As you enter the silver travertine gate of Anguilla’s Viceroy resort, you know you are ratcheting up a style notch.
These planar walls, lit by nickel-plated gas lanterns and flowing with sheets of water, protect a startling experience beyond, directed by a long alleé of verdant green palms and lush tropical foliage. On this scrubby, rocky, barren island—featuring tumbled-down concrete block carcasses of abandoned homes, bankrupt rebar-strewn resorts, meager goat herds and rusty cars—the contrast is ever so much more startling.
At the end of this palm-lined alleé, you discover a complex of square structures firmly planted on a rocky promontory. A dark hole pierced in the cubular façade draws you past two cubist wood sculptures symmetrically standing guard. An elongated stack of wooden boxes cradle charcoal tubes of spiky desert flora in the foyer, which is ribbed in raw mahogany paneling. With the complex inlaid marble floor in blackened tones of grey charcoal, chocolate and steel, you feel as if you are being swallowed by a giant vertebrate as you enter into the stomach of the stone lobby.
Guarded by another pair of skeletal cubist sentinels, you marvel at the Whitman’s Samplers-like darkly patterned marbles cladding the walls and floors in a jumble of canted trapezoids. An enormous stone ziggurat of a front reception desk dwarfs both you and the receptionist greeting you like an austere, overgrown butler.
Rough wood-paneled ceilings warm the lobby cave as well as furnishings of carved burled wood growing up through the floor. Primitive woven chairs, stepped polymer tables in Dalmatian cream and glossy, ribbed, sable leather sofas monumentally root themselves in the marble slabs.
Nothing here is unintentional; nothing here is flighty. A gutsy masculine sensibility pervades this darkened enclave of hospitality. You know you have arrived into a special environment passing through these muscular bowels so that you might relish the blinding light and turquoise waters beyond.
The question bears rumination if all this earthborn shadowy drama entices or frightens? Something like a Tolkien-inspired fear encroaches upon the visitor as if Gollum might appear behind the concierge desk.
But instead, charming ebony-toned local beauties welcome you with languorous efficiency. And then you are swept up into the world of luxury designer hotels, where simply signing in is an elevating experience.
Created by Los Angeles-based designer Kelly Wearstler, the Viceroy Anguilla is fearless in its designed expression.
Rather bland expanses of concrete are decorated in screens of horizontal teak rods or geometric mélanges of wooden slats. An earthy sexiness pervades the furnishings where chunky plaster consoles appear ripped out of caves. Stone, heavy pottery and slash-like abstract paintings dominate the walls and sit prominently on the consoles.
Elements of Morocco crop up in window guards and railings, but not as a literal motif, but only a suggested translation. Greek islands are intimated by monumental white sculpture and the liberal use of travertine book-matched marble. Speaking of which, the main bar was a tour de force of Rorschach-veined marble used as a backdrop to a formidable teak bar that is populated with leopard vinyl-clad stools.
A designed environment this well done and this self-conscious demands the user to also meet a certain clothing standard, rather than risk looking out of place. This environment finds highly attractive, fashionably-clad devotees draping themselves about with LA finesse and Hollywood looks.
The ubiquitous cabana bed is slipcovered in tight, raw linen, as are the soft furnishings. Adirondack-style chairs assembled out of driftwood stand proudly next to thick wishbone-shaped teak chairs and curvy Louis XV bergères.
This bold mix only heightened the cocktail hour fervor. And despite the steamy tropical heat, the peacocks are out in full regalia, perching, posing and preening.
As my partner, Paul, and I were luckily treated to this respite by friends celebrating a birthday, we were ever so grateful to share this bounty of style, décor and elevated sensory vacation with people we love. We were luckily prepped beforehand so we did not arrive in comfortable cut-offs and T-shirts.
The darkened sensibility and the earthy elegance—so at odds with the funky spontaneous elemental and slow Caribbean—seemed ultimately unharmonious. This escape merely as an escape, with both visual and emotional disconnection from the island itself, seemed the logical evaluation for this resort.
As a frequent traveler, I do enjoy delving emotionally and mentally into the country. In this case, I truly had to escape the escape to feel, understand and experience where I was. However, design aficionados should wend their way to the Viceroy to experience its towering visual achievements and enlightening detachments. Good design in a disconnected bubble can sometimes be amusing, though seldom fulfilling.
“Pool House Design” by Marshall Watson in now being featured in the June issue of Traditional Home magazine.