Almost two years have passed since Hurricane Maria tore through the shores of Puerto Rico, and the island’s recovery – both physical and psychological – is still ongoing. Re-building will likely be a long process, but through the strength of its community and with a welcome upturn in tourism, significant progress has already been made.

One of Puerto Rico’s best-loved resorts, Dorado Beach, has undergone significant restoration to repair the damage wrought on its buildings and grounds. Retaining its DNA, but refreshed and optimised, the resort reopened one year after the storm, asserting Puerto Rico’s readiness to welcome guests once more.

A fundamental part of this renovation has been the revival of Su Casa – a striking 1920s Spanish-style hacienda set within its lustrous grounds. For Champalimaud, the project was deeply engrained in the wider fabric of Puerto Rico’s recovery efforts. 

“Hurricane Maria was thought of as part of the island’s history, not as a defining event. That optimism inspired us deeply. From our earliest visits to the property we could feel the determination from every person we met to rebuild Puerto Rico and even exceed the previous standards”

“Hurricane Maria was thought of as part of the island’s history, not as a defining event,” explains Champalimaud’s Anna Beeber, who co-led the project with Elisabeth Rogoff. “That optimism inspired us deeply. From our earliest visits to the property we could feel the determination from every person we met to rebuild Puerto Rico and even exceed the previous standards.”

Su Casa is part of the local fabric in more ways than one, however. It was in fact the former estate of Clara Livingston, the 200th licensed female pilot and 11th female helicopter pilot in the world. Clara took up residence here in the 1930s, later building an airfield on the property, and famously hosting aviation pioneer, Amelia Earhart.

Clara’s unique story was fundamental to Champalimaud’s design concept for Su Casa, Anna explains. “She was a profoundly modern woman and by embracing her strengths and passions she created a magical place and this energy can be felt a century later,” she says. “In some ways, it was actually quite easy for us to retain the sense of heritage she instilled.

“We imagined Clara as a highly sophisticated, calm and elegant woman with a pension for welcoming friends from all over the world to enjoy the sanctuary of Dorado.  Our goal was to mirror that sophistication and elegance in the new design for Su Casa to host the modern traveler.”

“Clara was a profoundly modern woman and by embracing her strengths and passions she created a magical place and this energy can be felt a century later. In some ways, it was actually quite easy for us to retain the sense of heritage she instilled”

In order to achieve this, Champalimaud has embraced the heritage of the building’s foundation and original architecture, whilst carefully configuring the layout to appeal to the multi-generational guest. 

Five bedrooms across the villa’s two stories can accommodate 12 guests, each complete with a walk-in closet and a spacious connecting bathroom. The impressive communal areas incorporate a living room, dining room, game room, private infinity pool, media room, private spa treatment room, and even outdoor seating with a fireplace.

“The visitor to Su Casa is seeking the highest level of service and privacy,” Anna explains. “Whether it be a group of friends, a multi-generational family, or simply a couple on a romantic getaway, each guest needs the same thing: a relaxed, comfortable, and intimate environment that inspires and gives a sense of peace.

“With this in mind, we created many areas for peaceful reflection and others for social interaction. Each suite has a private sitting area with a stunning view while the living room and games room are dynamic and inviting to larger groups.

“Most guests visiting Su Casa stay for a week or so and will never leave the enclave. We worked hard to create unique lounging and dining areas within the property to allow for different experiences during the stay.”

Su Casa’s floor-to-ceiling windows highlight the glorious coastal views and flood the interior with ample natural light, while white oak ceilings and black and white cement tile flooring add to the warm, uplifting feel.  

Champalimaud has opted for a colour palette of soft, breezy pastels throughout, but striking murals painted by Puerto Rican artist, Sophia Maldonado, provide vibrant pops of colour. 

The furnishings are a blend of custom-designed pieces by Champalimaud – such as the built-in sofas within the suites – and original antiques from the earliest owners of Su Casa, which ensure its history is ever-present. 

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the project were the significant time restraints, necessary to ensure the property was up and running again in as short an amount of time as possible. 

“The construction team did a phenomenal job, working night and day to renovate,” says Anna. “On our end, we designed pieces that could be made in New York and shipped easily to the island, specifying in stock fabrics, rugs with short lead-times, and working with local sources and fabricators as much as possible.”  

Despite this challenging timeline, the talent and passion of the Champalimaud team have ensured that Su Casa is a shining beacon within the Dorado Beach resort. As this, and the island’s other key resorts and tourist spots begin to rebuild and repair, there is hope that so too will Puerto Rico’s economy and community.

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