Located in the southern Caribbean, the 1400-acre private island known as Mustique—French for “mosquito”—is synonymous with unparalleled beauty, carefree living, and over-the-top villas that attract the international jet set from the worlds of entertainment and business. Everyone from Mick Jagger and Bryan Adams, who both have homes there, to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (that would be William and Kate) love this secluded paradise, where privacy and casual luxury go hand in hand. It’s the ultimate getaway, as the only transportation is by “mule” (golf cart) and caftans, and bare feet are de rigueur.
While Mustique's roots date back to the 1740s, the late British aristocrat Colin Tennant, later known as Lord Glenconnor, purchased the island for the bargain sum of $126,000 in 1959 as a refuge for royalty, celebrities, and friends who wanted to escape the eyes of the public and paparazzi. The venture proved successful when Tennant gifted his friend Princess Margaret a 10-acre plot of land as a wedding present (his wife, Lady Anne Glenconnor, was her lady-in-waiting) and the rest is history.
The pair hired British theater and film set designer Oliver Messel—who just happened to be the uncle of Margaret's then-husband Lord Snowdon—to build their hillside home on Mustique in 1969. Named Les Jolies Eaux (“the beautiful waters”), the villa is known for its distinctive trapezoid-shaped buildings that serve as guesthouses, and its unique heritage and plethora of perks–five bedrooms, two pools, and a 270-degree vantage point of both the Atlantic and Caribbean–make it a sought-after property. The Princess was delighted with the house and noted, “I’m very pleased with what Oliver did for Les Jolies Eaux. This is my house, the only square inch in the world I own, and Oliver was a major contributor to it.”
No stranger to island style (his previous work included four Georgian plantation homes in Barbados), Messel’s royal masterpiece led to the designs of 17 other villas, as well as the sugar plantation-turned-hotel, Cotton House. His signature is one of romance, symmetry, and classicism, often mixed with color, folly, and Caribbean Colonial and Palladian architecture (this distinctive blend is often coined “Caribbean Messel”). Considered one of England’s most distinguished designers of the 20th century, Messel's work ranged from theatre (Romeo and Juliet) to film (he was nominated for an Oscar as production designer on Suddenly Last Summer) as well as hospitality (Regency-inspired suites at London’s Dorchester Hotel), and shops (Bond Street’s Justerini & Brooks).
Messel was one of the first designers to integrate indoor-outdoor living with open room plans, and his villas took advantage of the hillside ocean views with Regency-style elliptical arches to frame a master bedroom, living room, or dining room. His interiors reflected his love of neoclassical detailing, vibrant color of the tropics, and his interest in theater costumes and sets. The designer’s projects from 1960 to 1978 included the private home of the Tennants, Clonsilla–named for an Irish village by its owner, Lady Honor Guinness. His gingerbread-style houses, Gingerbread and Zinnia, were characterized by open ornate rooms, fretwork, an abundance of color, and colonial design. The designer collaborated with Swedish architect Arne Hasselqvist on Seastar, a classic example of Colonial Caribbean style while Blue Waters, a two-story house with balconies that were more reminiscent of a plantation home in Mississippi, represented a departure.
Messel’s signature color was a light sage green, known as Messel Green or Mustique Green, and was used on the shutters and doors on many of his houses. He also excelled at garden design, where whimsical and classical statues were featured prominently as follies. He also created wooden and ironwork furniture steeped in Regency and 18th- century with a touch of chinoiserie, which could be replicated by local island artisans.
While privately owned, The Messel Masterpiece collection includes villas crafted or inspired by the designer which are available to rent through The Mustique Company.
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