Life’s sweet at St. Lucia’s Tides at Sugar Beach
“I travel more than emails do,” Lane Pettigrew, unofficial architect laureate of the Caribbean, tells me over the phone from his pied-à-terre in Madrid. Mr. Pettigrew, who grew up in Venezuela in a family he calls “gringos perditos,” trots the globe more than most gmail addresses and spends more time island-side than the average sun beam. A world-class leisure engineer, he’s fashioned more than 100 fantasyscapes in 22 Caribbean countries. But although a master of leisure by trade, he, until recently, seldom indulged in any of it himself: “Until 2008, I was basically on speed, like a Ping-Pong ball in a lottery machine,” Mr. Pettigrew says of his pre-recession schedule. “I was picking up plans at airports, zooming off here and there, everything was buzzing. “Then,” he pauses, “on a Monday, the lights went off. Everyone came to the office and put their things in cardboard boxes. The exuberance in the Caribbean disappeared like the air going out of a balloon.”
Mr. Pettigrew fled to his home in Madrid for six weeks to convalesce and plot his Caribbean comeback: “I had to rethink my way of designing as an architect and reinvent my resort product,” he said. “The new market is younger, leaner, meaner, greener.” Mr. Pettigrew profiles today’s resort-goer and buyer: “The new consumer is between 25 and 45 years old — they’re YouTube kids, they’re on the phone all day, they want quality and choice, they hate lineups. And they’re culturally connected — they don’t want to find themselves in a gated community.”
Reflecting and sating the needs of the New Consumer is St. Lucia’s Tides at Sugar Beach. Fresh from a $100-million reno, the recently Mr. Pettigrew-ed Tides is slated for its big unveil in 2011 (the property was formerly helmed by Hilton). Bookended by the Pitons (the island’s twin peaks), Tides enjoys what is arguably the most magical and primordial real estate in the Caribbean. The Pitons, a World Heritage Site, seem to surge out of breeze-ruffled emerald waters like the mossy horns of some snorkelling sea-monster, with Tides’ villas peacefully nestled betwixt them.
In designing Tides, Mr. Pettigrew created a resort, luxurious and laid-back, as if not to disrupt the Pitons that watch over it. The architect had a vested interest in protecting the setting. He was, in fact, among those responsible for the site’s World Heritage designation: “I was on the committee to get the site declared a WHS in July 2007, and I was the one to write the design guidelines — what you can and cannot build. So, when it came to designing Tides, I had to put my money where my mouth was.” He did. To ensure a harmony between design and environment, Tides is made up of a discrete cluster of one- and two-bedroom hotel villas — ranging from 1,064 square feet to 2,272 sq. ft. Each looks like the petite plantation house of some local deep-pocketed forest pixie. (Considerably less miniature are its price tags: from US$610,000 to US$2.1-million.) Also grander (in size and cost) are Tides’ 36, two- to-six-bedroom private residences (from US$2.3-million to US$9-million). Their decadence notwithstanding, what is most luxurious about these properties is the lushness of the nature that surrounds them.
So that Tides might live harmoniously with its environs, Mr. Pettigrew was faithful to classic St. Lucian architecture, and kept the focus on natural, local materials. Sporting decorative “gingerbread” timber trim, the villas are a mod take on classic Eastern Caribbean architecture. “We aren’t inventing a Caribbean architectural style, we’re just layering it with simplicity and modern edge.” Designed with timber, natural tumbled-marble and coral stone, Tides is also free of manufactured materials (no porcelains or ceramic tiles). And though porcelain-free bathrooms may be lovely, you’d still be advised to partake in your personal Piton-facing outdoor shower, which allows you to shampoo behind curtains of foliage as hummingbirds careen through glossy gardens beyond; on a recent plein-air bathing experience at Tides, I felt like I was in a Disney movie, and half expected a group of cartoon songbirds to bring me my bathrobe post-ablutions.
Also tucked in the wilds is Tides’ Rainforest Spa (in this case, there’s no gimmick in the moniker). Treatment rooms are essentially thatch-roofed huts on stilts. “The roofs are shaped like two hands protecting a quiet, wonderful place,” says Mr. Pettigrew, who built the spa with the help of a local Rastafarian by the name of Q. “At the spa, everything is made from woven sticks, wood and thatch, everything is hewn by hand, soaked in sea water and cut under a full moon to protect it from termites,” Mr. Pettigrew says. “Q could do impressive things with wood and thatch, and he didn’t know how to say no, so it worked out beautifully,” he says.
On a visit to Tides’ lush grounds, I met my share of hummingbirds, hibiscus plants and honeymooners — most memorably, I bumped into the late Lord Glenconner. (Glenconner has since passed away.) Fifty years ago, Lord G snapped up the island of Mustique for £58,000, and offered former flame Princess Margaret 10 acres of Mustique beach as a wedding gift. In the early ’80s, he turned his sights on another idyll (St. Lucia), and bought the treasured Val des Pitons along with a home for himself to go with it. It should be noted that “home” was far too prosaic a word for Lord G’s Xanadu-esque pile, a place where he once kept a pet elephant he had imported from the Dublin zoo — an appropriate animal, he thought, to match the so-called elephant grasses on his lawn. Lord Glenconner was often spotted wafting through the Tides’ beachside bistro, dressed in a straw sunhat and white billowy cottons, looking much like a wayward wisp of Caribbean cloud.
To snag your own Piton-side pile, you might consider one of Tides’ five Glenconner Beach villas. These US$7-million to US$9-million lots (ranging from 13,340 sq. ft. to 26,852 sq. ft) have access to a private jetty, all of Tides’ amenities, a ribbon of white sand and some of the Caribbean’s finest views: “You would pay at least $17-million for something similar in Barbados,” says Mr. Pettigrew, who also keeps a home nearby. (Again, “home” being an inappropriate term for Mr. Pettigrew’s high-colour pleasure dome, named Beausejour. A place where trees are festooned with orchids and outdoor living rooms greet vertiginous views of sun-sequinned bays beyond). “The thing about a good home,” Mr. Pettigrew says about Beausejour, “is that it has to have lots of happy resting places.” The same could be said for Tides — which may well abound in more happy and scenic resting places than there are, say, emails trotting the globe.