The setting for Ironshore, a villa located at Beach Bay, on the southern coast of Grand Cayman, is nothing if not dramatic – and thus demanded a striking design. Perched over craggy spikes of ironshore, the waterfront lot looks over the often turbulent, wind-whipped ocean.
With such commanding vistas, the design had to frame and complement, rather than detract from, the natural landscape.
While owner John-Paul Clarke wanted a house that was arresting, he also wanted a design that would work in harmony with the landscape.
“This house certainly dominates the terrain,” he says. “But it also fits the terrain. A lot of Cayman houses are big, but they look totally out of place.”
John-Paul and his architect, Kevin Young, have been friends since childhood and were familiar with each other’s style and taste. This long-standing relationship meant John-Paul felt comfortable in giving Kevin a fairly free rein over the home’s design.
“My main intent was to create something sculptural, dynamic and very expressive. I wanted to give John-Paul something to spark his own imagination,” Kevin explains.
From a distance, the home’s inverted roof and the curved exterior wall capture the eye. The bold use of black paint with shimmering flecks of silicon on the façade adds dramatic effect.
Positioned at a slight angle to the block’s boundaries, the house features many surprising lines, angles and overhangs which lend the property a sense of energy and movement.
“The curved black wall is inspired by the organic form of a stingray in motion, thrusting outwards towards the sea,” Kevin explains.
“The colour also fits well with the colours of the ironshore.”
Kevin knew the Clarkes wanted a modern design, with sharp lines that would work in harmony with the minimalist décor. Other than that, John-Paul had only four stipulations.
“I wanted it to be hurricane resistant. I wanted to leave the natural terrain undisturbed as much as possible and I wanted to be able to entertain. Michelle and I are both busy so it also had to be easy to maintain,” John-Paul says.
As creative as Kevin was able to be, there were also practical reasons behind Ironshore’s most distinctive design features.
The curved façade which faces into the prevailing winds causes the airflow to dissipate around it, thus making it more resistant to storm-force winds. The shimmer effect in the paint reflects the heat, helping to cool the interior. John-Paul, an aeronautical engineer, was the mastermind behind the unique roof design, which emulates the shape of an inverted airplane wing with a flat top and bowed underside, conceived to exert a downward force, making it more secure in a hurricane.
General contractors Edgewater Development, who specialise in high-end residential construction, worked closely with the owners and architect to turn their vision into a tangible reality. They brought in specialised sub-contractors when needed to ensure that specific items on the owners’ wish lists – cable railings on the stairs for John-Paul, polished concrete floors for Michelle – met with their approval.
The path to the stainless steel front door, which passes calming reflective pools lined with columns and then crosses a bridge, is intentionally indirect, building anticipation for the dramatic scene waiting inside: a vast open space, two storeys high, the south wall of which is almost entirely glass, maximising the spectacular sea view.
Decorated in muted, earthy tones, the main room’s focuses solely on the external ocean. A simple, polished concrete floor gleams against the bamboo wood panelling and travertine cladding on the walls but never overpowers the blues outside. The sense of space and light is underscored by minimal furnishing; a single couch adorns the room.
This towering room is the very heart of the home, both figuratively and literally. The dimensions and sense of space bring to mind banquets and ballrooms – it’s a space designed to host parties.
The boundaries between the inside and out seem to blur within this room. An innovative system of louvres installed around the uppermost part of the walls, just below the ceiling, allow a constant flow of air to naturally cool the interior as well as letting the sounds of the sea flow through; the red cedar panelling that covers the ceiling is continued to the exterior eaves, and sliding glass doors at the ground floor level allow the whole room to be opened up to the elements.
The rest of the home clings to either side of this central great room. The kitchen, dining area and a media room are situated on one level with the bedrooms above. The minimalist décor continues throughout the home, with simple furniture playing only a supporting role to, never competing with, the commanding seascapes.
The precise, clean lines of white quartzite countertops and the dark wenge wood in the kitchen, which adjoins the main room, create an oasis of cool, uncluttered calm. A simple dining area allows the family to enjoy every meal overlooking the water.
Strung along the south-east façade, the master suite is a series of spaces that flow from one to the other. The sequence follows the structural curve of the building, offering different views from each window.
A study opens into a walk-through wardrobe and then into the bathroom, which is dominated by the contemporary free-standing bathtub at its centre. A splash of vivid orange on the small terrace off the bathroom creates a playful break in the expanse of the black exterior wall.
In the master bedroom, one feels suspended between sea and sky. With only these two elements visible through the windows, the rest of the world seems to silently slip away. No blinds or curtains detract from the view, and the absence of a TV or any furniture other than the bed and a single lounger further direct attention to the outdoors.
“I find this so calming,” Michelle says. “I can just sit up here in the recliner with a book and enjoy the peace.”
Looking down at the pool deck from the upper level, one can appreciate how the lines and angles of the property work in synergy.
“This is where you get to see all the lines coming together. The infinity edge of the pool is marked parallel to the site, and everything else is cranked slightly,” Kevin says, pointing out the diagonal lines running across the pool deck that are clear continuations of the structural lines.
“You can’t actually see it, but the reflective pools at the entrance to the house lie parallel with the swimming pool.”
A giant chessboard built into the pool deck, also slightly angled, separates the infinity pool from the sunken hot tub. On the pool deck, privacy is absolute. The family is closed off from the world beyond.
The hot tub is one of the family’s favourite spots, where John-Paul is as happy playing with his children as he is relaxing with a glass of merlot in the company of friends. The ability to unwind is made that much easier by having direct access from this level to what John-Paul calls his “man cave”: a climate-controlled wine cellar with floor to ceiling racks and a separate tasting room, where his impressive rum collection is on display.
Ironshore is a space of contrasts. It is dramatic yet tranquil; stunning yet simple; the place to entertain, or be enveloped in privacy. The jagged terrain of the surrounding ironshore is balanced against the overwhelming harmony of the design. And that is why the Clarkes love to call it home.