The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort, Maldives
St. Regis pays homage to the rich natural surroundings and thriving marine life of the Vommuli Island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Tonje Odegard from SPACE went to discover how clever design and interiors have helped create an underwater paradise on land…
The organic and multi-housed The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort, which opened in November, is situated on the pristine Dhaalu Atoll on the private island of Vommuli. Owned by Residency Resorts Malé Private Limited, the island is the epitome of tropical luxury, surrounded by lush turquoise water, palm trees and white sandy beaches – no wonder it is one of the world’s most sought-after holiday destinations.
Several distinct ecological areas define the island: lagoon, beach, coast and jungle. The architecture in each zone is inspired by unique features from the natural and man-made environment. Woven together by pathways that feature seasonal artwork from artists in residence and pop-up installations that use locally sourced objects and materials, the expansive resort has an explorative feel to it without compromising on luxury.
The resort is encased by a large ‘house reef’ and the different types of accommodations are dotted around the various ecological areas. WOW Architects and Warner Wong Design were responsible for designing the public areas as well as the 77 island- and overwater villas (each with a private pool). The villas were divided according to the different zones, which form the basis for the experimental programmes that guide guests through a journey of discovery, reflection and reconnection with nature and their fellow humans. For the designers, time is the biggest luxury – time to relax, time to explore and time to appreciate your environment.
Reminding you of tropical island village living, the designers have avoided the overused and now unoriginal ‘secluded Robinson Crusoe’ or ‘exotic luxury escape’ themes as you so often see with island resorts, and instead focused on the island’s main strength: nature.
To respect the fragile ecology of the Maldives, the designers chose a strong eco-aware design theme, expressed through modern architecture and interior design, while still being humble to tradition and local culture.
Drawing its inspiration from the island itself and its ecological areas, Warner Wong Design has used the sea life and underwater creatures as its basis for the majority of the shapes and colours seen throughout the resort. This is apparent in the manta ray-shaped lagoon villas, the whale shark-shaped bar, the crustaceans-inspired spa and the spiral shell-shaped library. Interior details such as chandeliers formed as seashells or sea urchins further complete the story.
In addition to the organic sea forms, some buildings are based on local cultural symbols, such as the coastal villas along the southern shoreline that are similar to Maldivian Dhoni sailing boats.
The lagoon boasts a water amphitheatre and the overwater Iridium Spa, which features six private couple treatment suites, a steam room, a sauna and the Blue Hole Pool, the Maldives’ largest heated seawater hydrotherapy pool. Inspired by the shape of crustaceans such as lobsters and cephalopods such as squid, the space is an expression of admiration and respect for the island’s marine animals.
The reception is modest in comparison to all the impressive design features this resort has, yet it’s spacious, bright and welcoming. The pair of sea urchin chandeliers hovering over the reception desks naturally blends in with the sandy colours and woody textures of the area. On the wall behind the two opposite reception desks are two mosaic paintings in stunning marine colours, a print also used in the floor tiles.
Each of the 77 villas individually embodies the perfect combination between privacy and luxury.
Staying true to its marine-inspired design, the lagoon villas, situated in the lagoon zone, are built in the distinct shape of a manta ray, with their graceful form and characteristic cephalic lobes. The villa features a main roof that covers the living room and bedroom, with an elegant wing that folds down on and extends to form a private pool deck. The villa sports an all-timber interior, augmented by a blown glass chandelier and glass bubbles artwork in natural hues. The furniture design, lights, art and artefacts talk about the textures and patterns found in the lagoon.
The villas found in the beach zone are inspired by a fisherman’s hut the designers found on the beach during their very first visit to the island. The villas therefore have impressive, high ceilings, making the area spacious and free. Nestled in the dreamy, white coral sand, the feel is undeniably tropical. The textures and patterns found in the coral beach are revisited in the interiors – sandy hues and seashell-shaped tubs. From the carpet and custom-made porcelain lights, to the artwork, all references are about driftwood, washed-up seashells and seashore plants.
The garden villas, situated in the resort’s jungle zone, are integrated into the lush vegetation and operate as a reminder of the dense and luxuriant jungle the island has. Spread over the whole inner island, the jungle has a range of varied and mature trees, flora and fauna. Paying respect to these, the designers decided to protect the plants during protection to maintain their essential character. Outside the compound walls of the villas is the rawness of the jungle, whereas inside the compound is a private, tropical garden with many local flowers that can be found in typical Maldivian villages. The interiors naturally reflect the textures and colours of the jungle.
