Retro, modern with a tropical twist

The elegant canal front home of Sara Collins and her husband Iain McMurdo, like the couple themselves, is a subtle fusion of influences and tastes. Their inherent respect for the best of the past and excitement about a shared future has imbued their home with a uniquely retro/contemporary feel. This interplay of the past and the present is seen in the use of leather and glass and in the distinctly Caribbean flair with dark woods and contemporary regional art.

Located down a leafy street, the home’s façade gives no clues as to the sleek lines and uncluttered beauty within. Recognised as something of a power couple among the island’s legal fraternity, the fact that their frontage doesn’t scream money speaks volumes.

The 30-something law firm partner and her husband, an investment capital attorney, came across it while house hunting in late 2004. They found the dilapidated home, wrecked and washed through by Hurricane Ivan, after spending months scouring the George Town area for a five-bedroom abode to accommodate their blended family.

“We both had a strong feeling about the house despite the state it was in,” says the mother to their five children ranging in age from seven to 15.

“We had to look around this wreck of a house and imagine everything it could be. It was exactly one year from us closing on it that construction finished.”

The couple “liked the proportions” and the potential of their future home. Figuring that, at the very least, “it had good bones,” they followed their hunch and turned the 6,200 sq. ft. property into a refined family home for their brood.

Major undertaking
“We removed all the walls and the floor but kept the same basic floor plan for the bedrooms,” Sara says. Keeping it simple, they chose warm ceramic floor tiles for a weathered, lived-in look. “We needed a lot of space so that everyone could have their private space: the children’s study, their TV zone, the children’s playroom, my library, Iain’s pool table room…,” she adds.

Both acknowledge that the sheer scale of the project was at times forbidding and that the renovation stayed on track largely due to Chris Jackson of Caribbean Construction, a contractor who is now a friend.

“He was very responsive and went the extra mile in sourcing materials and products,” she says.

The result is a beautifully proportioned two-storey home, which wears its des res credentials lightly. With no interest in flashy fittings merely for the sake of it, the property ticks all the right boxes as a well designed deluxe family abode. Comfortably upscale, it has many modern high end fittings, while exuding a period feel thanks to a few well placed statement pieces.

“My dislike of clutter and earth tones and Iain’s taste for masculine, unfussy finishes, gives the house its character,” Sara says.

She notes that while she had free rein with most furnishing and aesthetic choices, Iain sourced several of the standout fittings such as a pair of award winning glass chandeliers by Fosscarini Caboche, which light up the dining areas with retro panache.

A welcoming hub
Their streamlined, open plan kitchen is a welcoming hub that draws the family from their various pursuits to share food, fellowship and news. The couple likes entertaining at home and the layout allows them to chat to friends while putting the finishing touches to a meal.

Away from office deadlines, Iain and Sara enjoy cooking together in the airy setting with its warm maple cabinetry. Deep twin sinks, a cavernous fridge/freezer, Wolf stainless steel appliances such as a built-in microwave and double oven, point to ample time spent in the gourmet kitchen and its adjoining breakfast and formal dining areas.

Well-planned and inviting, the kitchen uses space economically. The cabinets, built by Matthew Adams of Kitchen & Bath Solutions, have curved edges giving the space an organic yet nautical feel. The room’s T-shaped configuration, allows for a cosy, light-filled breakfast nook at one end, where their children naturally migrate after raiding the fridge, and a stylish formal dining area at the other. Frosted glass tables and stylish leather chairs and stools from Catalla Italia unify the two spaces, which are divided by a marble-topped island by Elite Marble & Granite with its gas hob for precision cooking.

Outstanding feature
Another of Iain’s inspired retro features is the home’s sweeping staircase, designed by the couple with the expert guidance of local architect Rob Towell.
The curved, glass-fronted feature, though high on Iain’s wish list, could not be built on-island. But as luck would have it, Iain “found a stair company on the Internet that had built staircases similar to the one [they] had in mind for the house… The bad news was they did not do overseas projects”. Yet, the couple was unfazed and eventually found that the craftsman they wanted had gone freelance in Texas. “He jumped at the opportunity,” Iain recalls.

Completed in a few days, the glass and a mahogany bridge between the public and private zones opens up the ground floor.

Cathedral ceiling, retro feel
Beyond the staircase is the family’s living room. Featuring a lofty 24ft. high cathedral ceiling, once they’d doubled its height, the family space, which has no walls on three sides, is given balance and proportion by a Flyte ceiling fan and stunning artwork.

The brushed nickel fixture, with mahogany blades and a 63-inch downlink, is another of Iain’s retro buys. Although he initially bought it because he liked the look of it, Iain later learned that the prototype is in the permanent collection of Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture and Design. A winner of the Good Design award, the Mark Gajewski fixture is one of several highlights in the near empty room. The art work is an oversized triptych by family friend and McCoy prize winner Randy Chollette. A beautiful nest of coffee tables and a pair of ecru leather sofas rounds out the space.

A love of art
The couple owns several Chollettes and Sara commissioned the vibrant triptych from the local artist specifically for the room. As a companion piece to a much smaller acrylic, the colossal painting sets the tone of the entire area; in fact, Sara and Iain changed the wall colouring from cream to chocolate.
“It made sense to pick a colour that dominates the piece,” explains Sara an avid collector of Caribbean and African art. She has been acquiring pieces for the past eight years and sees good art as, “one of the most important elements… It defines a space”.

She is particularly drawn to pieces where “colour and theme are not rigid but implied”.

An inner sanctum
Iain’s games room and Sara’s canal-facing library lie beyond. Her shelf-lined sanctum is softened by toffee and sepia toned furnishings (mainly from Pottery Barn) and the comfortable chaise lounge, like a lot of the home’s accent pieces, is from IDG. The bolthole is where the former Young Caymanian of the Year goes to get away from it all. “This is my retreat and my family respects that,” she says.

Hundreds of books are read and reread in this quiet spot. Still more autobiographies, novels and law texts are in storage waiting for the extension the couple will build to make an extra bedroom upstairs and expand the library.

Happy to have his wife’s stamp all over the house in the artwork and most of the hard and soft furnishings, Iain insisted on state-of-the-art sound from Audiophile.

“We wanted a sound system that followed with the open plan style of the house [and that allows] the music to flow from the kitchen to the other rooms and outdoors,” he explains. “We put in zones so that we could listen to music in the master bathroom… I have to give Sara credit for the design,” he says.

Zen-like escape
The cavernous master bathroom, across the corridor from the master bedroom, is one of the home’s hidden treasures.

Sara decided to give the room a spa atmosphere. They sketched plans and worked with Miami-based bathroom supplier, Designer’s Plumbing & Hardware, which typically works directly with designers to find and buy fixtures and fittings.

The calming space has a character all of its own. Its dark slate tiles complement the stainless steel rain showers and the four wall mounted shower heads of their roomy double shower. His and her sinks, a luxuriously large bath and wenge hardwood benches and mirror, (chosen for the wood’s hardness and durability) complete the look.

Just like the rest of the home, the luxurious bathroom is an escape from the world. Calm and welcoming, retro and contemporary, stylish and comfortable; this fusion of unique influences creates a chic space perfect for a dinner party or a night at home with the kids.

Just like Sara and Iain planned.




Stephen Clarke