Here is a happy (though sometimes challenging) story about how a couple’s decision to find a little house for themselves in a quieter part of Negril, turned into a six year project and a three thousand square foot villa on a rocky and almost inaccessible cliffside. “The real estate agent who showed us the land actually had to use a machete to cut the bush just to get us to the site,” Anna Reader says smiling as she tells the story of how she and her husband, Clifton, climbed over barbed wire and scratched themselves on brambles in their quest to build a villa on an acre of pristine land over the ocean.
“We climbed through the bush, stepped out of the trees and there was the ocean!” says Anna.” It was just one of those ‘Wow’ moments.” So despite the Readers’ determination to “just find a little house” and their lack of time for, or interest in, major construction, they were sold on the wild acre by the sea that eventually would be Little Waters on the Cliff. “It was just one of those things that only comes up once in a lifetime. We had to do it.”
With both Anna and Clifton holding significant positions in Jamaica’s tourism industry there wasn’t much time to devote to their enormous project. The first steps, dealing with the wildly overgrown land, cutting a road into the property and hauling in topsoil, stretched over several years. “Every day off from work we cleared bush. We had help, but it was hard!”
The preparation for construction alone took three years, so imagine the couple’s dismay when, the work was almost done, their jobs suddenly moved them to another city a few hours away! Now in order to keep a close eye on the construction they had to drive two hours each way to get to and from Negril. Every Sunday, Anna says, they got into their car and went back to monitor the project. Their absence during the week led to some unexpected and unwelcome surprises. On one trip back they found all the walls of one of the bedrooms were off by several feet. Down they came! The job had to be done all over again. “Those are the frustrations and agonies of construction,” she says with kind of laughter that is only possible in hindsight.
The Readers decided they wanted something very modern for their new house. The design they chose, a sleek glass fronted home, was unusual for the area. “Concrete and steel, clean lines and lots and lots of glass,” she says. The house from the beginning was, after all, about the views. “We just knew we wanted to bring the outside inside.” It was also all about simplicity, says Anna.
That simplicity extends to the interior as well as exterior. The home is a field of neutral-hued textures. The smooth concrete surfaces of the off-white walls are calming. Tile floors on the lower level are beautiful but also functional as they keep the house cool. There are pale bamboo floors in one bedroom and a rich grainy jatoba wood floor in another. Simple unbleached white calico drapes keep the afternoon sun at bay. Against this backdrop of tranquility, the only nod to what might be called “decorative” is the furniture. Anna and Clifton have chosen predominantly Balinese furnishings. “We honeymooned in Bali and loved the local arts,” explains Anna. One bed, for example, is inlaid with coconut shells. A daybed in the living room and the eight-seat dining room table are riotously adorned with hand carved floral motifs and banana leaves. She also points proudly to a favorite purchase, a bamboo bed crafted by a Jamaican artisan.
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The Readers are fans of local craftsmanship, whether in Bali or Jamaica, but Anna says, other than utilitarian objects such as the furniture, she is not much of a collector. “I’m just not the object d’art sort of person.” The one impressive collection, however, that the Readers do share with their guests is a series of paintings by self-taught Jamaican artist, Kenneth Abendana Spencer. Spencer, considered a modern impressionist, painted landscapes and vignettes of Jamaican daily life. Anna’s favorite which she loves to point out to guests, is the seascape in one of the bedrooms.
For decorative art, however, nothing beats nature. All but one of the rooms (including the bathrooms) has a view of the sea. Fling open the long white drapes and there is the ocean, Anna says, with an intake of breath that expresses more than her words. Her favorite sea view is from the balcony of the master bedroom. There are small fishing boats, gentle white-capped waves, dolphins and the glorious sunset. “I could literally spend my whole day relaxing in the chaise longue there,” she says.
And the art of nature doesn’t stop at the dramatic ocean views from floor to ceiling glass windows or patio and balconies. It’s lovely to see dolphin pods off in the distance, but better to see them up close. Little Waters has two small sea caves at the foot of the cliff where guests, both swimmers and non-swimmers, can either float in the crystal waters or sit on a small stone bench in the cave and watch for dolphins who cavort near by.
Amateur botanists and horticulturists will love the thatched palms, coconut, cherry, banana and ackee trees surrounding the house. Of course the fruits from these trees make their appearance on the breakfast table too, Anna says. “When we have ackee and salt fish (a local Jamaican favorite breakfast), the ackee comes from our own trees!” And the pumpkin for the traditional Jamaican spicy pumpkin soup comes from the villa’s garden. The garden also has lemon grass (known locally as fever grass) which Anna is quick to point isn’t just an ingredient for a Thai gourmet meal, but, as the name suggests, a Jamaican cure-all for fever.
A few decades ago, Negril, Anna says, was once a little quiet village where residents fished and gardened and a few brave counter-culture explorers set up camps in the jungle hillsides. Today, however, Negril is a major tourist destination. There are clubs where you can hear live reggae bands, party boats along the coast and many fine dining options. But out on the west end of the town where you’ll find Little Waters, things are quieter and more local. Anna and Clifton recommend taking a walk to the little nearby cliffside bar, LTU for grilled lobster. Or, she says, venture a little further to the ramshackle 3 Dives. There, she advises, “Just settle down at a wooden picnic table on the beach, and enjoy some jerk chicken and, of course, a cool Red Stripe.” But at evening’s end, she says, walk back to Little Waters and stargaze in the stillness from the terrace over the sea.
Find out more about Little Waters on the Cliff