Soleil - Review Page 2
Soleil looks massive and it is. Rough measurements indicate that the two upper floors occupy some 6500-7000ft². These figures don’t include the self-contained apartment on the lower ground floor, or decking.
After passing through secure remotely-controlled electric gates, a short driveway leads up the hill to a spacious car park. The obligatory basketball stand announces American ownership as clearly as any flag. A black wrought iron door viewer grill set into tall, narrow, heavy wooden doors gives the impression that you stepping into a fairy castle. And, in a sense, you are.
On entry you are met by a visual feat. You just don’t know where to look first. There is just so much to admire. Even after six days I was finding new and unusual design features to ponder and feast my eyes on. The house shouts ‘interior design’. I checked, and was surprised to find that the furnishing and décor were entirely the work of the owners. Without meaning to sound patronising, I can only say “well done”.
The entrance foyer encompasses the smaller of the two internal courtyards. How fascinating to look up and see blue sky and white puffy clouds. Inset a few inches below the surrounding walkways, the central section of floor acts as a shower tray, catching rainwater and channelling it to a central decorative drain.
To the left of the entrance foyer is a utility room, with washer and dryer, and a small cloakroom. To the right, four counter stools stand guard over a wide wooden counter top that acts as a mini cocktail bar, facing a truly fascinating kitchen.
You hesitate to step forward. Is this for real? The living area is 65 feet (20m) long and some 37 feet (11.4m) wide. It is entirely open plan, except for sixteen narrow structural pillars that support the upper floor. The pillars also serve to define separate intimate areas without diminishing the overall sense of spaciousness. I wouldn’t have believed that such a large area – around 2400sq.ft. – could manage to look cosy. It is clearly a case of exceptional design, both at architectural and interior décor level.
The centre of the living area is dominated by the larger of the two courtyards. As with the entrance foyer, a 7.1x4.9m inset tiled inset floor represents both a visual feature and a practical solution to rainfall. Looking up at the upper floor gallery, I was reminded of the old Tudor timbered buildings common in the east of England and, to some degree, of medieval theatre’s such as the Globe Theatre in London.
The courtyard is furnished with a wrought iron style mosaic table and four matching padded chairs, plus four cushioned wooden Adirondack chairs grouped round a small matching table. A dozen potted plants of varying size and type give a genuine courtyard feel to this wonderful feature and of course the plants flourish because of the benefits of natural watering.
To the left of the courtyard, wide timber doors beneath a huge decorative wooden lintel announce the master bedroom. On the opposite side, adjacent to the kitchen, a magnificent 10-foot polished mahogany table with twelve matching padded chairs promises sophisticated dining with the bonus of truly wonderful views.
Some two dozen green and white wooden window shutters dominate the front and side aspects of the living area. There are no glazed windows in the property. With the shutters open, the views over the Caribbean Sea, coastline and adjacent hillsides are truly extraordinary.
The prevailing north-east trade winds blow directly onto the long side aspect of the house. Given the inner courtyard design, it would be impossible to air-condition the living areas. Eleven strategically placed and very quiet overhead ceiling fans help stir the air and avoid heat build-up, but the truth is that with all the shutters open the house remains wonderfully cool – even during the very hot period of our stay when afternoon temperatures regularly exceeded 35°C (95°F).
Needless to say, the front sea-facing aspect of the living area offers the best views. From the palm thatched jetty jutting into the sea, to the cosy decks and tiered swimming pool, the panorama is a visual feast. And, as if that’s not enough, there’s the constantly changing colours of the sea, varying from deep blue to turquoise, plus the swirling white foam of the waves breaking over the rocky foreshore.
The clever design allows intimate cosy little ‘corners’ and areas to be formed without walls. For example, three adjacent but unconnected seating areas have been formed at the front of the living area. Each is furnished differently, but in total harmony. In some ways it is rather like the lounge of a hotel – but infinitely more intimate and personal. Even with a full occupancy of ten persons (including the ‘annexe’), every member of the party is guaranteed a choice of quiet spot to themselves. With just the two of us in residence, we were rather rattling around like peas in a pod. However, it wasn’t in the least intimidating. I keep using the words ‘intimate’ and ‘cosy’ but these really are, surprisingly, the most appropriate descriptions.
The house is primarily furnished with antiques of East Indian origin. Some 40% of Trinidadians are of East Indian descent and the import of antique furniture from the sub-continent is a flourishing industry. Whilst Tobago may not have the same racial mix, the furniture is totally appropriate and gives Soleil a wonderfully relaxed and mellow colonial feel. Without question, the décor and furnishing of the house are classy and totally practical and appropriate.
Various entertainment features are provided within the lounge area. A wonderful old antique cupboard hides a 27-inch Sony with digital satellite service, DVD and range of films. An antique-style radio with CD player, supplement a range of useful information books and selection of novels. Everything is in total keeping with the overall look and feel of the décor, with a very modern wine refrigerator being the only discordant note in otherwise impeccable furnishing.
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