Designer Alessandra Branca infuses a vacation home in the Bahamas with her sophisticated take on tropical style
Getting to Harbour Island is not for the faint of heart—or the short of time. The typical route: a flight to Miami, then a twin-turboprop puddle jumper to the island of Eleuthera, and a 10-minute water taxi across the bay to the two-square-mile speck of pink sand. For some, this multileg journey is enough of a deterrent to settle for a direct trip on JetBlue to nearby, more densely touristed Nassau. For others, including longtime “Briland” devotee Alessandra Branca, it’s merely the first harbinger of the Bahamian isle’s charm. “You get on that boat and decompress,” says the Italian-born designer, who has been vacationing there for the past 10 years. “By the time you arrive, you’re ready to let your hair down.”
Amid a certain segment of the jet set—think Diane von Furstenberg, Elle Macpherson, and Bill Gates—Harbour Island has proven a popular spot for second (or third, or fourth) homes. The haute-holiday culture it engenders allows boldface names to shed their workaday glamour and slip into a refined form of island living, trading couture for caftans and G-Wagens for golf carts. Branca, who built her own Briland getaway four years ago, readily admits to its special place in her heart. So when a Texas-based real estate investor and his wife—part owners of an elegant beachfront resort called the Dunmore—fell in love with her house and approached her about doing theirs, the designer envisioned it as a project born of a mutual love of the destination—or, as she describes it, an “ode to the island and all that it stands for.”
One of six private residences on the Dunmore’s grounds, the U-shaped house was built by the Miami firm de la Guardia Victoria Architects & Urbanists. Situated directly on Pink Sands Beach, the two-story, four-bedroom structure emphasizes indoor-outdoor flow, with the living room opening to a stone terrace with fully retractable Nano doors. Branca began working on the project in April 2013. “There was a huge simpatico,” she says of her relationship with her clients. “A good home comes from a great relationship. You get what you put into it.” The owners had children in their 20s, the same ages as Branca’s own, and wanted a retreat that was equally suited to family time and socializing. Thus the first step in the design process—“You sit down and talk about how a client wants to live there,” Branca says—yielded an easily translatable version of the designer’s own tropical interiors. She chose similar driftwood-like panels for the walls of the couple’s living room, as well as a deep pinkish-red hue and built-in shelves for the bar.
From there things took a slightly different design direction. Upholstered wicker armchairs mingle with a lacquered coffee table and oversize contemporary art in the living room. Preppy gingham is juxtaposed with Indian-inspired block-print fabric headboards in a bedroom. On the upstairs terrace, concrete cocktail tables live alongside glazed Moroccan stools. The distinctive twist on island trad is at once high-impact and deeply livable. “Second homes are an opportunity for a little more flair,” says Branca. “I thought, let’s have fun with it.”
With the exception of a few spaces, including the chevron-tiled kitchen and the living area’s textural white walls, Branca suffused the rooms with her trademark saturated hues. A hallway is painted deep sea-blue; persimmon-red punctuates a guest room. The relationship of color to place is a major consideration for the designer, who has homed in on a preferred Harbour Island palette just as she’s done for interiors from Italy to Arizona. The trick, she says, is all in the light—which is in no short supply in this part of the world. “Yellow doesn’t do well in the tropics, it’s too hot a color,” says Branca. “In Capri, a deep, yolky yellow works well with that incredible bright blue because the ocean looks navy instead of turquoise.” Certain shades, she insists, highlight Harbour Island’s waters particularly well, including the ultra-pale pink she chose for the beach-facing facade. “We painted the courtyard that blush hue because we wanted to warm up the color that came off the ocean,” she says.
The wealth of outdoor spaces provides ample opportunity to take in the beauty of the surroundings. On the upstairs terrace, Branca deliberately chose neutral-tone furniture and decor in deference to the Caribbean’s dégradé blues, framed by the three-mile stretch of pink-sand beach and the glossy green fronds of palm trees. “On Harbour, even the most proper people become much more relaxed,” says Branca. Her ultimate fantasy? To bring the laissez-faire back in her suitcase when she leaves. “It shouldn’t be occasional,” says the designer, a tad wistfully. “It should just be how you live.”