A pioneer of laparoscopic surgery in the region rescues an abandoned estate and reinvents it in a dramatic but minimalist style.

Perched on a small cliff in Crosbies on Antigua’s northern coastline, where the tranquil Caribbean Sea meets the wild Atlantic Ocean, is the home of Dr Joey John and his wife Laurie. “The first home we built was more traditional, conceptualised on a grand scale with heavy Spanish-Mediterranean influence,” explained Laurie, an anaesthetist originally from New York City and with Puerto Rican roots. “We wanted this one to reflect our present passions,” elaborated Dr John, who trained and practised in New York before returning to the Caribbean.

The cliff-top home gives the couple the barefoot elegant resort feel they desired to counterbalance the hectic pace of their work day. They own a private clinic providing specialized surgical care to the region. Dr John is an Antiguan-born pioneering laparoscopic surgeon, and his minimally invasive and cutting-edge approach to surgery influenced his conversion to contemporary, minimalist design.

Laurie, accustomed to the concrete and glass of city life, insisted that the gorgeous outdoors be felt inside. “We have the privilege of living on a most spectacular coastline, and so openness and outdoor living were the anchor, with everything circling around that.” With this clear vision, the Johns contracted the services of CharmaineWerth, one of the region’s most outstanding architectural and interior designers, to translate their dream into reality.

Werth had previously played an important role in the design of Mt St John’s (MSJ) Medical Centre, a project spearheaded by Dr John during his tenure as Antigua’s chief surgeon and medical superintendent. The Johns were also familiar with Werth’s other residential and commercial projects, including the recently completed Sugar Ridge Resort which epitomised her signature style, called “Caribbean Contemporary.’’

“It was an easy decision. Charmaine’s work is clearly exceptional,’’ Laurie said. “Her product knowledge is extremely impressive and her finished work is always mind-blowing.’’ While collaborating on the MSJ project, Dr John had been impressed by her ease in translating clients’ ideas into CAD renditions and, ultimately, the finished product.

The property once belonged to Dr John’s aunt and uncle, Genevieve and Charles Westcott. Crosbies used to be a thriving cotton estate owned by Charles’s father, Lee Westcott Sr. After cotton had had its day, the Westcott family developed the land for residential real estate. “As a youngster, I spent lots of time here and have great memories growing up with my cousins. Several still live right next door.”

The project started out as a simple renovation to preserve as much as possible. But instead, Dr John lamented, it slowly turned into a massive rebuild, from ground zero. Lucky for him, he had engaged one of Antigua’s leading construction companies, 3-D Engineering, owned by his friend David Hadeed. “I don’t think any other builder would have accommodated the almost weekly, and monumental, changes throughout the project. I still remember his face when, after three months of renovations, we told him to take off the roof. Of course, walls started coming down after that. I then had to keep dodging David’s ‘I told you so’ look.”

The tour begins. An off-white travertine-tiled driveway interlaced with grass leads to a stacked brick wall in rusted earth tones. A pair of large coppers—iron cauldrons used in the plantation era to boil cane juice—now serve out their second lives as home to water lilies and red and white koi fish.

Magnificent proportions are evident as we enter through the heavy metal-studded doors leading into a “serenity courtyard,” where elements of worship are given centre stage. Above a deeply-hued wooden pew from the old historic Catholic church, closed since the Earthquake of ’74, hangs a series of four circular discs that suggest hammered silver gongs and the influence of Eastern religions. The sound of water soothes, rivulets flowing from three gleaming stainless-steel cylinders into a rectangular fountain pool.

Waist-high terracotta urns from Europe once used as ballasts in ships plying the infamous Triangular Trade of the slavery era are, like the coppers, reincarnated and given new and positive symbolic meaning in the Johns’ world. These “England jars’’ were amassed over the past 30 years by Dr John’s father Victor, an avid antique trader. They are part of what is arguably the largest private collection in the region, and stand in pairs along the courtyard’s perimeter, alternating with the angular Spanish bayonets. Drama abounds in the evening when shadows loom and light shimmering from the fountain dances on the stark white walls.

As we step into the house, there is a moment where breath is stolen, when one understands the true meaning of indoor-outdoor living. At no point, thanks to the stacking NanaWalls, does it appear that there is any distinction between outside and in—not even the distraction of a doorway. Because the view was simply too compelling to resist, we moved out to the yellow travertine deck, a continuation of the interior flooring, where there is no way to tell where the pool ends and the ocean begins.

