How Tropical Modern is Redefining Island Style Residences

SB Architects is reinterpreting traditional Caribbean architecture as many affluent home buyers ask for the laid-back look called tropical modern. Tropical modernism, a design movement in which sensitivity for local context combines with the form-making principles of modernism. This aesthetic combines the clean lines and muted color palette of contemporary design with the exotic woods and stone found in island homes. With its distinct long overhangs and roof planes, this style of architecture has taken on a much more glamorous and seductive high-end feel. At the same time, the designs are borrowing from local vernacular traditions. With a sensitivity to history, location, local vocabulary, and context join for a tour of a few of SB Architects tropical modern homes.

Tropical modernism likely emerged in parts of Asia in the 1940s and ’50s when modern architects adapted designs popular during the British Empire to build practical and affordable homes. Heavy furnishings and window treatments were replaced with louvered walls and windows to facilitate cross ventilation and breezy interiors. Ornate tilework was replaced with poured-concrete foundations and walls. The tropical modern residence is a refreshing architectural expression the traditional tropical atmosphere. Inherent to its modern design is extraordinary natural light and views of lush vegetation achieved with the tactful use of wide-gauge glass and organic materials like exotic woods and polished stones—blending architectural harmoniously into the landscape upon which it sits.

The angle of inclination gives a strong presence to the roof, creating a certain pavilion-like character.  Modernism is typically associated with thin horizontal roof planes intended to lightly float or even disappear. When you look at a building, one of the first things you identify with is the roof. The roof tends to give instant character to the building. These pavilions are just simple shelters, so how you handle a select few components like the roof massing, the eave, and the wall is critical. “You don’t have to overwork the elements—the forms can be kept simple, and with contemporary detailing, the overall effect can be powerful,” said Scott Lee. The edges and eaves of a roof are key to achieving pleasing architectural proportions. In Bali, thatched roofs will often flare out at the bottom and create beautiful overall forms. This edge detail is integral to the craftsmanship, and the crisp edge that is almost horizontal has a very different feel than upturning, which causes the roof to lose its elegance. Real estate agents report luxury buyers are demanding modern homes with an island vibe and forgoing more traditional Mediterranean-style homes. In recent years, tropical-modern homes have been selling at a premium of as much as 30% compared with other styles. Tropical modern is what it is now—everybody is looking for something similar.

In Puerto Rico, a couple from California worked with Associate Principal and Vice President Kristoffer Koster to build a tropical-modern home that maximized ocean views. The emphasis was on the outside,” says Koster. The 14,400-square-foot home is located directly on a pristine Caribbean beach and is part of the exclusive resort community of Bahia Beach on the north shore of Puerto Rico. It is also directly adjacent to the famed Bahia Beach Golf Resort, sited along the fairways of holes 16 and 17. Designed as a residential enclave for an extended family, the 8,300 square-foot main house has a symmetrical configuration with a contemporary aesthetic that is infused with Southeast Asian influences. Two 1,275-square-foot casitas, designed to provide privacy to guests, flank a garden promenade that leads to the main house. A separate fitness and spa pavilion opens to the formal garden. Wall-length sliding doors open to the outdoor terraces and an infinity-edge pool with a shallow splash area. An ornate staircase, interior stone, and recessed lighting replace a flashier look. Architectural details nod to the tropics, but the interiors are intentionally muted. A guesthouse with a gym, maid’s quarters, additionally covered porches and a separate wellness area contribute to a soothing spa feel. “I wanted to give it a sense of visiting a resort,” says Koster. Watch more on this home with a behind-the-scenes tour with Kristoffer Koster.

At the intersection of art and architecture is this Bahia Beach Estate. When designing this oceanfront residence for an art enthusiast, the intent was to make the home a sculpture worthy of the owner’s collection. This was achieved with a modern, minimalist approach that married form with function and blurred the lines between inside and out-of-doors. The 14,000-square-foot, two-story project, located at the St. Regis Bahía Beach Resort in Puerto Rico, opens to the Atlantic Ocean and was designed to mirror its sun-drenched, breezy surroundings. It has a hint of midcentury modernism, with its overhangs and horizontal lines and its simplicity of color and form. The modern, glass-walled home reflects the blue of its infinity-edge pool and pavilions provide shade from the sun and serve as balconies for bedrooms on the second floor.

