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Oliver Messel: A Legacy of Extraordinary Houses in Barbados
Oliver Messel: A Legacy of Extraordinary Houses in Barbados

Famous Villas in Barbados

Updated over a week ago

Updated 29 June 2023

When it comes to the most sought-after houses on the island of Barbados, the properties designed by Oliver Messel consistently rank among the finest.

Born in London in 1904 and educated at Eton College, Messel initially pursued a career as a portrait painter before transitioning into the world of theater, where he became one of the leading designers of the 20th century. His expertise in theatrical illusion and his remarkable artistic talents soon garnered him international acclaim.

During World War II, Messel's artistic talents were put to use as a camouflage officer, reveling in the creation of disguises. However, it was his work in theater design, including sets, masks, and costumes, that truly established his reputation. In 1953, he was commissioned to design the decor of the Oliver Messel Suite in London's Dorchester hotel, a lavishly ornate space that blended baroque and rococo styles. The suite became a favorite retreat for Elizabeth Taylor during her stays in the city and has since been preserved as part of Britain's national heritage, with the assistance of Messel's nephew, Lord Snowden.

In 1959, at the age of 55 and plagued by arthritis, Messel relocated from England to Barbados. The vibrant colors and luminous light of the Caribbean inspired him, and he spent the next 19 years of his life on the island until his death in 1978 at the age of 74. It was in Barbados that Messel embarked on a new career as an architect and interior designer, showcasing his extraordinary eye for detail and theatrical flair.

Although Messel lacked formal training as an architect, his designs were nothing short of remarkable. He had an innate ability to infuse his creations with a touch of drama and a sense of grandeur. Pillars, lattice work, and Baroque styles were his signature, and he was particularly fond of incorporating the local Barbados coral stone into his designs. The coral stone carvings found in the houses he created are now treasured works of art in their own right.

Messel's symmetrical and romantic designs have stood the test of time, and his use of coral stone is particularly evident in the dining room of Leamington Pavilion, one of his masterpieces. Located on the northern part of Barbados' west coast, just before Speightstown, Leamington Pavilion showcases Messel's meticulous attention to detail and his ability to create spaces that evoke romance and beauty.

Messel's love for Barbados truly blossomed when he purchased a run-down property on St. James Beach. It was during this time that Messel's fondness for the subtle sage green paint, now famously known as "Messel Green," became his trademark.

Among the notable houses Messel designed in Barbados are Fustic House, Leamington House and Pavilion (commissioned by the Heinz family), Cockade House, St. Helena, Mango Bay, Nelson Gay, and Crystal Springs. Each of these properties showcases Messel's distinctive style, blending elegance, sophistication, and an innate appreciation for the island's natural beauty.

Although there will be no new Messel-designed houses, fortunate individuals can still experience the magic by renting one of these remarkable properties. Fustic House, Crystal Springs, Leamington Pavilion, Leamington House, St. Helena, Mango Bay and Nelson Gay are all available for holiday rentals, offering a unique opportunity to immerse oneself in the enchanting world of Oliver Messel's architectural and design prowess.

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