An Ibizan villa lets in the light – and the art – and becomes a lesson in laid-back living
Comfortable domesticity and freewheeling hippiedom don’t normally go hand in hand but they happily coexisted in Hollie Bowden’s childhood. “I grew up in rural Gloucestershire,” she recalls when we meet in a very different environment – her Shoreditch studio. “My parents were real homemakers who restored properties,” continues the interior designer, who has undertaken projects in London, Los Angeles and Ibiza. “My mum transformed our homes into beautiful spaces, which were always unique and a bit mad. Her taste was maximalist: ornaments, pattern-on-pattern fabrics. My dad sought out interesting objects: he’d repurpose old limestone slabs to make patios or water features.”
As you may have guessed, Bowden is conjuring memories of the 1980s when more-is-more interiors, typically decked out with chintzy fabrics, were in vogue. She and her parents also travelled all over Spain and France in a camper van. “We lived like hippies. But our homes were always cosy and tidy despite the madness of having so much stuff. As a designer, I learnt from my mum to get on with it and be brave.”
Bowden studied at the KLC School of Design in London’s Chelsea Harbour and gained some hands-on experience while doing up a house in Hertfordshire with an ex-boyfriend: “I bought mirrors and tables for it from London’s Alfies Antiques Market.” After moving to London aged 23, she worked briefly for glitzy property developer Candy & Candy, “but I didn’t fit in there – I don’t like flashy materials”. More to her taste was a project she worked on with interior designer Harriet Holgate, a converted church in Kensal Green. “We stripped it back but kept the original features, such as the stained-glass windows.” She sums up her style today as follows: “I love juxtaposing natural materials with more modern fabricated ones, such as steel or Lucite.”
This ethos shows in one of her projects, the redesign of a seven-bedroom house in the village of Es Cubells on the south-west coast of Ibiza. Bowden’s clients, who own a large art collection, had seen another project by her on the island, liked it and gave her carte blanche with their own villa, which now includes a glamorous triple-height living area, a media room, gym and spa.
I love juxtaposing natural materials with more modern fabricated ones, such as steel or Lucite
The house was built in the 1980s, and when the current homeowners bought it, it felt oppressive inside, partly due to a lack of connection with the outside world – and the incredible ocean views – and partly because of a liberal use of heavy-looking dark wood. To prove it, Bowden shows me a “before” image of the interior with a staircase in the triple-height space which had a heavily polished floor in a murky brown that looked like an abyss. A grandiose balustrade once led up to its mezzanine level, but almost screened the latter from view.
“What’s more, the space didn’t flow,” she adds. One of Bowden’s main ideas was to use a restricted palette of materials to help tie it all together: “I chose a pale poured concrete floor to create a more seamless look and make the house feel less sombre.” The staircase’s white balustrade has been replaced with a glass one; the mezzanine is used as a home office, and has an uninterrupted view of the space below. The paving outside the front door was replaced with antique limestone, sourced in Italy.
The house already had wooden beams with a dark stain, which were stripped back to reveal a paler colour. Bowden restored some existing wooden doors and added new ones to fill empty doorways; the latter were made of reclaimed wood, in order to harmonise with the originals. Complementing the architecture, objects made from timber feature throughout, such as an Ethiopian stool found in the spa, or a mid-century “throne” with totem-like arms in the living area that’s just as much as piece of art as it is functional seating. Both Bowden and her client found that they shared a love of the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi – the finding of beauty in imperfection – and all of this gnarled, carved and patinated wood is the perfect expression of that philosophy.
There are other sculptural elements too, such as the 16th-century fireplace from Brussels that had to be carefully reassembled; a herringbone brick hearth in the kitchen; a marble surfboard sculpture by Reena Spaulings leaning against a wall; and a bespoke, rustic-looking bath made of micro-cement in the master bathroom, which also features locally made ironmongery. Above the bath, an enormous new window has been added, which fills the room with daylight. Windows have been enlarged in the main living area as well, and steel doors installed to better frame the view. By contrast, the media room with a home cinema is deliberately dark and cosy, with rough plaster walls and a long, cushion-strewn sofa in charcoal grey.
Overrall Bowden’s redesign has purged the house – in its earlier incarnation – of its misplaced, leaden formality and restored an informality and airiness to it, appropriate to Ibiza and its casual Mediterranean lifestyle.