Entrepreneurial powerhouse Tory Burch was not looking for a home in the Caribbean but chance brought her an unexpected tour of the late Rachel “Bunny” Mellon’s Antigua property and she and her boys fell in love with its beauty. The home had sat empty for two decades but the bones were there, impeccably designed by Mellon’s architect H. Page Cross.? The legendary tastemaker and philanthropist had purchased the land in the 1960s and, with the help of Cross, had it filled with a meandering of buildings and rooms that harmoniously flow onto one other and take in at every angle the breathtaking views of the Caribbean. The interiors were carefully designed by Mellon in collaboration with legendary designer Billy Baldwin. Mellon’s request was to create rooms and furnishings that looked like they’ve been brought down from the attic. A carefully studied look of perfectly imperfect beauty is what Mellon had always wanted her homes to display. When it was all done, Baldwin called it “the prettiest house in the world”, while Bunny herself said “it’s the house I love the most” – and she had quite an impressive array to choose from.?
An admirer of Mellon’s effortlessly elegant style, Burch’s challenge was to perfect something she already deemed to be perfect, a balancing act between making things feel like they’ve always been there while at the same time feel personal to her and her family. Enter friend and long-time accomplice, designer Daniel Romualdez who had designed Burch’s Southampton mansion, her home in The Pierre as well as her boutiques and showrooms around the world.?
“The layout that Page Cross did is pretty hard to mess with,” adds Romualdez. “We didn’t really touch it.” The house is, and was, simply impeccable. Cross designed the rooms to flow into one another, with shuttered French windows revealing vistas at every turn. The plumbago-blue dining room opens on one side to a tropical conservatory, paneled in pale lime-green bamboo, where hummingbirds purr over orchid plants, banana fronds, and palms. Below, a meadow of soft gold wild grass sways in the wind like the bay’s eddying waters.
Alterations were thoughtfully considered: The bathrooms were subtly updated and a pantry added to the kitchen, where gingerbread shelving now houses Burch’s early–nineteenth century botanical china—some of it from Mellon herself, the rest sleuthed online. On Romualdez’s advice, a guest house was transformed into a “man cave” for Burch’s and Roussel’s sons (he also has three). “If I didn’t have it,” Burch notes wryly, “it would be a bit of a nightmare.”
Burch sourced French Provincial style furniture at auctions and from her parents’ basement, mixing it all with wicker seating that harmonize with Mellon’s original choices. “Our goal”, Romuladez explains, “is that you can’t tell what the interventions are.”
As for the gardens, landscape designer and Vogue Contributing Editor Miranda Brooks, was hired to bring the gardens back to life. She chose flowers that come into their own at dusk, when the unforgiving sun has cooled, the moonflowers open up, and the vanilla bush, Panama rose, and almond trees are at their most fragrant. There are heady scents everywhere—a reflecting pool is filled with yellow water lilies; combined with the licorice-scented oleander and the pale-yellow frangipani, it is almost overwhelming.?
Inside and out, Burch’s goal has been to make the house sustainable and ecologically responsible. There are solar panels, a desalination plant, and a cistern to collect the rainwater that holds half a million gallons.
In the vegetable garden, Burch had planted ranks of okra, eggplant, beans, peppers, kale, cucumber, and cantaloupe. Mellon went on foraging trips round the island with her gardeners, transplanting plants to her property. “It’s the only way to do it,” says Brooks: Many imports are prohibited because of the potential that they will bring disease. There are papaya trees in the orchard and macadamia trees in the nutter-y, and against the odds, Brooks has even managed to create a flourishing rose garden. “The gardens will always be a work in progress,” says Burch, “but the imperfections are so beautiful.”
Breathtaking, yes? And the best part is that Burch and Romualdez managed to orchestrate a most beautiful restoration. The property is now very much a reflection of Burch’s thoughtful approach to design, yet you can feel Mellon’s presence at every turn. Talk about tribute to a muse! For more details, please pick up the new Vogue or click here for the original feature.