By Alyssa Clough, Domino Magazine
You know when you’re traveling and your hotel just doesn’t feel like home? Between the tiny rooms and always busy lobby, there’s no space for you. Well, that is the exact opposite of what it’s like to stay at the recently opened Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa on Grand Cayman Island. The culture of the island was effortlessly infused into almost every design element in the resort and the space was created for both locals and visitors to enjoy together.
I recently had the opportunity to visit the resort on behalf of Dart Real Estate, the premier developer on the island, and caught up with Dayna Lee, one of the principal designers—and one half of PowerStrip Studio—to discuss the project to get the lowdown on how she and partner Ted Berner weaved the history of the island through the space in an unexpected color palette.
First, the word “thoughtful” doesn’t even begin to explain the design of this resort, which honestly feels more like a boutique hotel. While visiting, I often heard the phrase “luxury without the attitude.” I felt like I was at an impressive resort, but I felt like the other visitors were friends and the hotel my home.
Lee and Berner designed the space to inspire “the desire to wander” in those who visit. This means extreme detail was given to every inch of the property, from the bathrooms down to the lighting fixtures in the hallways. There was also a focus on cultivating comfortable shared and private spaces.
You are meant to discover public spaces—both secret and shared, all special—as well as cherish your private space. Personally speaking, I found this to be very true. There are poufs in the grassy area, a large, communal seating area around a fire pit by the pool, rocking chairs along the outdoor hallways, and informal dining areas around the pool.
The project took the pair, who joined the team before the hotel was even built, just over four years to complete. Turns out Lee and Berner were the perfect designers for the resort, as they routinely work to tell a story in the spaces they design, due in part to their background in set design for film.
Lee said of the guests picking up on the meaningful decor scattered through the resort, “I think that what happens is little by little, as guests become familiar with the property, they realize this are not random and arbitrary decor, all of it is full of meaning, specific to Grand Cayman Island.”
The so-called “meaningful” decor Lee speaks of includes many special touches located throughout the space. A wattle (sans daub) installation is located near the elevators, which showcases a technique the earliest inhabitants of Cayman used to build their homes.
You can find a Catboat in the library, which is a specific type of boat that is historically extremely important to the Caymanian way of life. You can read more about it in the library, where you can find secondhand books, some relating to the history of Cayman, and framed photos from the historical society.
An incredible installation above the concierge desk mimics Caribbean lace, the sconces lining the hallways are custom-made to look like clams, and artwork by local artists is featured throughout the resort. Silver Thatch Palms, a species endemic to the island (aka found only there!), also plays a big role in the hotel’s design, with weaved baskets and lighting located around every corner.
Another can’t-miss feature of the hotel is the featured color palette. It’s not the typical Caribbean blues you see so much of in the area, but a more unique palette. Lee said it best when she told me that they were looking to create a “color palette that complements the sea, not mimics the sea.”
Throughout the resort you can find reds, sandy neutrals, burgundies, and even mahogany accents that are inspired by the natural florals found on the island. You can see it in the beach chairs, the hints of brighter fuchsia in the rooms, and accent seating around the shared spaces of the resort.
Construction of the building as just as thoughtful as the design. Dart Real Estate tore down the previous hotel post-Hurricane Ivan and built the new structure further back on the property so a bike path, that will hopefully one day run across the island, could be made possible.
A major investment was also made in the landscaping, which took over five years to complete. Plants that survived the hurricane (we’re talking 30 species of palms) were taken off the property, nursed back to health, and brought back to create the beautiful, natural poolside scene you see here.
Did I mention the view is incredible? That goes without saying at a resort where the view from above was a priority from the beginning. Good news: You can buy a permanent residence here, too. The Residences at Seafire, which will officially open this fall, is designed by Martyn Lawrence Bullard and features the highest rooftop—and best view—on the island.