoor living space.
Here was a chance to put all of those collected ideas of the romantic places I’d known into a small gem of a house. The sense of scale was critical, each space just the right size for two people to enjoy together. The living areas naturally went to the sunnier, warmer harbor side, where they could be wide open to the outdoor spaces and closely connected to the landscape on the flatter hilltop. The view of the harbor, framed by the trees and plants and arched doorways, became the focal point of the whole design.
The bedroom and bath fit beautifully on the cooler, breezier Atlantic side. The land there sloped down and away, raising those rooms above the treetops and giving them the clear and elevated private view.
What developed in this small plan was a rich variety of places for two people to be together—a lush and comfortable living room open on three sides to nature, a simple galley kitchen just big enough to hold the necessities, an alcove of a bedroom and a shower with no walls. There were places for two in different settings—a café table next to a large open window in the living room, a dinette under the shade of the trellised patio off the kitchen with a framed view of the Atlantic horizon, lounge chairs on the pool deck in the late afternoon sun, a little bench seat at the edge of the tiny lawn for watching the cruise ships pull out from the harbor at the end of the day, and the half-moon splash pool. This was aptly called Seventh Heaven.
What makes a place romantic? Along with simplicity and intimacy, I think it’s enhanced by a sense of retreat; that you’re in a place all your own, even in the middle of a bustling city or atop a tropical island. And in the Caribbean, it includes having a particular view of the larger world that only the two of you can see. It’s the place, the setting, and how those are captured. But in the end, it’s about sharing that place with someone you love.
Happy Valentine’s Day.