By Katie McElveen
Over the past six years, architect Luis Pons has overseen the transformation of Le Guanahani from a beloved but eclectic luxury resort to one that’s garnering as much attention for its gorgeous, thoughtful design as it does for its perfect location on St. Barth.
It all started with a phone call. “The owner was ready to renovate the resort and asked me to come make an assessment,” says Pons, who is known for instilling projects with context and character. “Beneath a collage of various colors and design styles, we discovered that the resort’s original cottages were wonderful examples of traditional Caribbean architecture. That bit of history formed the basis of the guest experience we wanted to create: immersive, welcoming, and able to connect with their needs, desires, and imaginations.” It would also, of course, provide the kind of relaxed luxury and sophistication that the resort’s guests, who often return year after year, expect when they travel.
To do that, Pons and his team set about building a layered history of Le Guanahani that would be told through the language of design. “The Caribbean is defined by adventure and beauty, so that’s where we began,” he explains. “We used furnishings, accessories, scale, and color to share it in a way that offers spontaneous gestures of courtesy.” That and the iconic Panama hat. “It’s elegant and refined, the perfect integration of form and function,” says Pons. “The lines and details can be found throughout the resort. It is truly an inspirational object.”
Le Guanahani begins to reveal its story the moment a guest steps into the open-air lobby, where the welcoming environment includes a wide front veranda, clusters of seating areas spread with vintage National Geographic magazines, Panama hats on racks, and a front desk that resembles an old-school luggage trolley stacked with steamer trunks. The cathedral ceiling, exposed beams, and cottage-style walls are original and add context; thrown-open doors project a casual welcome. “The word “guanahani” means “welcome” in the Taíno language, which is what was originally spoken in this region,” says Pons. “It’s a huge part of the resort’s identity and embodies the spirit of the design.”
Within the cottages, Pons and his team highlighted details like high peaked ceilings and natural cross-ventilation by extending bathrooms and closets out of the original footprint and into their own separate areas. The resulting open space became a blank slate for Pons’ vision of creating rooms infused with a storied history of happy memories.
Three signature colors were chosen from the resort’s original palette to embody a trio of moods—yellow for the dynamic, blue for the sophisticate, and lavender for the mystic. Paired with contrasting hues, they would allow Pons and his team to create lodging options within the resort that would appeal to the varied personalities of the resort’s guests.
With maps on the walls and accessories like a brass telescope, the Admiral Suites share the spirit and passion of an adventurous soul. Serenity Suites, with their calm, romantic glow, offer a tranquil sanctuary. Rooms are equally narrative and include the dynamic Saline rooms, which are done in vibrant shades of yellow and blue; peaceful red and turquoise Gustavia rooms; and, within the Colombier Rooms, a thoughtful palette of lavender and fuchsia. Details like mini bars housed in old-fashioned traveler trunks, in-room coffee stations tucked into vessels that seem crafted from traditional plantation shutters, and the seamless integration of indoor and outdoor living provide a bridge between the past and the present. “Each space evokes a different vision of the world,” explains Pons.
Throughout the resort, custom furnishings, which echo the architecture of the cottages and feature Panama-weave fabric, provide a contemporary take on classic Caribbean design. Many pieces within the rooms are also easily moveable, giving guests the option to create their own functional spaces. They’re comfortable, too, with soft cushions and forgiving fabrics.
Pons’ vision also extends outside of the cottages, which are clustered like tiny villages around lush gardens. “There’s a richness and diversity within the landscape that needs to be appreciated and explored,” says Pons. To do that, he and the team created a plan that included walking paths through the various ecosystems, each planted with shrubs, trees, and flowers meant to emphasize that area’s beauty. “Shady, breezy, sunny, each garden has its own personality,” he notes. “As the topography changes, so do the plants.”
“This project gave us a chance to create a new experience for guests, many of whom have been coming to the resort for generations, while honoring the culture and the history of where we are,” says Pons. “We hope they will delight in it.”
About the Contributor
Travel and lifestyle writer Katie McElveen discovered the joy of wandering when, as a teenager, she made a wrong turn in rural South Carolina on the way to a family vacation and ended up taking back roads nearly all the way to the beach. Since then, she hasn’t stopped exploring, although she now travels with a map and more than $3.00 in cash. Based in Columbia, South Carolina, Katie has shared her discoveries through her work in magazines such as Real Simple, Business Traveler, Modern Bride, Destination Weddings & Honeymoons, Town & Country, Southern Living, Spa and Tennis.