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Welcome to my Paradise by Kristina Stewart Ward | 3rd December, 2012 | Personalities

Wolfgang Ludes is a well-known photographer. Now, he is putting his eye for location and light to creative use as an architect. His home on St. Barth’s is carved out of a mountain and includes a stunning view of St. Jean’s Bay.

„I don’t see a significant difference between architecture and photography,” says Wolfgang Ludes, a well-known fashion photographer who now has several recent architectural projects to his credit. The most recently completed one is a lushly landscaped, three-tiered villa named “Teman” carved into a steep cliff in St Barth’s. “Both disciplines are visual,” continues Ludes, “and they require the ability to use many technical elements in pursuit of the image that comes to you in your head.” In the case of Teman (Indonesian for “friend”) this image came into his head one night at 2am.

„When I go out, it’s typically to L’Isola, to Eden Roc’s Sand Bar or to La Plage.“ Wolfgang Ludes

“I got out of bed, sat down at my desk and spent the rest of the night drawing the house and all of its elements. When I look at the final renderings and blueprints today, I am shocked at how true the final house is to that original drawing – the size, the flow and layout of the rooms. Even the number of stepping stones in the pool.” Ludes’ instinctive command of architecture has been featured in magazines like Architectural Digest and Vogue, and praised by such esteemed colleagues as American master architect Richard Meier, who extols him for his perfectionism, location, organization of space, views and use of natural light. This praise could easily have applied to Ludes’ photography (which includes work for L’Oreal, YSL, Chanel) but it happens to have been said about his modernist Balinese-style homes overlooking St. Jean’s Bay. (Ludes created two homes here, the “Peak” is further up the hill.)

Upon seeing the building sites for both homes, most people surely looked up and thought: great views, but too difficult to build. Ludes saw them and thought: what a great challenge, how soon can we get started? “The land really spoke to me,” he explains, “and yes, of course we had to excavate a lot of rock in order to integrate it into the site, but it was worth it for the unpretentious chic and the organic feel I was able to create for the home and the grounds. I wanted it nestled into the site; it’s a house you have to look for, and a home that reveals itself in layers.”

“First we determined how many guests we could invite, then we decided how many shelves for glasses we would need.” Wolfgang Ludes

That home is a clandestine masterwork of indoor and outdoor spaces, with winding paths that lead into jungle gardens, and which meander through three levels of synchronized living spaces. On the lowest level are two guest bungalows, each with painstakingly rendered built-in spaces and floating walls, hand-crafted interior architecture that Ludes devised in order to keep the rooms clear of debris, focusing them outward toward the staggering views. Rooms, closets, an office, even an entire kitchen are secreted away behind dark wenge wood; the floors are made of travertine, as are most of the home’s exterior staircases. Ludes has an impressive capacity for curiosity and patience, both of which he lavished on the home’s building blocks: “Materials. I spent so much time researching the precise materials needed to create the right feeling for Teman,” he says, referring to everything from fastidiously selected pool tiles “the perfect shade of gray-green,” to the limestone rendered in three thicknesses and three finishes to create interesting retaining walls for the meandering staircases which thread the property. He is equally skilled at the art of living and how it takes place. The central level of the villa is focused on gathering places: the generously proportioned kitchen where guests gather for cooking, the long dining table, the ipe wood decks and seamless pool which emerge beyond the living room – all three areas layered and positioned so that dwellers can look out toward St. Jean’s Bay while conducting the day’s activities. By night it is the fireplace that serves as the home’s hub, an open hearth that interacts dramatically with the night lighting of the pool, and which serves to evoke the convivial spirit of this main living level.

“I love any chance to create beauty – and I love acquiring new tools to do it.” Wolfgang Ludes

When privacy is preferred, the third-level master suite beckons. Sliding louvered walls invite in the natural surroundings, while also harboring the villa’s occupants within the mountain-carved niche. Tucked in between the jagged jungle wall and the suite is a hand-carved massive outdoor wooden bathtub, just one of the details Ludes devised to bring understated luxury into this island retreat. While the interiors are cast in a subdued palette of beige stone, dark brown wood and white fabric, the details remind its dwellers that every aspect of living here has been considered and painstakingly rendered. “We designed and built the vanity tables and the mirrors ourselves because I couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for. I spent six months researching the precise ceiling fans, which I ultimately commissioned. There are dozens of speakers hidden everywhere on the property. We did it to create an even level of music throughout, not because we needed it to be loud.”

“I enjoy being an architect. But I’m still waiting for someone to ask me to design them a boat.” Wolfgang Ludes

The villa can accommodate groups of 170 for parties, and already has. Mention this and Ludes steers the conversation to the forethought this entailed. “First we determined how many people could fit here, then we estimated how many glasses that would require, and then we ensured that there were enough kitchen shelves to house that many glasses.” Attention to detail indeed. So, with a home this inviting, and with enough friends to regularly fill it, does the international photographer find time to indulge in the culture and night life of St. Barth’s? “Oh yes, of course. While I love spending time in the home I worked so hard on perfecting, it’s also nice to circulate outside with friends – I find inspiration there.” Ludes is one of the island’s social nomads who count St. Barth’s as an important stop on their year-round pursuit of the sun. In summers you will find him in East Hampton in the home he renovated 10 years ago, and which served as the initial launch of his second career. “A friend saw what I had done and asked me to partner with him on a home created from scratch. The two homes we built on St. Barth’s were so successful (both are available to rent and to buy) that I’ve now been approached to create other projects – which suits this intrepid creator just fine. I love any chance to create beauty – and I love acquiring new tools to do it. I’m still waiting for someone to ask me to design them a boat.”

IssueGG Magazine 01/13
City/CountrySt. Barths
PhotographyMark Seelen