Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Heron Bay, Barbados

The Entrance front of the Barbados beachfront
 villa known as Heron Bay.
The Devoted Classicist's favorite house in all the Caribbean is the Palladian villa called Heron Bay in Barbados.  Designed by Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe, a British architect best known for landscape design, for Marietta and Ronald Tree, it was built by local labor and believed to have been completed in 1947 (although some sources say 1949).  Ronnie Tree had a great deal of design input, apparently, and technical assistance may have been provided by British architect Paul Phipps, a former pupil of Sir Edwin Lutyens (and uncle by marriage to the former Mrs. Tree).  Inspiration for the design of the house was provided by Andrea Palladio's 16th century Villa Barbaro, also known as Villa di Maser.
Andrea Palladio's design for Villa Barbaro.
Heron Bay has a two-story central block with arcaded wings to each side ending in pavilions.  But instead of the wings being straight like at Villa Barbaro, the arcades are curved to end in pavilions clearly inspired by the Palladian model.
View of Heron Bay from the water
showing one of the end pavilions.
Image via Flickr, Kellsboro.
The beachside of the central block has a two-story portico facing a garden created by the curving arcades.
The seafront portico and one of the flanking
curving arcades of Heron Bay.
Photo from Country Life magazine, 1959.
The portico at Heron Bay
photographed by Slim Aarons from
Twin staircases lead down from the upstairs Drawing Room to the portico's paving that holds a large stone table, often used for dining.
Views, top, showing the portico set for dining.
Bottom, the ground floor Morning Room and the
upstairs Drawing Room.
From VOGUE July 1968 via NYSD.
The coral stone walls were left exposed in the Great Room and other principal rooms of the house, a reminder of the sometime harsh seaside conditions despite the tropical temperature. 
A recent view of the Drawing Room
showing the screen from Ditchley at the end.
Rendering by Will Topley.
The wonderful painted screen at one end of the Drawing Room was brought from Ditchley, the country house that Ronald Tree had shared with his former wife, Nancy, known to most readers as Nancy Lancaster.  (More about that in a future post). 

A view of the Hall at Ditchley Park
showing the backside of the screen now at Heron Bay.
by Martin Wood.
Ronnie had bought the painted canvas screen measuring 14 x 20 feet in Venice; the perspective of a Palladian interior might have originally been a theatrical backdrop.
The Great Hall at Ditchley
showing a glimpse of the screen on the right.
Watercolor by Alexandre Serebriakoff, commissioned
after the divorce of Ronald and Nancy Tree from
JANSEN by James Archer Abbott.
Other decorative elements in the room include a pair of blackamoors and a set of oval framed floral paintings that appear to have been once part of an architectural assemblage such as overdoor panels.
The other end of the Heron Bay Drawing Room in 1987.
Photo by Derry Moore for Architectural Digest.
The cover of Architectural Digest
featuring Heron Bay, photographed by Derry Moore.
The Morning Room on the ground floor, shown during the Tree's ownership, had similar but somewhat less formal furnishings to suit the scale of the room. 

The Morning Room of Heron Bay, 1987.
Photo by Derry Moore for Architecural Digest.
After selling Ditchley and moving to New York to a townhouse on East 79th Street, the Trees had a friendly separation with Ronnie spending more time in Barbados and Marietta in the United States.  (Yes, there is a lot more to that, but no need to get off track on this post).  Ronald Tree died in London in 1976 and Marietta died in her Sutton Place, New York City, apartment in 1991.

A garden pavilion at Heron Bay.

The Pineapple Bridge at Heron Bay.
Photo by Derry Moore for Architectural Digest.
The garden pavilion and Pineapple Bridge are attributed to Geoffrey Jellicoe.  But the pool pavilion, which appears to be later, may have been designed by Ronnie Tree; it is somewhat reminiscent of his contributions to the original buildings of the nearby Sandy Lane resort (since replaced by the existing buildings).

The swimming pool at Heron Bay.
This writer is uncertain about the timeline of subsequent ownership, but Carole and Anthony Bamford are the current owners.  Using the Heron Bay estate has a tropical get-away during the winter months, Lord and Lady Bamford's primary residence is the magnificent country house, Daylesford, located in the scenic Cotswolds.  (See the previous post here for the Bamfords at Daylesford which also links to other posts on that extraordinary house).  Daylesford had been redecorated for the Bamfords with the help of Colefax & Fowler's Wendy Nicholls, managing director of Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler as the interior design part of the business is called, and she was also involved in the supplemental furnishings for the Bamfords at Heron Bay.

A bedroom at Heron Bay,
presumed to be the Master in one of the end pavilions.
In addition to the Liz Smith article in New York Social Diary and the chapter in Keith Miller's book ARCHITECTURE AND DESIGN IN BARBADOS, more information and photos may be seen in a post by P. Gaye Tapp on her blog Little Augury.

The beachfront side of Heron Bay, Barbados.
The next post of The Devoted Classicist will feature another aspect of the Tree connection to this series of essays.  Those Devoted Readers following by email can have access to the blog archive and the search feature by clicking on the regular (current) webpage here.


  1. Divine, divine, divine! And to think all this faces the water. Can you imagine the smell of the ocean when the breeze comes in at night?!

    Remember awhile back I mentioned I used to pass Marietta Tree's townhouse on East 79th everyday on the way to work? Seems to me it was a double th with great big windows to the street. It always fascinated me. Do you know who owns it now? Pictures? a post perhaps?!

