Following years as an exclusive, paparazzi-free retreat for the rich and famous, the veil of secrecy has now been lifted from this beautiful island resort, as owner and Red Bull co-founder, Dietrich Mateschitz, finally reveals the extensive transformation of its luxury facilities to the public.
Lying to the east of Taveuni, Fiji, the Laucala Island Resort spans just over a third of the island’s 12km² of dreamlike natural scenery. Originally owned by the family of publishing magnate, Malcolm Forbes, the resort changed hands in 2003, before Forbes’ successor, Dietrich Mateschitz, made the decision to transform the island into an inimitable private resort in 2004.
The project was by no means an easy undertaking, as the resort’s former infrastructure proved unsalvageable for its intended purpose, and Dietrich was forced to start from scratch in order to achieve his desired vision.
Together with architect, WATG; landscape architect, Scape Design Associates, and the local architect and project co-ordinator, Architects Pacific, interior design studio, Lynne Hunt London (LHL), was tasked with bringing a unique flavour to the design scheme, while also sustaining the resort’s seamless connection with its surroundings.
In order to achieve this crucial balance, LHL drew upon the unique locality of the resort itself for inspiration. Indeed, Fijian ideology was an integral component, and in particular the key relationship between light and darkness. This concept influenced the materials selected for construction, namely the decision to opt for structures modelled on ‘bures’ – the traditional wood-and-straw huts used by locals for their homes.
Palm-thatched roofs filter beams of light to create playful, atmospheric shadows, while the open-air construction nevertheless allows ambiant light to fill the spaces, and ensures artificial light is kept to a minimum. Instead, subtle lighting around the perimeter guides guests during darker hours, uplighters drawing out the layered nuances of the straw covering overhead.
As well as researching the origins and rich mythology of these Pacific isles – sometimes referred to as the black islands – Lynne actively explored the island, collecting samples of local flora and fauna, and gathering a sense of its innate character and rhythms.
From distressed timber to seashells, palm fronds and even roots, Lynne has made use of Laucala’s abundant materials in order to immerse guests in the gentle hum of island life. Where she was unable to source designs from local craftspeople, suppliers or shops, Lynne and her team designed items themselves. Lynne’s jellyfish-shaped chandeliers, for example, are formed for tortoise shell droplets that hang from the traditional woven threads of ‘magi magi’ – the Fijian term for coconut fibres.
Following a fortuitous encounter with two German manufacturers in Fiji, the team was able to collaborate with Mahogany Industries to create much of the resort’s fittings and joinery. Having studied the design brief in great detail, and developed a custom colour for the timber – the ‘Laucala stain’ – the carpenters were challenged with sourcing a local hardwood that would be fit for purpose.
The solution came in the form of the so-called ‘rain tree’, the timber of which was sufficiently pliable to be hewn into the desired organic shapes, yet strong enough to support the carved Indonesian slate basins on the vanities. Additionally, the team made use of the island’s plentiful supply of mahogany trees for the doors, turned wooden handles and rustic carvings – all custom-designed by LHL.
In translating and, as in this case, actively employing the natural resources available to them, the team was stringent in preserving this precious environment, and in selecting only sustainable materials. From the master plan for the resort – which was tailored to the positioning of certain ancient trees – to the use of locally-sourced and sustainable hardwood, the team’s sensitivity to the environment thus went hand in hand with the design.
This is not to say the environment itself did not pose a significant challenge for Lynne, as the island’s weather conditions and the resort’s open-air layouts meant that careful consideration was needed in the selection of furnishings and fabrics. To combat this, the team created mock-up samples and made informed decisions based around the durability of these products, without sacrificing on style.
Indeed, one thing the resort is not lacking in is style. Its 25 luxury villas – available in one-, two- and three-bedroom configurations – feature large outdoor bathing areas complete with oversized bar tubs and Indonesian slate and pebble-lined showers in the gardens.
Three distinct styles of villa have been designed: the beach-front Plantation Villas offering a natural palette of brown, beige and black; the Seagrass Villas echoing their location on the bay with shades of aqua, turquoise and azure, and the hillside Plateau Villas, finished in an elegant selection of navy blue and teal.
The resort’s many eateries and bars offer this same level of luxury and attention to detail. The Plantation House Restaurant, for example, replicates the architectural style of Malcolm Forbes’ original Plantation House, which was situated on the same inland site looking out over the coconut plantation.
Black and white images of tattooed Oceanic islanders, photographed by Gian Paolo Barbieri, acted as inspiration for the venue’s sepia tones and textures, while the red and yellow hibiscus patterns of the sofa cushions soften the look somewhat.
The Seagrass Restaurant, which serves seafood and Asian cuisine, offers an alfresco setting situated on the craggy terrain of the shoreline, while, for a more casual experience, guests can visit the Rock Lounge, which boasts a thatched canopy pergola overlooking the ocean.
Another highlight is the resort’s pool and pool bar area. An expansive waterfall pool surrounds a second glass-walled pool, while clamshell pavilions, loungers and umbrella tables provide shade around the perimeter.
The cultural and leisure centre as a whole encourages guests to get involved with Fijian culture. While dances and live music take place outdoors, this area also comprises a fitness centre, changing rooms, and even a double-storey thatched roof pavilion where guests can relax or socialise as they please.
The resort’s spa offers yet another haven for guests, its interior and range of authentic, nature-based products in keeping with LHL’s overarching emphasis on organic themes.
In the reception area, a custom-made curved wooden sofa is adorned with soft, unbleached canvas seat cushions and throw pillows in a bespoke Florence Broadhurst fabric. For the welcome desk, Lynne selected a sizeable slab of richly polished rain tree timber, clad in sandy-hued coconut palm strips.
Comprising a beauty salon, manicure/pedicure zone and four large individual treatment pavilions composed of a sequence of spaces, the spa offers multifarious environments and experiences.
Interior relaxation rooms feature antique Balinese beds, alongside bowls carved from lava rock. Meanwhile, the outdoor bathing areas offer tubs and washbasins made from solid slabs of Indonesian slate, strategically placed to offer views of the Pacific Ocean.
From the immaculately-executed villas to the tastefully-themed and decorated bar, restaurant and leisure facilities, each and every last detail is the result of years of work and dedication by the LHL team. Enacting a flawless celebration of local custom, craft and culture, the resort most certainly offers guests an authentic and entirely unforgettable insight into the beauty and mystique of Laucala Island.