Stone in Architecture

A little bit of heaven in St. Barth

For a luxurious rental home in St. Barth, Barnes Coy Architects created a house designed around views of the Caribbean Sea using Pennsylvania limestone

March 3, 2014
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For lavish rental home La Danse des Etoiles, Saint Barthélemy (also known as St. Barth or St. Barts), architects Robert Barnes and Christopher Coy of Barnes Coy Architects of Bridgehampton, NY, were commissioned to create a property designed around views of the Caribbean Sea. Because the site sits on a promontory high above the water, the contours of the land were uneven, creating a slope that needed to be leveled. From a design perspective, the architects felt the best strategy was to carve into the slope with stone walls and terraces, integrating the house into the site and completing the hilltop. Based on this idea, it was decided that a rough-textured fieldstone was the ideal solution.

The stone chosen was Pennsylvania limestone from the Agens Stone Yard in Columbia, NJ. It was brought to the site in containers because a suitable stone could not be found anywhere on the island. “This stone is a weathered fieldstone, and because of its squared-off lozenge shape, it is very conducive to construction and to suggesting the compressive strength and beauty of structural stone,” said Barnes. “It can be easily shaped with hammer and chisel and can be laid up like block. For this reason it resembles walls found in medieval European construction. We have used this stone in many projects.”

“Stone forms the base, or podium, of the house and then continues as exterior and interior walls, penetrating through the house and emerging as tall privacy walls at the swimming pool side of the home,” Coy added. “Stone walls are also used as garden walls off of each bedroom, which provide private space outdoors. The stone has a natural cleft texture that is visually dramatic at any time — especially at night because its rough texture becomes magical when raked with light.”

The stone is approximately 6 x 8 inches thick by about 1 foot high, varying in length from 1 foot to about 4 feet. It is laid up in random projections to create “shadow and interest” on the facade. In all, the project called for approximately 9,000 square feet of wall stone.

The biggest challenge the architects faced in using this particular stone in this location was that the French masons were not accustomed to it. “Their typical local material is thin, brittle, comes in small pieces and they must lay it up in a ‘buttered-on’ mosaic pattern,” said Barnes. “It looks plain and non-structural to us, which is why we decided to import stone suited to our design aesthetic. Our builder and engineer from France, Xavier David, is very talented, and he soon had the masons on board with creating the block-like rectilinear ashlar effect we were looking for.”

Stone was also used for other applications on the project, such as paving and pool cladding. “The terrace paving is Blue Ice, an Indian Bluestone that does not absorb much heat, which is important because the sun is unrelenting in the tropics,” said Coy. “The pool is clad with Indonesian volcanic stone, which is black, helping to keep the pool water warm and creating the illusion of a mirror.”

The property has received high marks from vacationers as well as the local press. One occupant referred to it as “a little bit of heaven in St Barth,” while another called it perfection. Additionally, Sibarth Villa Rentals listed La Danse des Etoiles as one of their Top 10 Villas in the 250+ villa rental inventory.                                

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