A contemporary “wow” vacation home designed to inspire a prince….and you
Imagine after a long, tumultuous, stress-filled year you could leave all the anxiety behind, spending a work and social media free week relaxing in a hot tub in a contemporary vacation home. You’ll be looking out over one of the top 10 beaches in the world and putting your mind to rest with the love of your life. Does this sound like a wow experience to you? It certainly does to me, and I’m betting I could convince my wife Rose and kids Grant, Parker and Jade to come along as well without too much effort. This experience is possible in the Sand Dollar Hideaway vacation home in St. Thomas.
This home, owned by Suzanne and Steve Levine, was not designed to be “just any old vacation house.” It was designed and inspired by a not-too-flattering comment made by an Arabian prince to Suzanne 16 years ago. As the prince was getting ready to leave their original vacation home (see all 3 properties which are on this 2.5-acre property below) Suzanne asked the prince what he thought about his stay at their property (note – this home has been used by the likes of Hillary and Bill Clinton to Al and Tipper Gore) and he said simply to Suzanne, “It’s not a wow.” Ouch. For Suzanne, this comment really hurt. Imagine you’ve invested millions of dollars in a luxury property and someone would not think it was a wow experience!
Fast forward 16 years. Suzanne and Steve decided to design and build a contemporary style vacation home on the balance of their cliffside land. The goal was to design this home to not only be enjoyed by their family, but could also to be used by previous guests of their other 2 properties (see an aerial view of all 3 properties below) and for special wedding and corporate events.
But this would be no ordinary house. Suzanne and Steve not only invested millions more in this house – but more importantly they poured their heart, soul and design tastes into what they call the “new home.” They were determined this design would be a “wow”…. even for a prince with discerning tastes who could afford to come to the island and this property with his 2 private jets!
In this article let’s take a behind the scenes look at 5 design and construction features which IMHO (in my humble opinion) you would be crazy not to say is a WOW! Let’s dig in.
Design Feature #1 – It begins with a “wow” entrance
When you walk into a vacation home, or a luxury beach front resort, you want to experience a spirit of relaxation engulf you as you open the door and say to yourself, “Tell me I never have to leave here!” Coming into Sand Dollar Hideaway you’ll have this sensation. After stepping through 2 solid oversized wood doors you’ll get the feeling of space, gentle Caribbean breezes, and tranquility. A 45’ open wood ceiling, large aluminum fans and an infinity pool with Magen’s Bay in the distance are here to welcome you. Now that’s a wow!
Design feature #2 – A “glass pool” reflective of a uniquely contemporary vacation experience
It’s inspiring when a home literally reflects such a unique sense of style local taxi cab drivers point it out as a landmark. One design feature (conceived out of practicality as much as anything) which makes an impact on the St. Thomas island community is what the taxi cab drivers call the “glass pool.” No, this pool is not made of glass – but it uses glass in a distinctive, yet functional way.
Supporting the side of the infinity pool you see as you enter the home is a 10’ high concrete wall with a deck below. Leaving this as an exposed dull gray concrete wall was not exactly what Steve and Suzanne had in mind. Originally Suzanne wanted to do a waterfall over the edge of the infinity pool to capture the calming water feeling of the Caribbean. But as Steve said to me, “Mike I implored Suzanne to kill the waterfall idea. Given how fast water evaporates in the St. Thomas sun, we would have been paying continuously for deliveries of water and wasting precious natural resources. We needed to figure something else out.”
And they did figure out a different solution. This solution was installing 27 pieces of 36” x 36” aqua blue colored back painted glass in a rain pattern which are adhered onto the gray concrete wall.
This feature creates the illusion of a waterfall and a glass pool wall. This wall never requires any actual water either. The cool glass feature is admired for its reflective properties from miles away by taxi cab drivers and island visitors alike.
Design feature #3 – Let it all hang out (OK – not literally – it’s not a clothing optional home!)
Building a vacation home on a cliffside beachfront property in St. Thomas is not for the faint of heart (or for the “faint of pocketbook.”). Construction of this home required both talented contractors and living in the “building uncomfortable zone” since many of the building costs are unknown. You see the excavation process in a home like this is both “art” and “construction science” rolled into one. Imagine a series of retaining walls being built to contain the rocks being removed from damaging the beach and a courageous trackhoe operator clearing the edge of a cliffside (if you think about this for a moment you may need to get out the Depends!). Then imaging placing steel beams and pouring loads of concrete to create the cantilevered deck shown below!
Since the talented contractor doing this work doesn’t really know how long this process will take, as an investor you’re building the home with a blank excavation and construction budget (this is enough to scare most people away from ever building on a cliffside property!). In addition, you have to worry about the safety of the track hoe operator. Luckily for those fortunate enough to stay in this home they don’t have to live through the construction challenges– they can just enjoy the relaxation of this awe-inspiring cantilevered deck.
Design feature #4 – Keeping it light and contemporary
Who comes to St. Thomas to be in the dark (unless it’s for the romantic candlelight dinners with the one you love at night!)? Sun, relaxation and fun are magnets which draw us to the Caribbean island like bees are drawn to honey. As Suzanne told me every room in this home had to be bright and take advantage of the airy feeling of the island. One challenge to this goal is one bedroom is located under a deck which blocks the St. Thomas sunlight. To eliminate this challenge – and add another contemporary wow element – 4 glass floor sections were added. These obscure structural glass floor panels are tempered, laminated and 1” thick to provide a safe – yet cool – surface. In addition, there is a ceramic glass frit on the top layer of the glass for anti-skid protection. While this glass is not a for a “disco dance floor” (as one guest joked with Suzanne) it provides a cool way to move light from one floor level to another.
The only thing left to do (in an upcoming project) is add LED lighting on the underneath side of the glass so it will create a colored glow at night. How wow is that (I have to get pictures of this when it’s done!)?
Design feature #5 – A place to hang out without limits
I don’t know about you but life today is often too jam-packed for my liking. Work demands. Family demands. Time demands. Vacations are all about eliminating demands and feeling you can relax without limits or deadlines over your head.
What better way to erase (at least temporarily) these demands than by immersing yourself in a seemingly limitless infinity pool with majestic views of Magen’s Bay and mountaintops on the horizon. This pool is stylishly cool during the day and night.
As Suzanne said to me, “We designed this pool to create a homey, yet classy space. A place where you can just hang out with your thoughts and your family.” I think I could get used to hanging out here at any time of day!
Building a luxury vacation home is certainly an inspiring, creative, challenging and costly adventure as you can witness from these 5 distinctive design and construction elements. What’s cool is as a visitor you don’t have to concern yourself with anything except enjoying this beautiful space. However it’s fun (at least in my opinion) to learn the design decisions and construction challenges which make this home so special.
If you would like to stay at Sand Dollar Hideaway contact Suzanne or Steve at 908-698-2722. If you love the glass flooring or decorative “glass pool” with the back painted glass, please call Innovate Building Solutions at 877-668-5888. I hope you found the behind the scenes look at this contemporary vacation home as awe-inspiring and drool worthy as I have. Now I need to save up my pennies…. OK maybe some maybe dollars…to be able to personally visit this home (and unlike the prince I’m perfectly OK not even flying on a private jet to get there)!