Villa Elia is perched on a cliff-top near treasure beach with uninterrupted views of Jamaica’s rugged South coast. Shimon and Elia Finkelstein found the property by luck. They had put an offer on a property three houses away when their agent contacted them with news of an upcoming listing not yet on the market. Drawn by the magnificent views, they quickly changed their minds, withdrew their first offer and bought the rundown house that then stood on the plot.
Shimon owns and runs Artemano, an interiors store with 15 branches across Canada specialising in contemporary, exotic and solid wood furniture. The philosophy of Artemano is to create atmospheres. Inspiration comes from distant lands such as India, Indonesia and Thailand and this project was an incredible opportunity to realise a vision based on knowledge and tastes. Attention to detail and to the nature around them played a large part in the results.
They were introduced to Jeremy Milligan, an architect from Kingston and there was an immediate connection. The original property was gutted and the imposing double-height space was added. Their intention was to create a magical escape and in every room and in every corner, the details were planned with this in mind.
Having had the privilege of staying at Villa Elia myself, I can only confirm how meticulous is the attention to detail; nothing has been missed or forgotten. The frame of Villa Elia is made of a neutral colour scheme, from the floors, walls and ceilings, which then helps explain the main attraction—the ocean and the elements.
It was imperative for Elia (the villa is named after her) and Shimon to be able to see the ocean from the moment they opened the front door. Motivated by their many trips to Asia and their interest in Eastern culture, they have fused together the natural surrounding elements to create an alluring entrance.
The small ponds on either side provide a positive and peaceful detail, perhaps influenced by the Arawaks, one of the first people of Jamaica who called the island, Xymaca, Land of Wood and Water.
On entering the main space I was struck by how much was going on yet how little furniture there was. The empty space is highly valued and adds a sense of clarity and freedom to the building. The colour scheme’s natural tones induce a sense of calm and a lovely contrast to the bold colours of the ceramics to be found throughout the house.
One of the walls is made up of glass doors leading onto the terrace, allowing the relationship between the interior and exterior to flow effortlessly. From the adjoining wall, steps descend straight into the swimming pool through another set of doors from the main space.
The dining area is home to the commanding 13-foot long table. Shimon knew he wanted a long table and therefore created the space for it. As he says, “I love tables, I love wood and the table is the heart of my home. All the guests that come to visit ultimately end up sitting around it.’’
Chandeliers hang overhead. Every piece has a story and these chandeliers come from a 17th-century palace. The black and white photographs throughout were taken by Shimon. Every item, including the pictures, reveals a personal experience.
Leading through from the dining area is the master bedroom with a private terrace. The roof of the terrace is made up of what are locally called “fish pot sticks.’’ Primarily used by fishermen for making fish pots, they have become fashionable for making fences, gates and creating shade. As the sun moves through the sky, the light through the terrace roof creates shifting patterns on the floor.
Hanging from the ceiling are huge lanterns that resemble billowing white clouds covering the lights. When the windows and doors are open, the lanterns move with the breeze and by night add a warming glow to the room.
Another black and white image of fire hangs on the wall. Shimon comments on how many images he sees within this photograph. He adds, “Fire is another element; it is both negative and positive. It can warm you but it can also burn and for me it is about using the elements in the positive sense.’’
Throughout the interior, the floors are the same painted concrete, creating a visual continuity. The floors were challenging to get right but by the eighth attempt the owners were finally satisfied.
Two further guest rooms lead off the main living space and share a bathroom which also has an outside shower. The kitchen is linked to the main space by small openings in the dividing wall that have the effect of allowing the light to shine through. A smaller eating area is to be found at the opposite end of the kitchen with open louvred windows, beyond which grow magenta bougainvillea.
Leading straight from the main space is an extensive terrace, furnished with a mix of stools, chairs, beds and hanging chairs, in which to soak up the view in total comfort. A spiral staircase leads to the roof terrace. Initially, this was not included in the design but when they discussed watching the sunset it was obvious that the best place to watch it from would be the roof.
Access to the beach is by way of a rustic-style staircase that bends rather than descends in a straight line, broken up half-way by a gazebo which, like the terrace above it, makes good use of the local fish pot sticks.
The gardens are planted with architectural-style plants that can withstand the almost desert-like conditions that prevail there for part of the year. Ceramic pots of all shapes and sizes are placed around the house. Their curvaceous form softens the lines of the building.
The exterior colour is the same as the interior, not a typical colour choice for Jamaica. Whilst Shimon and Elia were walking on the beach on a grey day and looking at the sky and the clouds, they decided that grey would blend well. They were clear that the house should reflect the natural surroundings rather than compete with them.
Written on the walls of all the Artemano stores is Shimon’s mantra, the words from the song “Anthem,’’ by the late Leonard Cohen: “Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering, there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.’’
The play of light at Villa Elia reflects balance, harmony and relaxation. The wood is unique and all its subtle irregularities celebrate the magic of the imperfections of a life well lived. Shimon and Elia’s home is an escape, a retreat, a refuge, a place of inspiration in which to contemplate, unwind and let the light in.