Property

Is Heron Bay in Barbados the Most Exquisite House in the World?

Ronald and Marietta Tree build their Palladian villa after honeymooning on the island.
IMAGE SLIM AARONS/HULTON ARCHIVE/GETTY IMAGES (EXTERIOR
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Could Heron Bay actually be the most exquisite house there is? We shouldn’t be afraid to ask silly questions, especially if the answer may be yes. In 1947, British politician Ronald Tree and his wife Marietta went to Barbados on their honeymoon and soon afterward built a villa on the western side of the island. Made of coral stone in the Palladian style, it was built, according to Mrs. Tree, in six months by a workforce that was partly female, and as a result was a house that entered into legend.

The poetry of Heron Bay lies not in its logic and symmetry but in the sensuality of these principles as interpreted in porous, other­ worldly coral in a tropical setting. Penelope, the Trees’ daughter, spoke of Heron Bay as being “like a submerged house, as though, if a tidal wave were to cover it, it would be at rest again. It is a house out of Atlantis.”


Constructed in 1947 by Ronald Tree, Heron Bay, in Barbados, has become one of the Caribbean’s most influential buildings.

The architect the Trees worked with was Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe, but Ronald was in large measure responsible for the design. We know this for two reasons. One, Jellicoe was better known as a landscape designer than as an architect, and, two, a guidebook to the architecture of Andrea Palladio, published in 1927 and found in a bookshop on Madison Avenue, tells us.

The edition is full of marginalia indicating that Ronald took a trip through the Veneto with this book, making notes about the 16th­ century architecture that dominates that region. It is safe to presume that these observations became the source material for the design of Heron Bay, the most success­ful Palladian Revival house of the 20th century.

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There is a tradition of Pal­ladian architecture in the West Indies; when the islands were colonized in the 17th and 18th centuries, the style was at its peak in Europe, and it came to the Caribbean at the same time as wealth from sugar plantations.

The power of Heron Bay, however, should be measured not just by its associations with the past, but by its progeny. In the early 1990s architect Jaquelin T. Robertson chose it as the inspiration for his design for Henry Kravis at Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic. Oscar de la Renta did the same in Punta Cana in 1997, working with architect Ernesto Buch.

Buch’s work led to his being asked to design a group of houses there in a more or less Palladian style, including one for Mikhail Baryshnikov seen recently in Town & Country. These clients, architects, and houses form a club, mem­bers of which share a reverence for Heron Bay (which is today owned by the industrialist Lord Anthony Bamford and his wife Carole).

So, back to that question. My favorite metric for this nebulous honor comes, in this case, not from a classically trained architect but from a girl on the slopes of Telluride who had recently stayed at the hotel next to Heron Bay. Not a hippie, but not not a hippie. She described being there with her family, walking down the beach, and coming upon an extraordinary house.“I started hyperventilating,”she said. “Nothing prepared me for what I was seeing and the way it made me feel. I actually started twitching.”

“Let me guess,” I said. “You were in Barbados?”


Scenic view in Barbados.

This article appears in the May 2018 issue of Town & Country.

*This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com

*Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors

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