In the heart of the jungle is a nature discovery centre, Vommuli House, with a design inspired by a large banyan tree in the dense vegetation. It’s characteristic branching form and space is like the roots of the tree, and in each ‘branch’ are recreational and educational eco activities.
The coastal family villas are situated in the coastal zone, on the south side of the island. With a beautiful coastline, the island comes close to the coral reef that encircles it. Some of the villas jut out of the jungle and are half perched on the rocky coast, while the remaining ones sit on the rock-strewn shoals that fringe the island. The design of the villas are reminiscent of the Maldivian Dhoni boats, and the two-storey buildings are wrapped by a sail-inspired roof that opens on two sides to reveal expansive decks and verandas that celebrate the sea views.
The interior design of the Family Villa, as well as a selection of the art and furniture, is about upcycling and repurposing of timeless classics. Modern mid-century furniture is regenerated for resort use and old wood from Indian village houses are salvaged and made into art.
One of the most stand-out villas is the John Jacob Astor Estate, a three-bedroom overwater villa covering 16,500 square ft. It also has a 1,000 square ft infinity pool in addition to a whole range of exciting facilities and amenities.
The resort has six distinct dining venues, peppered around the estate, each offering different cuisines, ranging from Asian to Italian, and with their own unique story and design.
The modern Italian restaurant, Alba, is the signature restaurant and features a grand staircase and an intricate chandelier. The lights are based on the idea of upcycling – the lamps hanging in the space are made from repurposed Indian pots and the bead lamps along the veranda are made from recycled shell. Using sandy colours, marble tiles and wood ceilings, the area feels organic and sophisticated.
Orientale is an a-la-carte-style Asian restaurant with a sophisticated atmosphere. Located near the beach, it is secluded, modern and romantic with impressive glass chandeliers, glass features and angular shapes.
Underground wine cellar restaurant Decanter, reveals a prestigious selection of century-old wines. It’s an intimate, elegant underground retreat.
The pop-up restaurant, Cargo, is fashioned from an old shipping container found on the island and has a street-food inspired menu that changes every day. Nestled within the jungle, almost concealed by palms and tropical plants, the container hides, housing an interesting story. Supposedly, when the founder of The St. Regis Hotel New York, John Jacob Astor, went down with the Titanic in 1912, all was not lost. A shipping container was cast adrift, and many years later washed ashore on Vommuli Island.
Cargo is a battered shipping container by day, but at night opens up and transforms into a pop-up restaurant. It serves whatever the chef fancies, but especially produce from the organic garden in Vommuli House. Cargo was conceptualised by Carl Kjellquist of Focus Hospitality in collaboration with Wong Chiu Man of WOW Architects. It was partly inspired by the ad-hoc pop-up food culture of America and the mystique of a secret dining venue within the jungle of Vommuli.
The resort also has a cosy, beach-front pizzeria, the Crust, and another seaside eatery called the Pantry. Both shacks are inspired by the idyllic and rustic fisherman’s beach huts the designers discovered on the surrounding islands of Vommuli, that are simple in their design.
The Whale Bar, the resort’s speciality bar, is shaped like a whale shark, which makes for an impressive sight. Within the body of the Whale is the bar, which is inspired by a sea turtle. The bar’s deck is the perfect spot to watch the sunset, with its massive dome encasing the wood-clad patio.
The St. Regis mural that floats above it tells the story of the owner and his son, who were charmed by Vommuli island and its lagoon, and decided to build a resort here to celebrate its natural beauty. Pyrography is a traditional Maldivian art form, and storytelling is part of the oral history tradition of the Maldives. It is curated by Sheran Apparo based on a concept from Wong Chiu Man of WOW Architects in collaboration with artist Maya Burman and executed by her with the support of skilled pyrography artisans from South Inida.
With a strong design story and respect for its natural surroundings, The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort offers something special. It’s more than just a beach resort – it houses activities, an interesting narrative, art and design that all encourage you to appreciate the environment, local culture and the world we live in. The design at The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort does exactly what good design is meant to do – it evokes, fascinates and educates.