This year marks two decades of Armani/Casa, the elegant luxury furniture and homewares line created by Giorgio Armani. The collection’s pared-back aesthetic finds a suitable home in the iconic designer’s coastal retreat on the Caribbean island of Antigua. Some travellers are simply peripatetic, but Giorgio Armani is, more precisely, a peripatetic of the heliotropic variety: he travels to find places with the dependable sun. With seaside homes on the remote Italian island of Pantelleria and a renovated farmhouse on the Tuscan coast — not to mention a superyacht berthed in Saint- Tropez — the couturier has most of his bases in the Mediterranean covered. And when winter comes, Armani can find sunny refuge in his retreat on the Caribbean island of Antigua. He has arranged his life so that the sun never really sets on wherever he lives.
It might seem easier to follow the seasons of the sun in seaside hotels, but Armani prefers to create paradisiacal worlds of his own, typified by visual quiet and the fine balance of all the parts that make up the considered whole, from the building’s architecture down to stately table lamps and subtly embellished cushions. Famous for unstructured tailoring that drapes neatly on the body, he creates environments that trade formality in favour of an elegant, easy and relaxed simplicity in a home.
Mother Nature was showing off when she created Galley Bay, on the west coast of Antigua, where rolling hills and craggy promontories rise up from gulfs of turquoise water lined with white beaches. Cloud formations regularly embellish the tableau, reproducing in the sky nebulous versions of the dramatic land formations. Even Armani, a master of tonal nuance and shape, couldn’t improve on nature’s divine riff on colour and form. “Antigua is quite simply one of the most scenic islands in the Caribbean, with lush areas of countryside juxtaposed against myriad beaches,” says the designer. “Antiguans are the warmest and most welcoming hosts, who immediately make you feel at home.”
Armani’s Caribbean dream retreat started with a pair of existing villas located on a promontory landscaped with a large tropical garden. “I first visited Antigua in 1987. I just had a glimpse of the island from a distance, but I swore I would be back to explore it with due attention,” he says. “I think I was charmed by the colours of the sea and the outline of that small faraway island. When I went back in 2003, as a friends’ guest, I noticed that the property next to theirs was up for sale. I bought it in 2006.” When he travels, Armani acts as the paterfamilias, bringing along relatives and friends as houseguests on long sojourns. In Antigua, he needed to expand the villas into a complex that would retain a sense of domestic intimacy without looking or feeling like a hotel.
Armani extended his Caribbean retreat by a simple process of addition and a deft touch of strategic reorganisation. Each of the two structures, the five-bedroom Villa Flower and three-bedroom Villa Serena, was designed in Antigua’s vernacular style, with peaked, shingled roofs that act as parasols left open at the sides. The legendary creative expanded the existing villas, originally designed in the 1990s by architect Gianni Gamondi, linking them to satellite pavilions. A large, central living room at the core distributes guests to their respective villas and pavilions like a piazza within the house. The pavilions, which step down the slopes, feature verandahs that overlook the view and lagoon, and windows throughout have louvres and mosquito netting rather than glass. “I wanted a real feeling of openness to the elements,” says Armani. Paths wind their way to beaches below the complex. The new village-like collection of buildings flows on its site as easily and inevitably as water trickling down a hill.
It is not possible to compete with the sheer perfection of this postcard view, and Armani doesn’t even try. By instinct, and as an Italian, Armani is a classicist and in deference to the view, he introduces calm to the interiors with all-natural materials and a palette of muted greys and beiges to enhance the sense of harmony that he believes is the key to serenity. Floors and walls of the bedrooms and living rooms are clad in tatami, which is brought outside to the loggias. Wood runs through the interiors, and handsome planks of camaru, similar to teak, are used on all the stairs and decking. Working on the interiors with his Armani/Casa Interior Design Studio team, the designer borrowed heavily from his own line of furniture, Armani/Casa, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. The sofas, chairs, tables and homewares blend a Japanese sense of simplicity with the feeling of repose often found in the roomy Art Déco furniture by Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann, a designer Armani admires.
As in his fashion designs, where the clothes don’t wear the wearer, the furniture doesn’t overwhelm the house — “the house must be lived,” says Armani. Designing for comfort and informality, the creative casts furniture in a supporting role, not as design divas demanding attention. The furniture, including custom-made long sofas, defer to rooms that then further defer to nature’s own masterpiece outside.
“In all of my homes, I am looking to create an ambience of sophisticated comfort that also reflects the spirit of the house’s location,” he says. “In Antigua, my aim has been to create an environment, both outside and inside, which harmonises my aesthetic with the sensibilities of the West Indies.”
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