Photo Credit: Thierry Dehove Photography & Ani Villas
Nestled amid the Leeward islands of the Caribbean and positioned just northeast of the bustling island of St. Martin, the tiny 17 by three mile island of Anguilla rests gently among her sisters, quietly beckoning to travelers near and far, with her 30 beautiful beaches and understated demeanor.
Perhaps beautiful beaches and understated demeanor are two of the primary reasons why some of the world’s mega wealthy have selected Anguilla as the island of choice to build some of the Caribbean’s most magnificent villas – a quiet island with no casinos, no cruise ships and no "all inclusive" resorts anywhere in sight – affording a peaceful hideaway for honeymooners and discerning travelers alike, searching for a little well deserved R&R.
Sleek, sexy and oh, so luxurious might just be the way I would describe Ani
Villas, the newest addition to the luxury private villa collection to sweep this tiny island. Architecturally crafted by Lee Skolnick, Ani is truly a contemporary work of art. It has an organic feel that surprisingly maintains the depth, warmth and coziness of a wealthy family retreat, as well as the sexiness of a romantic hideaway, making for an exceptional marriage.
The concept behind this architectural masterpiece should be attributed to a vision shared by Bonnie and Ira Bloom, the original developers. The couple had initially begun the project with fellow investors. However, as fate would have it, a business mogul from New York purchased the villas prior to construction, affording Bonnie and Ira a new and exciting partnership that would later yield even greater things to come.
The Blooms had initially set out to find a secluded stretch of land with incredible views and interesting textures to compliment the intended design – a set of glamorous glass twin (almost) villas – luxurious, sophisticated, clean, however not fussy, and exuding a warmth that can be felt from the moment you pull up the drive. The design would reflect the earth tones and subtle natural elements seen throughout Anguilla, by way of the stones, the wood, the sand, and even the scrub.
Lee Skolnick, of Skolnick Design Partnership, had dazzled the Blooms on a previous project they’d had the pleasure of sharing, so it was only natural he’d be the appropriate man for the job. There seemed to be an unspoken synergy between Lee’s architectural strengths and Bonnie’s interior design concepts, allowing the birth of Ani to flourish with great ease.
Wanting to design something with a modern flair, one that allowed for views whenever and wherever possible, Skolnick and the Blooms inevitably turned to the seascapes as their ultimate source of inspiration. They wanted to successfully utilize the 270 degrees views of ocean front, stretching from he West End of Anguilla to Sandy Island and as far as Prickly Pear.
Having used photographs of rocks, the soil and some sun bleached dead wood that had been lying around the property site, these natural elements served as an inspiration for color and texture in their selection of building materials, such as South American hardwood from Guyana, for its driftwood like appeal. They created numerous rock walls which seemed to mirror the color of the stones found around the property. They then laid down Mediterranean Lime Stone floors and deliberately placed large pebbles throughout, as well as water features – many of them, for their calming effect.
The five-bedroom (each) villas showcase enormous floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows, along with massive skylights to truly capture the light and maximize the view. Bonnie designed some of the furniture during a visit to Indonesia. She’d found some amazing pieces of wood, interesting grain, unusual formations and terrific character in the way the wood had aged. She arranged for a number of these pieces to be taken to the local Indonesian wood shops where she carefully explained what she was trying to achieve.
The workmanship was outstanding with how accurately they brought Bloom’s vision to life. Anything Bonnie did not have custom made for the villas she found and purchased elsewhere throughout Asia. However, as impressive as both the handcrafted Indonesian talent and finds might have been, the transport of goods took a painfully long time – approximately three months, requiring the Blooms to have a very well thought out plan.
Additionally, one of the villas has been designed to be completely wheelchair accessible. It is equipped with an elevator, hydraulic pool lift, ramps, table/chair heights, and more. It was an extremely well executed design, as everything is so subtly incorporated that you really don’t notice at first glance.
Constructing Ani was clearly a challenge, as Anguilla is not known for such elaborate and contemporary buildings. The architecture is more sophisticated than what the builders on the island were accustomed to. With that said, the team required a great deal of assistance and supervision from the engineers and project managers. "It’s always a hair-pulling mess to try and build on a small island," says Bloom.
"You can't always run down to the hardware store or the lumber yard to get what you need; sometimes you need to order materials from abroad and wait for weeks in baited breath until they arrive." The buildings, with a well thought out design and a little bit of luck would hope for, turned out beautifully. I think it is safe to say that both the design and construction team are now equipped to take on much more challenging projects than perhaps they were before.
Now that the project is complete, the scene is breathtaking, sexy, contemporary, chic and completely inviting. The grounds are laden with plumeria, frangipani and natural bougainvillea. There’s also a good deal of Madagascar jasmine and gardenias for their sweet scent. The surrounding area is an expression of art imitating life, on Anguilla that is, earthy and a bit arid, not to compete with the magnificent Caribbean Sea just below.
Upon arrival, guests are greeted by the delightful Lucien MacDonna, otherwise known as Mac. He is the Property Manager and caters to your every whim, ensuring that your visit is a great success. Mac’s supported by an amazing team of chefs, housekeepers and maintenance staff that collectively help to create a tailored Ani experience designed just for you.
Once inside, the villas are a dream; gorgeously and uniquely appointed, artistic, warm and boasting every possible state-of-the-art gadget. The villas are broken up into tiers and spacious balconies, yet no matter where you stand or climb, lay, sit or even bathe, you seem to have that view – that incredible reminder of why you arrived in the first place.
Catering to honeymooners, singles, families, friends, or even those looking to hold a special event, Ani has proven to an outstanding choice. Ani is built for it all. A group of singles would have a blast with plenty of private spaces for quiet relaxation or to share a romantic moment, but it also has ample mingling areas on all levels. "We are very suited for family travel with three master bedrooms in each house and plenty of space for extra beds in the guest rooms," says Bonnie.
Ani was designed with small weddings and events in mind. It boasts a wonderful Wedding Platform allowing Ani to entertain 30 guests for an intimate sit-down dinner, including space for a seven piece band or a 100-person full blown cocktail/dance party arranged beneath Arabian style tents – and, of course, the stars. Whatever your occasion, be it a private getaway for you and a loved one or a small gathering with close friends or family, Ani promises to dazzle.
So it was a fateful transaction some time ago that afforded Bonnie and Ira Bloom to join forces with the new owner of Ani Villas, and ultimately enter into a new, five-star hospitality business.
The dynamic threesome have plans to build the Ani "brand" worldwide, raising the benchmark on luxury villa standards (and experiences) across the globe. The next project has already begun near Playa Grande in the Dominican Republic. They have just acquired an amazing beachfront piece of land on a small island in Thailand.
During the next three to four years, the group expects to have Sri Lanka, Zanzibar and the Seychelles added to their portfolio. Each destination will have one or two villas, large enough for weddings and events; or as the new trend in travel, 'generational travel.' The villas will always be serviced ultra high-end, with a full staff, and lots of luxurious amenities included.
Ani was a word I initially found unusual for the nearly twin set of glass villas that command such architectural prowess peering out over Anguilla’s breathtaking "Little Bay" below. However, during my discussions with Bonnie Bloom, I found the name was quite natural. Ani is apparently a play on the Swahili word Andjani which means the "road" or the "path ahead."
And so it is that three visionaries with boundless ambition have ventured into this union to create an entire luxury brand that will one day grace the pages of discerning travel magazines everywhere, not to mention they’re premier creation, a tiered set of glass villas through which one can see for miles.
Ani or the "path ahead" is actually a terrific name, and as a tribute to its Swahili roots, I wish Ani a Vema Safari a good journey.