Ibiza living

The treasure hunting nomad

Entrepreneur and philanthropist David Leppan describes himself as the rare combination a nomad and a collector, housing his globally sourced treasures in his beautiful Roca Llisa abode in Ibiza.

At first glance, the island of Ibiza may seem an unusual choice for a South African born, internationally educated businessman, however it’s a story that began back in 1974 when Leppan was just a one-year old baby.

Photography by Ana Lui.

At the time, his father (“a one man party”) expressed a desire to move to the white isle, met with a resounding ‘forget it from his mother. But the seed was unknowingly planted, a story to be continued at the age of 12… As he was entering his teenage years, David visited his father in Ibiza after his parents had separated, and despite his tender age at the time, he recalls a vivid sensation while standing on the golf course of Roca Llisa, a feeling that this was the place he would call ‘home away from home’. “I remember standing there and thinking there;s something remarkable about the energy of this place, even though the idea of living there was very far from a possibility at the time,” he says. “It still brings me great joy 30 years later.” The next chapter in his Ibiza life came when David was 21, after a period spent studying in Salzburg. Again visiting his father, who had remarried and had another son, who was attending school at the island’s international school, Morna College. One day David drove to the school to collect his younger brother, and a very attractive young teacher caught his eye. “I remember thinking my teachers didn’t look anything like that! They looked like they could eat kids,” he laughs, admitting that from that day forward, he volunteered to pick his brother up every day.

Soon after, a fundraising event in the old casino drew everyone who was anyone from Ibiza out of their homes, after which David decided to go for a nightcap at Teatro Pereyra, at the time the only bar with a late night offering. A group of teachers from Morna also had the same idea, and eventually, the gorgeous teacher who had caught his eye – who actually thought he was a father from the school – sent a friend over to find out his name and story. Once introduced, the two spent the entire night talking, and by the end of the night, David had proposed to Laura, who said yes! The stylish couple were married (though they have since parted ways and remain the best of friends), living first in London and then Singapore. The young Leppan family took up part-time summer residence in the exclusive Roca Llisa urbanisation around 11 years ago, converting (over time) the four bedroom home into a huge 13-bedroom estate. While the scale is extremely grand, but the layout is subtle – around each corner is a new discovery, a hidden suite here, a guesthouse there, another swimming pool (or two) over there.

Describing himself and Laura as “fundamentally classic people”, the house didn’t call to them immediately, as they’d been looking for a classic finca in the area. However eventually, the location, design and views of the house turned out to be perfect. “One of the great struggles with the house was that the shapes were here – you couldn’t make it into something else, but it flowed. But the spaces are very gracious and this allowed me to hang the artwork I personally wanted to see.” With a passion for portraiture, particularly old masters, Leppan says he’d originally felt a little timid hanging this style of art in Ibiza, where things were typically minimalist and white or rustic and rural, but the Roca Llisa property gave him the perfect blank canvas. Split across multiple levels, almost cascading down the mountainside, the perfectly manicured gardens are pristine, fragrant and colourful, from bright pink bougainvillea standing out in the upper pool area, to lush British style lawns and exotic palm trees inspired by Langkawi on the lower spaces near the bedrooms. A petanque course provides endless fun for the kids, while a retro-styled pool house is the perfect setting for adults.

A grand guest house now stands where the children’s tree house once lived, sitting atop the indoor pool almost as if it is on stilts like the playhouse once was, surrounded by treetops with natural light streaming in from all the east. The tree house in question had once received a visit from the most distinguished of guests – the president of Spain, who the Leppans had met at an event, and upon learning he and his family always holidayed in Ibiza, had insisted he come round for dinner. “You can’t imagine the surprise and panic, when we got a phone call during siesta one day announcing he’d be arriving the next day,” says David, who had only just taken ownership of the property, which certainly wasn’t prepared for presidential company. “There were about three chipped plates and some of Polanski’s old furniture – it was the most stressful 36 hours of my life!” On arrival, the president paid no attention to the new art lining the walls or table settings in the dining area – he was instantly drawn to young Sofia Leppan’s tree house (she was five years old at the time), where he was invited up to visit. “He was very good with children – we had to call him out of there to come to dinner,” remembers David of the evening. “I was worried I’d be responsible for breaking the president’s legs as he fell out of a tree!”

This laidback approach to living is echoed throughout Leppan’s life. Rather than being a collector who stores things behind closed doors or glass cabinets however, he believes firmly in using everything. “I grew up in a house where fine china was for special occasions,” he explains. “But I find every occasion, every meal time with family and friends, is special. I would rather have 100 fabulous meals and bin a plate than have it sitting in a cupboard unused.” The same goes for his collection of classic cars – including Rolls-Royce and Ferraris – which when he brings them to the island are stored in a purpose built garage beneath the house. “I absolutely drive my cars around in Ibiza,” he says. “They’ve got to be used. It’s a car, it’s built to be driven and any damage from caminos, stones and dust can be restored. I don’t hold back from using things.” Leppan’s youngest daughter has recently developed a passion for books, with a particular fondness for the antique books lining his shelves. While he does admit he has to keep himself in check when it’s a pristine rare edition she reaches for, he also believes in spending the time with children to explain why something is precious and should be cherished, rather than panicking and taking it away.

“I sit down with a deep breath and explain that it’s very old and special, and that we should look at it together. If you’ve got kids, you’ve got to be prepared to share what’s in the house with them and teach them from an early age to appreciate.” The contents of the home are a testament to the owner’s eye for art, interior design and architecture. “I tend to buy things and figure it out later,” he says, when asked of his interior designing style. Having travelled extensively for both business and pleasure for much of his life, he receives constant enjoyment from the pieces of furniture, art or décor that remind him of his nomadic journeys, cherished holidays and time spent abroad for work. “It’s all really special to me,” he shrugs, gesturing around the sumptuous living room when asked to identify a favourite piece. “I tend to surround myself with things I think are very beautiful, I am far more focused on finding things that are unique, than things that are mass produced.”