A serpentine driveway dotted with indigenous plants and trees leads the way to a motor court in front of the residence. A dramatic overhang above the front entrance is a functional focal point, painting the entryway with shade and shadows. A hammered-limestone walkway splits a reflecting pool in two, creating a moat-like entrance to the house. Inside, a similar pool brings the outside in, unexpectedly, beneath a floating glass-and-whitewashed-oak staircase. Even the bespoke 12-foot-tall louvers that partially divide the light-drenched foyer from the spacious living room function as works of art. Floor-to-ceiling glass walls with sliding doors provide a nearly seamless transition from the living and dining areas to the pool deck and views of the lawn and sea beyond, always being mindful of framing the primary view. Thoughtfully designed to maximize its waterfront location, the living room also fulfilled the owner’s request for large entertaining space.

The enclosed kitchen satisfied the owner’s desire for a cooking space separate from the home’s entertaining areas. The sleek white setup features Poliform matte lacquer cabinets, and Italian quartz was used for the backsplash, countertops, and waterfall counter on the island, with appliances by Sub-Zero and Wolf. The oval pedestal table is by Eero Saarinen for Knoll, and the thin-legged bar stools and chairs custom-made by Cite lend a lightness to space. The second-story master suite takes full advantage of the ocean views beyond the balcony. His and her dressing rooms and walk-in closets lead to his and her limestone-lined bathrooms outfitted with deep soaking tubs and sizable showers by Duravit with Hansgrohe fixtures. The master suite includes a study as well as separate bathrooms, dressing rooms, and a walk-out balcony overlooks the tranquil setting.

Outside, the backyard provides additional opportunities for entertaining. A powder-coated-aluminum pavilion covers an alfresco bar and kitchen, and outdoor furnishings from Janus et Cie and B&B Italia offer plenty of opportunities to lounge. An infinity-edge pool overlooks the lawn, which can accommodate everything from picnics to games to parties, and from there it’s just steps to the beach. This design of the lawn is similar to the “great lawn” in front of the arrival building at the St. Regis. The owner wanted the grass to roll down to the sand, which would roll down to the water. And if the pleasures of home become too isolated, a Robert Trent Jones Jr.–designed golf course, a bar and restaurants, a spa, a tennis center, and a slew of other amenities are accessible at the St. Regis resort. The art of living well never looked so serene.

In the heart of the Condado District in San Juan sits the newest luxury residential tower, 1149 Ashford. Located on the most prominent and stylish crossroads, Ashford Ave and Earle Street, the tower redefines modern island living. Elevated over 300 feet in the sky, 1149 Ashford is set to be the tallest residential building in San Juan capturing dramatic views of the ocean and city. With soaring 11’ ft floor-to-ceiling glass walls, generous spaces and double exposure private terraces, 1149 Ashford offers exceptional and unique residences in Puerto Rico. With a modern and vibrant architectural silhouette, the residences with corner exposures have 11-foot floor-to-ceiling glass walls. Optimizing the views from every angle, the residences overlook the Atlantic Ocean on the North side and the beautiful Condado lagoon on the Southside. Combining sophistication with function, the residences boast double exposures, deep balconies, and terraces with unparalleled views.

1149 Ashford offers 25,000 square feet of luxurious amenity space including a breathtaking 75-foot infinity pool and wet bar overlooking the ocean. Residents can enjoy a wealth of amenities including direct access to the beach, club room and library, 3,000 square foot state of the art fitness center, wellness center with steam room and sauna, private dining room with a chef ’s kitchen, individual wine cellars, business center, and lounge area. A curated collection of 75 residences ranging from one to five bedrooms are masterfully crafted by the leaders in high-end design, Hirsch Bedner & Associates. 1149 Ashford’s quality finishes fully embrace the surrounding urban fabric captured in the contemporary and elegant interiors of each residence. To tour 1149 Ashford, click here.