Determined to create a feature pool, the couple turned to internationally acclaimed Orlando Comas, a Miami-based one-of-a-kind pool designer. Dr John then worked with Werth to tweak its intricate lighting and other features into perfection, rendering the pool an exquisite waterscape at night. The complex waterworks and electronics were engineered by Antiguan Mario Bento of the award-winning Caribbean Pools.

Laurie leads us back to the kitchen, a surprising, effective blend of state-of-the-art and functionality, loaded with top-of-the-line appliances. The sleek mill work incorporating solid Wenge and tempered glass, featuring Blum electronic door openers along with the exotic stone counters, was fabricated and installed by the newly launched Ideal Living Solutions, owned by Dr John’s brother Michael. Ideal Living Solutions also designed and built the home’s many closet spaces. As in the rest of the house, a liberal mix of LED lighting and carefully selected hanging pieces adds an ever-present wow factor.

Moving through the living area, we admire the work of award-winning artist NaydeneGonella. Pelicans, one of her newest themes, almost quiver with the texture and depth of her beeswax and oil medium.  It’s almost impossible not to stop at an unexpected maroon-walled alcove, in which two larger-than-life sculptures—eight-foot tall sentinels—keep steady watch. Further down, I am drawn to an oddly familiar-looking tree trunk coffee table. Ordered only with the instruction that it should have a live edge, it arrived with an eerie surprise—the table bore a striking resemblance to the map of Antigua.

This rugged eclectic piece is wrapped by a sleek low-lying, off-white Italian sectional above which hangs yet another living room attraction—an oversized textural piece of oil, acrylic and plaster on wood by the multi-disciplinary designer CharmaineWerth. It is an abstract rendition of sun, sea and sky like you’ve never seen it before, the dominant black-tinted red sky a perfect foil for the innocence of white and blue surf.

We enter a jewel-box of a powder room, with a backlit onyx countertop and exquisite lighting, strings of silver beads creating the effect of a miniature waterfall. Unexpected details are sprinkled throughout the house, like the spank of red leather cushions on a pair of Baker zebra-hide couches. Or the 100 or so beautifully proportioned antique jars, many as old as 300 years, and also collected by Dr John and his father, are grouped around the house. Everywhere, the unusual mix of materials makes for spontaneous second-takes.

Sixteen-year-old Ali has a bedroom that is bursting with the vibrancy of Carnival and mas-playing, the shocking pinks, oranges and purples balanced with an emerald green bureau. For all its teen-girl glory, her plaster-cast baby shoes sit across the room from the headpiece of her Carnival costume, a poignant reminder of a childhood not quite left behind.

In contrast, there’s a “man-cave” ambiance in Omar’s room and bath. Grey slate and sliver accents dominate, complemented by the evidence of his passion—an abundance of shiny medals and trophies from his swimming that scatter the sunlight through the room, kaleidoscope style. Another wing hosts the guest suite, office, and, the piece de resistance, the magnificent and massively oversized master suite. There, a painting by French artist Natalie La Pine of St Martin, The Three Beatrices, offers gentle portrayal of three stylized faces, their elongations reminiscent of the sentinels in the living room.

A strikingly unique cream-and-black panelled leather headboard by Christopher Guy creates a second geometric work of art as a counterpoint to the softness of La Pine’s oil on canvas. Yet, the true essence of the room’s simplicity, and its most defining feature, is sheer size, made infinitely larger by the uncluttered decor and the immediate view of the ocean—literally feet away—through elongated windows and french doors.

The same view is shared by the sensual master bathroom, where the dramatic Blue Bahia countertops and walls are the focal point, set off by echoes of silver in the marble of the floor. An oversized spa-like rain shower, and chromotherapy whirlpool tub bookend the amazing space. From here, we can also admire the garden’s sweeping areas of thick zoisya grass, with aloes and bromeliads. “Carrie Crotty of Tropicscapes found everything I wanted,” said Laurie. “I really don’t have the time for gardening, so I opted for low-maintenance indigenous plants and palms.”

I am still drawn to the effect of the pool merging into the ocean, and Laurie points to the highlight of the poolside experience—the omnipresent gliding, swooping and diving pelicans. I remember the Gonella originals in the living room and I am not surprised when the couple tells me the name of their home:  “Pelican Cove.”

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