By Caroline Portillo
Bahamian financier Mark Holowesko wanted to create a private island home away from home for friends and family—and for others who crave a more intimate experience than the one offered by the mega-resorts and cruise ships peppering the Bahamas.
So he built one: The Island House.
The property, which opened in 2015, is a 30-room boutique hotel and gathering space located in Nassau that boasts oversized guest rooms, stylish communal spaces, personalized service and extracurricular activities that are usually the hallmark of larger, conglomerate-owned properties. (Think along the lines of a 48-seat art house cinema outfitted with leather armchairs and cocktail tables that shows current blockbusters.)
But perhaps one of the most distinguishing elements of the Holowesko family’s $40 million investment is its commitment to barefoot luxury. The Island House exudes a refined but relaxed vibe thanks to the marriage of high-end design and laid-back island touches.
Architect Hart Howerton and New York-based luxury design firm Champalimaud were hired to execute the vision. “When you go to a larger resort, there’s more of a formality to it,” says Courtney Brannan, one of the lead designers. But at The Island House, “you can walk around in your bare feet. You can head inside after relaxing by the pool, grab something from the café and walk back out.”
To encourage this type of seamless indoor-outdoor experience, Champalimaud incorporated local touches from nature. Light-colored coral was used in the flooring, while the living room ceiling was constructed from warm pecky cypress wood, a common material found throughout the Caribbean. Driftwood is sprinkled throughout the décor.
But one of The Island House’s most striking features is the artwork crafted by local artists, such as Maxwell Taylor and John Beadle. One of the most distinct pieces is a 360-degree mural that wraps around the interior wall of Shima, a restaurant on the property that offers Southeast Asian cuisine. The mural’s rich red, orange, black and turquoise colors depict scenes and elements native to the Bahamas and echo the blue waters visible from the vista.
Custom tile work appears in each guest room’s bathroom, and even the lighting fixtures throughout the hotel are treated as sculptures—Champalimaud commissioned Solomon & Wu to create statement pieces to complement each space.
But Holowesko and his daughter, Lauren—the director of the hotel—played the largest role in determining the artwork on permanent display and the featured artists whose work cycles through in short-term installations. The Island House was the father-daughter duo’s second foray into hospitality. Before building the boutique hotel, the pair started the Mahogany House in 2010, a restaurant that now sits on property, where locals and visitors are drawn to the artisanal pizzas, fresh catches and extensive wine list.
Holowesko, founder and CEO of Holowesko Partners Ltd., is also a former member of the Bahamas’ Olympic sailing team, which explains the care he took to incorporate health and wellness into the hotel’s DNA. Amenities at The Island House include a Bamford spa, an 82-foot lap pool, and squash and padel courts. The AntiGravity yoga program feels especially luxurious with tangerine hammock-like aerial silks housed in a studio lined with windows overlooking the verdant landscape.
The indoor spaces have an easy, beckoning vibe. The lobby feels like a workspace-meets-coffee shop, and guests curl up on the furniture with their laptops. The library, which is located off the living room, is outfitted with built-in bookcases and ebonized wood paneling, but the two walls of windows usher in light that makes the space feel cheery, not stuffy.
Even the design process had a personal touch, says Brannan, who worked closely with Holowesko over a span of two years. “Usually with larger-scale projects, the owner isn’t emailing you, sending you ideas and asking, ‘What do you think about this chair?’” she says. “It made it a very special project for me.”
And that makes the end result all the more fitting: an intimate island indulgence that feels like home.
Originally appeared in the Spring 2017 Issue.