Experience a new kind of luxury living in the exclusive beachfront residence collection. Indulge in luxurious comfort at Ocean Drive Beachfront Residences — an unspoiled, lush tropical haven with spectacular beachfront views. Bahia Beach offers the tranquility and purity of a private island. These three- and four bedroom residences are serviced by The St Regis and feature spacious interiors, ample terraces, and an exquisite modern lifestyle where tropical meets urban chic.

The Residences at Seafire, Dart Real Estate’s first foray into resort-residential living, is located on the world-famous Seven Mile Beach in Grand Cayman and shares an expansive 12-acre site with the Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa, the beloved boutique hotel brand’s first Caribbean resort. The Residences at Seafire is a 10-story architectural gem housing a collection of 62 distinct design-driven residences which marry contemporary Caribbean style with high-design. Built 25 feet above sea level, featuring striking views of both Seven Mile Beach and the North Sound, The Residences feature diverse floorplans to suit every taste and family – from ultra-chic studios to stately five-bedroom residences. Characterised by ample outdoor living space and direct entry into an open living area, many of The Residences at Seafire showcase stunning sea-to-sea views of both Seven Mile Beach and the North Sound, a rarity in Grand Cayman real estate.

Brimming with natural beauty, clear blue waters, and an abiding “Caymankind” spirit, Grand Cayman is a destination like no other. The Residences at Seafire elevates the authentic feel of the island to create a vision that is somehow both contemporary and timeless. Thoughtful design lets you choose to embrace lively social scenes and tranquil solitude alike, with separate pools for family time or quiet relaxation, and a private rooftop terrace for socializing and sunsets. At Seafire, commanding sea views, contemporary design, luxurious amenities, and beachfront experiences combine for an unparalleled sense of modern living – cosmopolitan, yet distinctly and eternally Caribbean. Behind floor-to-ceiling windows, find a sanctuary to rival the sea amid thoughtfully designed residential elegance, at once enlivening and serene.

Caroline Bay Ltd., developer of Caroline Bay, Bermuda recently announced that construction is advancing at the 182-acre ultra-luxury waterfront destination located in the west end of the island on the peninsula formerly known as Morgan’s Point. Both the Ritz-Carlton Reserve and the Ritz-Carlton Reserve Residences at The Cove are in full construction mode. The extraordinary new Ritz-Carlton Reserve will offer 77 guest rooms and two presidential villas. Construction is moving along with the first two guest villas comprised of 11 waterfront rooms and suites in each, with the construction of the third guest villa to start this month.

First-phase construction – the building of 35 of the 149 Ritz-Carlton Reserve Residences– is also swiftly progressing, and the first residential building comprised of seven homes will be complete and ready for delivery in the first quarter of 2018. The entire phase one, called The Cove (five buildings representing 35 residences), will be complete by summer 2018. This one-of-a-kind destination for the island is already home to Caroline Bay Marina, which offers space for up to 33 transient superyachts; 80 berths exclusively for Ritz-Carlton Reserve Residence owners; the Caroline Bay Marina Yacht Club; state-of-the-art power; water; concierge services; MarineTech docking system and environmentally secure sewage waste systems.

Once complete, Caroline Bay will be the largest development the island has seen in more than four decades. Owners of the Ritz-Carlton Residences will enjoy two restaurants and a bar, two pools and beaches with water sports and activities, a world-class spa and conference space.

Our work often includes a harmonious balance between the sleek, modern and the naturally rustic. The machined-glass walls that highlight the rustic materials are an excellent example. The design is about developing a sense of place. Carefully handling the composition is one of the ways to instill a soul into the building, rather than it just becoming an assembly of parts. The contrast builds drama and develops an experiential quality that has tangible benefits to the design. A home is more than a collection of spaces or an assembly of materials; it’s a vessel for living and experiencing family and a location. This term helps orient clients to expand their input to us for design into the qualitative realm. Architecture is beyond only space and form. In the work we do now, empathy—with the end users, the context and the history—is a central tenet of how we approach design.