    1. J.C., yes, I know the house. There are several other essays coming up that are relevant to this series of posts, but I probably have enough for a post on the townhouse, too. (And maybe the Sutton Place apartment, but I cannot promise!). Thank you for commenting.

  2. Dear John,

    Thank you for this fascinating post. You're such a detective/historian, your entries are always so informative. What a wonderful house! I love the exposed stonework, the lofty, airy dimensions, and of course the exquisite interiors. Again, this proves that perfectly proportioned, classical architecture looks wonderful wherever it might happen to be in the world! There is nothing jarring or incongruous about this building, even if it is on a beach, and even if the indigenous architecture may originally have consisted only of beach huts... I also appreciate the way you provide so much background information beyond what we already know about Nancy Lancaster and her circle - who may have designed what, and so on. Didn't Jellicoe also work for the Trees at Ditchley? This reminds me of a wonderful book on gardens in Italy that you may know: Italian Gardens - A Cultural History, by Helena Attlee, where Jellicoe also features. Isn't it fascinating how all these strands intertwine? Thank you for helping to unravel them :-)

    Kind regards,


    1. T.A.G, I try to share what I would like to see in a blog myself - inspirational images and some information to lead to further thought and/or study. Jellicoe did indeed work for Nancy and Ronnie Tree at Ditchley (as did Phipps), and of course, is known for his wonderful contributions to the Italian gardens book, a notable accomplishment in its day. I love the intertwining of strands as well; you will see a few more in the coming posts. Thank you for commenting.

  3. The Palladio style is such a magnet. It's interesting how the architecture and probably the weather have made the outside of this house look as though it might have been built by one of the British settlers on Barbados in the C18th. It is quite utterly charming. The Bamfords certainly have exquisite taste upon which to lavish their fortune, which is refreshing.

    1. C., patronage of good architecture, both new and historic - or in this case, almost historic - is critical. The mind reels at the disasters that could incur with the redevelopment of these twenty acres; the Bamfords are commended for their preservation efforts.

  4. thanks much for the mention. pgt

  5. This has always reminded me of La Fiorentina, from the front at least...but Villa Barbaro on a smaller scale for sure! I remember visiting Barbaro, a magnificent Spinach Jade bowl on the long Refectory table and those little straw shoes one must wear, not too mention the Mosca, named after Tosca...owners pup. Wonder if Oscar de la Renta chose the same coral stone wall effect to mimic this 8th Wonder of the World.

    1. T.S., the multi-talented Oliver Messel also made good use of coral stone in the charming houses he designed in Barbados and Mustique. (More on that in future posts). Your comments are always appreciated. Many thanks.

  6. What a treat to have this post on Heron Bay, a place that's intrigued me ever since seeing a mere sliver of its fabulous loggia in some ancient magazine. I was aware of the house's debt to Palladio (and his design for Villa Barbaro) but that bridge, quite new to me, is positively glorious.

    1. T.W., I am so happy to show something new to you! Many thanks for your on-going comments and participation in the dialogue.

  7. So very enchanting John. Thank you, I adore Heron Bay!

    The Arts by Karena

    1. K.A., I'm glad you enjoyed it; we all need to learn from houses like this. Thanks for commenting.

  8. May I echo Toby Worthington ?- I too have always been fascinated with Heron Bay- the coral stone table in the loggia, the perfecr proportions of he public rooms and the building material itself !- I seem to remember that the grand gates were transplanted from Ditchley- It is almost impossible to find pictures of Heron Bay-Thank you so much

    1. T., I have been fascinated by the impact of Palladio on architecture in the Americas since writing a school paper on the subject in 1975. That interest was encouraged by the 1977 exhibit in the topic at the Cooper-Hewitt, and it has just grown from that. Thank you for commenting.

  9. I enjoyed seeing your photos of Heron Bay. I've visited the house several times, and it has always been one of my favorites in all the world. You don't seem to have a photo of the quite amazing sundials on the gables of the end pavilions which I believe are directly inspired by Palladio.

    1. W.B., thank you for commenting. I particularly love the Palladian references of the gables of the end pavilions. Apparently the beach side is difficult to photograph unless one is out on the water in a boat; I have never seen a professional shot from that angle. If you have any images to share, I would gladly add them as a footnote. Again, thanks for your contribution to the discussion.

  10. Dear John,

    Thank you for sharing this extraordinary house with us. I cant help but wonder if Oscar de la Renta was inspired by Heron Bay when designing his own home in Punta Cana? I see many similarities for sure.



    1. MH, both the de la Renta home and that of Bunny Williams & John Rosselli had the same NY/Cuban architect, Ernesto Buch, who has also designed other houses in Punta Cana. These homeowners are very familiar with Heron Bay which is a standard of tropical classicism, so there could not help but have been some influence.

  11. It was Wendy Nicholls of Colefax and Fowler and not Imogen Taylor who worked on Heron Bay and Daylesford. The Master Bedroom in the one from last photo is her work as is the version of the Drawing Room in the rendering by Will Topley. The gates did indeed come from Ditchley.

    1. Thank you reader. I had also received a direct message about Ms Nicholls and have edited the text. Somewhere I think I have seen a photo of the gates at Heron Bay but could not locate it when writing this post (started over a year ago); thank you for verifying that as well. Your contributions are greatly appreciated.

  12. Thank you for more information on this lovely Venetian screen. Martin Wood's book left me longing to see it in its entirety. Your travellers series is a delight.


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