When professional off-road truck racer and stuntman Adrian ‘Wildman’ Cenni found Villa Mistral on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, he envisioned the ways he could make the property his own—the addition of a second pool, perfectly positioned for jumping into from the roof; the installation of a zip line from the home to hart bay below, where consistent waves make for great surfing and body surfing, and underwater swim throughs offer a special kind of rush.
“He’s always finding ways to have adventure,” says Sarah Bigelow of her South African-born partner. “He has no fear of death. I guess that’s what happens when you grow up with lions and baboons in your backyard.”
More than providing options for Adrian’s requisite adrenaline needs, Mistral became the canvas for the stunt man’s love of heavy woods and natural materials. He and Sarah oversaw the home’s multi-million-dollar renovation, allowing the couple to bring their design preferences to life. The native stonework that’s incorporated in many St. John homes is prevalent throughout Mistral, tying the villa into the island’s cultural landscape while allowing it to blend in with the natural surroundings.
In some instances, the couple departed from traditional St. John vernacular in favour of Adrian’s aesthetic. The wooden ceiling beams that are often pickled, giving the look of washed out driftwood, are painted a copper hue in Mistral. This single design choice largely guided the palette in the villa’s great room and kitchen area. A St. Croix-based company crafted custom windows and doors from hard, heavy, and dense Jatoba wood, known more commonly as Brazilian cherry, with copper and bronze hardware. The living room couches were also custom made from dark wood, and the room’s showpiece is a wooden swing bed, suspended by two-inch thick hemp ropes and framed by arched windows that overlook Hart Bay.
“When it swings back and forth, it sounds like a boat moored on a marina,” Adrian says.
“Adrian put so much work into making sure every single detail is utilitarian and beautiful and organic looking, even down to the screens,” says Sarah.
“Most of our screens are bronze, which is durable so it lasts longer. Between the salt and the wind and the soldier crabs that migrate through here every summer, this is such an aggressive environment.”
The wildness of the environment is perhaps what appeals most to Sarah about Mistral, she says. Shooting star sightings are practically guaranteed during evenings spent on the patio, while glittering cruise ships departing St. Thomas pass just outside of Hart Bay. During the day, turtles can be spotted in the bay below, and Sarah rattles off with ease the various species she’s encountered on the property—yellow-crowned night herons that roost in the trees, iguanas that sun themselves on rafts floating in one of the home’s two pools, and myriad marine species like spotted eagle rays, southern rays, porcupine fish, and the only octopus Sarah has seen while snorkeling around St. John. The beach is challenging to access both by land and by sea, meaning Hart Bay has remained largely unspoiled.
“One time a fishing boat lost some of their haul overboard and two huge bull sharks were circling the fish,” she recalls. “It was hours of entertainment. The bay is usually pretty quiet and very private, and that’s what Adrian and I both enjoy.”
The couple put nearly as much time and effort into the property’s landscaping as they did into Mistral’s interiors. There was a heavy emphasis on fruiting trees, like lime, orange, lychee, starfruit, mango, papaya, and more. Sadly, much of the landscaping was devastated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, but Sarah and Adrian are working to reestablish the home’s lush surroundings.
For Adrian, the ability to enjoy the outdoors is the most important feature of his St. John home. The addition of the second 45,000-gallon, eight-and-a-half-foot deep pool served the dual purpose of giving the daredevil somewhere to land when he felt like taking a soaring leap off the roof while unifying the home with its natural surroundings.
“It’s stepped down from the main pool, and when you look at the home from the ocean, the stone arches helped integrate the home back into the landscape,” Adrian says. “It was a big success.”
Mistral, named by its original owners for the breezes that blow through the home off Hart Bay, has been the site of numerous baby showers, engagement parties, and other gatherings, cementing its place in the memories of Adrian and Sarah and their friends and families.
“We wanted it to be uniquely Virgin Islands, so when you’re here, you know you’re in the V.I.,” Adrian says. “We also wanted to have enough space where everyone can feel relaxed in a cosy setting. At the end of the day, Mistral has a real focus around entertainment and fun.”