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St. John Home Graces Cover of Architectural Digest Magazine

July 17, 2007 — A spectacular St. John home created by two Virgin Islanders is featured on the August cover of the prestigious magazine Architectural Digest.
The home is the crowning glory of St. Croix designer Twila Wilson and St. Thomas architect Michael de Haas. St. Thomas architect Wendy Jacobs Ramos designed the landscape. Called Hawksview Estate, it is located between Trunk Bay and Hawksnest Bay.
The home's owners, German natives Karl-Erivan and Katrin Haub, knew what they wanted, Wilson says: "Charlie (Karl-Erivan) has been coming to St. John since he was a teenager, when the Gibney family owned the property. He always knew he would come back to St. John; building this home has been his dream. It's his favorite spot in the world."
Though Wilson expresses her thrill at of seeing her work on the cover of the magazine, she credits the Virgin Islands with her success. "I have the best job in the whole world," she says. "And we are one of the most beautiful locations in the world, with the Caribbean coastline, the sunrises, the sunsets."
The home bursts with dramatic colors — kiwi greens, tangerine, a bright coral, mango, hibiscus pink, raspberry and half a dozen different yellows. "The client is a European, and she likes things very crisp," Wilson says. "None of that Caribbean corny, overcooked pastel."
"When we finally decided to build a house on the island," Architectural Digest quotes Katrina Haub, "it had to be timeless, classic and as sensitive as to the remarkable setting as possible."
"They were willing to let their house sing, and so was I,” Wilson says.
And sing it does. That was all the encouragement Wilson needed. The cover fairly leaps off the page, shot with strong pinks, greens and yellows of the wooden pool house, contrasted with the blue sea in the background against the bright blue pool in the foreground.
Architectural Digest chronicles de Haas' six-year journey on the project from its inception, when the Haubs wanted to feature the island's history by building a sugar mill. But de Haas thought that would take away some of the available views. He designed a 12,000-square-foot, five-bedroom, four-bath structure centered on a lavish courtyard with views of all the neighboring islands.
The Haubs live in a converted clock tower in Cologne, and they invited de Haas to visit and get an idea of the timbered ceiling, which they wanted to incorporate in their island digs, and which de Haas used somewhat with clever asides. The magazine notes that de Haas created a barrel-vaulted hallway ceiling, lower than the villa's other 14-foot ceiling, with a gentle, sloping arch, which he says is a nod to older West Indian architecture. The magazine says de Haas used trussed ceilings anchored by king posts in the gallery and upper floors.
All the windows have shutters to protect against storms, and the entire property is forward-thinking in terms of the environment. There is a cistern, but also a series of wetlands to filter sewage, a series of landscaped troughs that follow the contours of the hill. Plants are nourished and waste is purified at the same time by a gravity-fed system.
Wilson says she has actively worked on the home for three years, and it has been an experience to remember. She recalls the five days it took for a sunrise shot. "We actually wanted to put that on the cover, but we didn't dare crop it, so they did a fold-out, which they never do."
The weather proved a constant challenge.
"Each day we kept getting up early before daylight, and then it would rain,” Wilson says. “We had to take all those pillows and curtains back inside. Dan Forer, who specializes in Caribbean and Florida photography, did the shot."
Wilson says de Haas introduced her and her business partner, Kobie Nichols, to the Haubs. De Haas is off-island and was not available for comment.
A bit of grace and creativity under pressure entered the picture the first Christmas the Haubs spent at their new digs. When they announced they were coming, the house was still under construction, Wilson says. So, she ordered up miles of theatrical gauze and spread it throughout the house, concealing the construction debris.
"You should have seen the look on their faces," Wilson says. "When they walked in and saw everything under tinted gauze, they were transported, thrilled. They rolled out the champagne, and included us in the celebration."
Wilson says she has used that gauze effect as interior curtains in the gallery and for bed tenting in the bedrooms.
This is the second time a Wilson project has been on an Architectural Digest cover. Her St. Croix residence, Clairmont Mill, was featured in January 1997. Wilson and her business and design partner, Kobie Nichols, formed Twila Wilson and Associates in 1997 after Twila closed her popular Java Wraps clothing and home furnishings stores. Her bright-colored batiks and imaginative designs made Java Wraps the clothing store for locals with an eye for originality.
She marvels at making the magazine's cover twice. "It's where I live," she says, "One of the most beautiful places in the world."
Architectural Digest has a circulation of about 4.9 million readers.
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