Georgina Scarbrough Penn’s heart has been in Ibiza since she was 17 years old. Born in Yorkshire, she’d heard tales of a magical island where you could laze on the beach and shop at hippy markets by day, then dance the night away until it was time to watch the sunrise. It was a place where rain and grey skies didn’t seem to exist and troubles seemed to melt away. Her first holiday here in 1995 didn’t disappoint. It was everything she’d ever dreamed of and more. From the minute she touched down, she was in love. Love and Ibiza would become recurring themes in her life – love for the island, love for its lifestyle and love in the form of her future husband, Will Penn, who she met while holidaying in Ibiza in 1998 and has been with ever since. The couple shared a long-term love affair with Spain, having spent many childhood summer holidays here as Georgina’s grandmother owned an apartment in Menorca while Will’s family often stayed in St Martin, near Girona.
Will and Georgina made a point of holidaying in the Balearics several times a year, dividing their time between Ibiza and Formentera. It was a sun-drenched, long and lazy lunch on Ibiza’s sister isle that prompted a very serious question: how could they make this their reality, rather then return to London where Georgina worked as a fashion editor and Will’s career was in music video and television commercial production. In a classic lightbulb-over-the-head moment, Will suggested they start a production company in Ibiza. Both had experience working with film and photography crews and saw the island’s untapped potential (at that time) and versatility as a location – the seed was sown. “We spent a couple of years thinking about it,” says Georgina, who knew first hand the benefits of enlisting a local production company through her international travels to style editorials. The tragic passing of a close friend, who had always encouraged them to make the move, was the turning point that made them decide to give it a go.
“It made me realise life is too short,” says Georgina. “If it didn’t work out, we could always go back to London and if it did… amazing!” The year was 2005 and they began the dual tasks of setting up their new business in Ibiza and looking to invest in a property. “Everything we looked at just wasn’t right. We had an idea of what we wanted, but our budget didn’t quite match it and one day my dad suggested we buy a plot of land and build – not that he’d ever built a house in his life!” Within a week they’d found a plot of land in Es Cubells and from that point, life as they knew it would change forever. “As soon as we got here, I knew this was it,” says Georgina. “I absolutely loved it and Will thought I was crazy. It was like a forest. But I just had a feeling.” And thus they embarked on a design and construction project that would become their future home, Can Oliva.
Of course, they’d need somewhere to live throughout the building process and when the previous owners offered them the caravan that was sitting on the plot unused, Georgina remembers laughing at the idea of roughing it. “We started to look for places to rent that summer, but since we’d spent almost all of our money on the plot and had a mortgage to build the house, it seemed so expensive. I rang the owners back to say that actually, the caravan sounded amazing!” In the beginning, the couple recall the experience as being quite romantic. “Living in the forest, under the stars – we were happy. We cooked lots of barbecues, drank lots of wine, had outdoor showers and it was really good fun,” says Georgina. “But then it got to October when the rains started. We’d been sitting in our caravan for about three days while the wild winds blew absolutely everything away outside and we knew we had to look for an apartment.”
The Es Cubells plot of land came with pre-approved plans to build a home. Typical of traditional Spanish fincas at the time, the design featured closed off dining and living spaces, a small kitchen, tiny windows and many walls placed within the home. Through their new business – 365 Productions – Will and Georgina had been fortunate enough to spend time scouting and shooting many of the island’s most amazing architectural masterpieces, inspiring them to rework the interior of the house to be open plan and add huge windows to allow it to be flooded with natural light. “We’d take pictures of location houses and show them to our lovely builder, who would then incorporate design details within the footprint of the house,” Georgina remembers. They’d always envisioned using the home as a location for shoots, so aesthetics were important and both were extremely hands on throughout the process. “We kept seeing what our clients liked to shoot and would then make changes with the builders as we went along.” One such inspired detail is the striking staircase that goes up an exterior wall of the house – an element that has proved popular with stylists and photographers ever since. Another is the bamboo pergola covering the south-facing chill out area, casting shadows and diffusing the light when the sun hits it at different times of day. The edges of the five-bedroom home were cleverly rounded, giving the new build the appearance of being a restored finca – modern yet rustic. An atrium within the open plan living space brings nature indoors, via a 150-year old olive tree that had to be crane lifted into the space, though at first glance one would think the house had been designed around it.
Can Oliva fuses minimalism with beautiful bohemian touches in a way that doesn’t feel overly styled – despite its owners’ professions. Interiors were inspired by the relaxed, rustic style of Ibicenco fincas, using natural materials like wood, stone and wicker without compromising on modern luxuries. Georgina describes the decorating process as organic, collecting pieces over time from local markets, second hand furniture stores and luxury interior showrooms alike. Life as a prop stylist has had its advantages, with the house ‘inheriting’ an oversized wicker chair from a Gucci advertising campaign shoot and a glamorous sunbed that still bears the marks of Naomi Campbell’s stilettos. “I think I get more excited about interiors now than I do fashion,” Georgina readily admits. Ibiza life has changed over the years – walking the dogs in the countryside takes precedence over dancing, a hectic production schedule means lazing by the beach is part of a mood board rather than reality. Sunrises are still a possibility, thanks to early morning feeds following the birth of their son, Luca. But they wouldn’t have it any other way. “We feel extremely lucky to live in a house we love so much,” Georgina muses. So much more than just a house, Can Oliva bears all the hallmarks of a much-loved Ibiza home and will forever be where her heart is.
Photography by Ana Lui