Creating a Private Island Paradise

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Most designers spend their days creating office blocks, shopping malls, and suburban wastelands – not so for Carl Ettensperger of C&C Studio, the man who pioneered some of the world’s most striking tropical private island resorts, including Maldivian oases like Huvafen Fushi and the spectacular Conrad Rangali Resort. In his illustrious career, he’s also been the driving creative force behind international resort projects for Mandarin Oriental, Hyatt Regency, and now the eagerly anticipated Dellis Cay, soon to be home to the Caribbean’s most stylish residence and resort development. We spoke with him to get his unique perspective on just what it takes to make private island resorts such unforgettable, luxurious places for guests.

PRIVATE ISLANDS: What initially attracted you to resort design – did you start off doing something more traditional, or was it always your ambition?

ETTENSPERGER: I actually started doing resorts very early in my career, starting with Golf & Spa related resorts in Palm Springs California, the restoration of the Hotel del Cornado in San Diego, and moved on to doing resorts in the Arizona desert as well as Hawaii. I like the freedom of being able to mix interiors with the exteriors and have large impact on how the resort is used. I find resorts a lot more fun for this than city hotels where the interior designer is often confined to the interior only.

PRIVATE ISLANDS: As someone with a broad range of experience in hotel and resort design, have you found any particular challenges inherent in creating private island resorts?

ETTENSPERGER: Yes, very much so. One of the most important issues is privacy for the guest while in their guestroom. Islands are small places with limited views and points of interest – another challenge is limiting the public areas to what is just necessary, and hiding from the guest’s view the “back-of-the-house” service areas that would diminish their fantasy experience of the island.

PRIVATE ISLANDS: Can you describe the inspiration behind the design for Conrad Rangali in the Maldives, which is one of the world’s most iconic island resorts?

ETTENSPERGER: The inspiration for what I did there was to do my best to blend the structures of the resort with the island’s natural beauty. It was a rare virgin island that had never had construction – on my first arrival on the island I was amazed at the variety of bird life. We purposely made sure that there was not any kind of over-crowding with the guestrooms, and used natural materials throughout – keeping the principle that when it comes to structures, less is more.

PRIVATE ISLANDS: Huvafen Fushi is another exceptional Maldives property – when designing the resort, what sort of experience did you intend for guests to have, and is there a particular mood created by setting the guestrooms over the water?

ETTENSPERGER: I’d describe it as “the best, with ease”. We kept saying to ourselves that this resort needed to represent the atmosphere we coined as “bare-foot” luxury. Over water bungalows create a beautiful experience that is very calming, and at the same time gives guests a true sense of freedom, and a relaxing proximity to the natural world.

PRIVATE ISLANDS: What steps do you take to ensure that island resorts balance with the needs of the environment?

ETTENSPERGER: The issue of being “environmentally friendly” has been around for a good amount of time now – I personally think other than using sustainable materials and maintenance there is not much else an interior designer can really do. The real savings and impact on the environment comes from how efficient the building can be in terms of the use of energy, waste, and operational items used.

PRIVATE ISLANDS: Is there a particular private island project that you feel especially proud of creating?

ETTENSPERGER: My newest one that I am working on currently as part of a team of architects, Dellis Cay, located in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

PRIVATE ISLANDS: Was there any overarching theme or inspiration you used in your designs on Dellis?

ETTENSPERGER: I did not wish Dellis Cay to look like I transplanted South East Asia to the Caribbean. I had always admired Luis Barrigon and Recardo Reguletta while in college, so I took some of the simple design principles these two great architects have done – which all said to me, this is Spanish. This is the true tropical vernacular of this region of the world, and I combined it with my own experience of designing a villa completely over the water. It was a very interesting and fun project for me.

PRIVATE ISLANDS: How is designing a residential project like Dellis Cay different from the many island resorts you’ve created, such as those in the Maldives?

ETTENSPERGER: A project like Dellis Cay needs to be about more than simply creating a fantasy vacation, like that of a resort – people are functioning independently in their residences, and more consideration needs to be given to the practical aspects of life, like laundry and cooking facilities. Other than that, there is a very similar quality to the design – incorporating style, luxury and modern conveniences into the natural beauty of the island’s environment.

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