It’s hard enough to get siblings to share the backseat, let alone an entire vacation home. But that’s exactly what’s happened when a trio of sisters, C.C. Armstrong, Leslie el-Effendi, and Liz Redwine along with their husbands, Stewart, Wicky and Ras and family friends Burkely and Tim Herbert got together to build Villa Amarilla. The group first met the Caribbean in nearby St. Barth’s, where the sisters’ parents owned a home. While there, they visited a few islands in the region. One stood out.
“Of all the islands, the one we wanted to get to know more was Anguilla,” Leslie said.
So, for her 40th birthday vacation in 2005, Leslie brought the group to Shoal Bay. Smitten, they decided to buy a lot and start building.
On friends’ recommendations, the family commissioned veteran Anguillian architect Carl Richards to blueprint their vision. Wicky and Leslie consider it one of their best decisions.
“He was absolutely wonderful to work with,” Leslie effused. “He was very patient; we had strong ideas, and he helped us improve our own vision and make it better. He really helped to come up with ways to maximise the breezes and shaded areas and achieve everything we wanted.”
Surprisingly, construction moved smoothly despite the number of stakeholders involved.
“They say it’s hard to build a house in a marriage,” Leslie joked, “but try a marriage, plus three other couples.”
The closeness of the families helped, but their peace of mind came from Carl, retained as the construction manager, and Glenford Hughes, the capable contractor.
“I think that it was a big plus having Carl. He fought a lot of battles on our behalf,” Wicky explained. “Everyone has problems with builders and architects and so on, but we didn’t have a lot.”
“The hard part was being on the island and being in Carl’s office or on the construction site instead of on one of the pretty beaches,” Leslie recalled. “There were entire trips when we didn’t even get a chance to go down to the ocean, but it was worth it.”
The design’s conflux of styles starts somewhere in the Mediterranean, makes stops in the United States Southwest, picks up some Caribbean flair and nestles on a rocky shoreline on the Sea Rocks in Island Harbour.
“We wanted to build a villa that had a more Caribbean style,” Leslie explains, “We wanted it yellow, with a tile roof.” That decision brought a series of happy accidents – yellow, in Spanish, is amarillo, which is also the name of the town in which the women grew up: Amarillo, Texas. Naming the villa was easy.
On approach, the imposing yellow structure gives a distinct South Florida impression, possibly because of the lush landscaping, which includes a variety of palms along the driveway and front yard.
Guided by David Salem, a family friend and interior designer, and Mia Armstrong Brous, C.C.’s daughter and an interior decorator, individual tastes mixed with one another for an eclectic yet cohesive style. South Beach gives way to a Southwest U.S. feel on the inside, overlaid with whimsical nautical touches. Just past the wrought-iron entry doors designed by the couples and built in Mexico, the piece de résistance hangs in the foyers: an intriguing seashell chandelier.
“The seashell chandelier came from Christa’s South Seashells in West Palm Beach, FL.,” explains Leslie, “It was our only real ‘splurge’. With everything else in the house, we tried to find pieces that were attractive, yet practical and reasonably priced.”
The chandelier is a prelude to the other marine elements that underpin the décor: seashell wall sconces and night lights, sculpted and painted wall art of sea horses, shells, turtles and fish, and marine-printed upholstery and bed linens. Each bedroom in the symmetrical, H-shaped layout takes on its own character, reflecting that of the four different couples involved. Brightly coloured tiles from Italy and North Africa laid in interesting patterns add playful individualism to each bathroom.
“With four women, we had a lot of interior design ideas,” said Leslie. “We might have gone with the typical granite or marble, but we wanted to have a little more personality.”
The families gave themselves room in the indoor spaces, most obviously the kitchen.
“The large kitchen was deliberate,” Leslie explained, “often, two families come here together. We all enjoy being in the kitchen, cooking. We have had 13 people in the villa on more than one occasion and have not felt crowded at all.”
Despite the comfortable interior, the outside beckons. The north-facing deck ensures day-long shade almost year-round, and enough space to host different activities.
“We tend to be outdoors almost all of the time…having a coffee, reading a book and enjoying the view. The weather and the breeze are always perfect, so we usually eat outside.” Leslie pointed out.
As often as three times a year, the couples enjoy their customized little world. “I think it actually surpassed our expectations. Everyone is very happy with the way it turned out,” Leslie said and smiled.
“Would you do it again?” we asked. “Oh yeah!” Wicky replied, “We’ve learned a lot building this one, and we might think about building another.” He added, “There are a lot of beautiful places in the world, but it’s hard to find a place that’s not so crowded and is full of nice people, beautiful beaches and great food, which is all the stuff we like.”