When Nathalie and Hendrik – a fashion stylist and interiors consultant and marketing and communications expert respectively – first came to Ibiza for a friend’s birthday party in 2011, they couldn’t have imagined five years later they would own their own home on the island. The idea of Ibiza was a little garish to the Belgian couple, their perception of island style a little too slick and bling, and yet from the moment they arrived, it was very clear there was an authentic spirit that broke away from any preconceived notions they may have had. Ibiza had won their hearts. With extensive experience in managing a successful holiday home on the border of Belgium and the South of France, the duo were in the market for another project. They were seeking a place they could retreat to for their own valuable vacation downtime, but also somewhere that could be commercially viable as a holiday rental while they were not in residence. “My dream was to have something with a sea view,” Nathalie explains of the search for the right property. “But Hendrik loves the mountains. We looked at Portugal, at Santorini and Mallorca… but nothing had the spirit of Ibiza.”
And so the search for an Ibiza villa was on – a place where you could be surrounded by beautiful mountains and gaze across the azure Mediterranean Sea. A place that felt luxurious, yet bohemian; raw and natural, but absolutely never artificial. In May 2015, they stumbled across a typically Spanish house circa 1970 – all cheap tiles, plastic finishes and bad paintwork, but the creative couple immediately felt and saw its potential. By August, they had become owners of what would come to be known as Casa Romero and the transformational renovation work began. “It just didn’t look or feel like a holiday to me,” says Nathalie, who also consults with the Belgian government on styling and refitting touristic properties to suit the luxury market. “We wanted to bring it back to a more traditional Ibicenco style with a Mediterranean holiday feeling – what it should have been in the first place!” Taking a complete hands-on approach to the project, the entrepreneurial couple worked to strip the dark and unattractive existing paintwork, replace all tiling with chic brushed concrete surfaces and to switch all plastic and PVC pieces to classic, raw and natural wood, instantly bringing the home into the present style, with a nod to its island heritage.
Admitting most of the time spent at Casa Romero since acquiring the property has been more of a case of work rather than play, the aim was to have the first stage of renovations complete in time for Nathalie and Hendrik’s May 2016 nuptials – the first time they would really enjoy their new home with friends and family. Learning very quickly to adapt to ‘island time’ and go with the flow of the locals’ way of doing business, the couple worked closely with architects, constructors and landscape gardeners who really understood the land and climate to see their dream come to life, starting with the lower level of the house. Three of the five bedrooms are spread out spaciously here with the star suite – dubbed ‘the Santorini room’ – actually carved into the stone beneath the house, like a cave. Carefully restored pieces of rare Sabina wood, found on the property, were laid into doorways and arches to add the traditional feeling, as were latticed cupboards and wardrobe spaces – adding natural form and organic texture to the spaces. Each of the ensuite bathrooms were designed like spa wet rooms, and feature stylish black tap fittings and Italian designer basins that stand out almost like a sculpture centrepiece from the rendered concrete finishes.
It’s pared back and simple, and yet instantly feels homely. “The point was not to appear artificial,” says Nathalie of the design and decoration process. “It was about a warm and natural ambience – we have a lot of white and it does appear minimalistic, but it is not sterile. Just like when you see the old fincas – there are raw and natural materials everywhere. I wanted to make people feel as though they could ‘live’ in the house, especially people with families. It should be a comfortable home away from home, not like a slick hotel. I hope as it gets older and lived in, it starts to get even more interesting.” When it came to decorating, Nathalie had a very clear vision for how Blue Hill House’s aesthetic would come together. “Some of the things in the house I have had for a long time and others I found specifically for the project. I am shopping every day for my job in Belgium and I have so many Pinterest boards and mood boards too. I knew the kind of mix of things I wanted and where to find them. Nothing too bling – it’s just not us.” Think rustic wooden benches offset with Eames chairs; a gold bed headboard (handmade by Nathalie) contrasting with a vintage peacock wicker chair; Moroccan rugs and wedding blankets sitting alongside traditional Ibicenco woven baskets and Bruge lace crochet bedding. A luxurious bohemian interior.
The gardens were one of the biggest challenges according to Hendrik, yet also yielded one of the biggest surprises. After meticulously digging through rocks and weeds to create chill out zones and plant a Mediterranean garden around the house, the next step was to start work on clearing the pine forest around the house, where it appeared the pine trees had started to kill out the valuable Sabina trees on the hill. Now, Nathalie and Hendrick have committed to preserving the Sabinas and have planted over 200 on their hillside, hoping to restore it to its former glory. The real surprise however, came as a by-product of landscaping. As they were walking around the land with their trusted gardening advisor and entrepreneur Fran Alonso of Ibiyepro, he pointed out the fruitful supply of juniper berries, cactus flowers, wild rosemary flowers and Mediterranean herbs on hand. “What could we do with it?” Hendrik asked of the landscaper. “Make gin of course!” Although neither Hendrik nor Nathalie were experts on gin to begin with, some extensive research saw them connect with a very respected Belgian professor who worked with them on distilling their homegrown botanicals and Blue Hill Ibiza dry London Gin was born. “It started out as a joke really,” Hendrik admits, as he pours a glass of the exceptionally clean tasting, fragrant spirit directly from the source, a hefty metal tank. “I wasn’t even really a fan of gin before, but now I love it. The professor who we work with has created his own gin, that was awarded second best place in a respected gin contest, and now he thinks Blue Hill Gin is even better. We are convinced this is the best quality in the world and it is so limited due to the batches of fruit on our land. In the beginning, it was just for our family and friends to try, plus a promotional tool for guests who were renting the villa but now, maybe we’ll do something with it. I think it’s very important to keep it artisan.”
As the couple settle in on their long, bespoke wooden banquets to take in the breathtaking view over Cala Conta, they both admit the house now has a quality that makes them want to stay home more often than go out. “It’s funny,” muses Nathalie. “We want to see more of Ibiza – and we do go out and explore, and go to eat, or to have a drink somewhere – but we look at each other and we know we reach the point where we just want to go home and enjoy the house, relax and look out at the lights.” Hendrik agrees. “There’s something about Ibiza,” he says. “It’s beautiful, but of course there are other places in the world that are beautiful. There’s sunshine, but other places have sunshine. So what is it?” In the end, they accept it is perhaps indescribable and prefer to reflect on the ever-changing perspective from Casa Romero over the course of the day and night. “What place is better than this?” says Nathalie, gesturing across the valley, over the sea and towards the lights of San Antonio. She’s got a point – if you’ve got it, enjoy it! Photography by Sofia Gomez Fonzo