THE GENIUS OF DESIGN IN JAMAICA
Jamaica’s extraordinary physical beauty is a natural catalyst for artistic
creativity, and the fusion of so many cultures in one nation has brought
together an enormous range of influences on design and style. Visitors to
the island quickly observe a remarkable flair in many areas, among them
architecture, interior design, landscaping and fashion.
Images Courtesy of: The Jamaica Tourist Board
Drawing on the heritage of early European settlers, Jamaica’s architectural
style reflects both Spanish and English influences. There are many
interesting areas, as well as individual buildings, to explore.
Jamaica’s former capital, Spanish Town has one of the finest Georgian
squares in the world and an example of enduring style. Settled by the
Spaniards in 1534 and named Villa de la Vega (meaning city on the
plains), the town was destroyed in 1655 by the English, who later rebuilt it
using the original Spanish layout. The town was renamed St. Jago de la
In a characteristic Spanish colonial layout, four stately buildings surround a
central garden. Rodney Memorial stands on the northern side of the
square. On the west is the facade of King’s House, once a magnificent
mansion, with the Governor's stables. These are the only buildings
of the compound still intact. They now house the Jamaican People's Museum of
Craft and Technology. Flanking the eastern edge of the square is the old House of
Assembly, now serving as home to the St. Catherine Parish Council offices. The
courthouse on the south of the square burned down in the 1980’s, leaving just the
skeleton of the building.
Also worth a visit in Spanish Town are the Anglican Church, the oldest of its kind in
the Western hemisphere, and the Spanish Town Iron Bridge, the oldest cast-iron
bridge in the Caribbean.
Rose Hall Great House in Montego Bay is the most famous great house in
Jamaica. Designed in the Georgian style, the three-story house was built in the
1770’s by a rich plantation owner named John Palmer. Once the setting for the
most lavish parties on the island, Rose Hall sits atop a hill overlooking the ocean and
the Rose Hall area, with extensive grounds of lush flora. Inside, a wide mahogany
staircase leads up to the bedrooms, where the notorious Annie Palmer reputedly
murdered three husbands before losing her life violently to a vengeful lover.
Sightings of her ghost are frequently reported, and the mystery of Rose Hall Great
House remains forever an enigma with tremendous appeal to feature film and
television crews. It is also a favored venue for banquets and weddings, and a bold
choice for the fearless.
Additional venues of interest include: the Barrett House, built in 1799 and former
home of the Barrett family (this house in now under restoration); the Cast Iron
Hospital, a naval hospital in Port Royal, built in 1817 to treat injuries incurred in sea
battles on nearby waters; and the Town House Restaurant in Montego Bay,
maintaining its old-world charm amid the hustle and bustle of a modern city street.
Devon House is a great example of Jamaican-Georgian architecture, where the
elegance of Georgian styling is married with functional features designed to weather
the tropical climate. Set among expansive and meticulously landscaped gardens on
Hope Road in Kingston, this 19th-century colonial mansion was originally owned and
built by George Stiebel, Jamaica’s first Black millionaire. Now restored, the majestic
great house contains the largest collection of Jamaican colonial period furniture,
including fine reproductions of many household items.
The Ward Theatre in Kingston is the oldest theater of its kind in the Englishspeaking
Caribbean, and a great testament to Jamaican architecture and
philanthropy. It was presented in 1912 by Colonel C.J. Ward as a gift to the city of
Kingston. The architect, Rudolph Henriques, was a noted artist whose firm,
Henriques and Sons, was awarded the Ł9,000 commission after winning a
competition for best design. Declared a national monument on January 7, 2000,
The Ward Theatre has a long history encompassing the nation’s social, cultural and
political lives. Distinguishing features include a domed ceiling, box seats and fly
The Mandeville Courthouse in Mandeville is another prime example of Jamaican-
Georgian Architecture. Built by slaves in 1820 with limestone blocks, the courthouse
is one of only four original public buildings in Mandeville and has a portico supported
by Doric columns flanked by a curving double staircase.
Beautifully designed interiors all over the island make a big impact, and range in
mood from serene and soothing to upbeat and energizing. At Round Hill Hotel &
Villas in Montego Bay, each villa is uniquely styled with an individual theme and
color story. The elegant cocktail bar here was designed by Ralph Lauren in crisp
navy and white that makes a bold statement against the vibrant aqua tones of the
For a complete change of pace, Strawberry Hill Resort in the Blue Mountains, near
Kingston, is almost ethereal in ambience, with creamy white walls and rich wood
tones accented by island cottons on the upholstered furniture. Its quiet elegance is
gently soothing, making this the perfect retreat from city life and an ideal
environment for reflection and creative thinking.
Similarly calming is the ambience of Silent Waters, an Indonesian-style retreat 700
feet (213 meters) above sea level with enthralling views across forested mountains
and cooling waterways. The reflective mood is enhanced by Asian art and décor,
and the expansiveness of the architectural styling removes any barriers between
indoor and outdoor living.
Asian influences set the scene also at Tensing Pen, a 16-unit resort near Montego
Bay, designed for natural cooling by the breeze off the ocean. Natural woods and
bamboo add warm tones to the crisp white of the draperies. Nearby, a property
called The Caves offers seclusion and privacy in a complex of individually styled
villas carved into a cliffside. A spa treatment room seems to be suspended over the
sea below, and private dinners are organized by candlelight in a natural cave.
The original décor at Jake’s, in Treasure Beach, gives this relaxed resort a sense of
fun and adventure. Designed by Sally Henzell, whose talent as a theatrical set
designer is spectacularly apparent in the unique styling of each villa, this property
has a distinctly Moroccan feel. Brightly colored glass is embedded in pink and blue
stucco walls; wood, tile and tin feature in the tactile surfaces; fabrics and artwork are
used to create an energizing yet mystical ambience; and shower stalls are open to
the sea and sun for a sensation of outdoor living.
Elegance comes with Caribbean color at The Ritz-Carlton in Montego Bay, with
luxurious fabric combinations in the guestrooms and colonial grandeur in the
expansive public areas. At the company’s White Witch Golf Club, the restaurant is
designed in the round, high above the sea, with brilliantly hued table settings in
counterpoint to the cool whites of the stonework.
An extraordinary dining setting is on The M/Y Zein yacht owned by The Grand Lido
in Negril. A private breakfast in the wood-paneled dining room aboard this opulently
styled vessel is an unforgettable event.
Maximizing on the spectacular seascape, Jamaica Inn in Ocho Rios extends its
blue-and-white décor to the outdoors, using oversized upholstered sofas and deep
club chairs to turn guestroom terraces into outdoor living rooms.
HOME AND GARDEN
Many gardens in Jamaica offer cool respite on a hot day, and have been beautifully
landscaped to showcase the island’s colorful flora and, in some cases, to offer a
base for stunning ocean views.
The Royal Botanical Gardens, commonly called Hope Gardens, offer the largest
public green space in the West Indies, and are home to Jamaica’s most popular
collection of endemic and exotic botanic collections. The wide array of beautiful and
rare species of tropical plants and trees here includes the hibiscus elatus (Blue
Mahoe), the National Tree of Jamaica. The gardens stretch across more than 200
acres of land in the Ligunaea Plains. In 1881, the Jamaican Government purchased
the land to establish an experimental garden. Also worth a visit are Bath Botanic
Gardens in St. Thomas, Cinchona in St. Andrew, Cranbrook Flower Forest in
Ocho Rios and Shaw Park Gardens, also in Ocho Rios. Coyaba River Garden &
Museum in Ocho Rios features Jamaican-Spanish architecture and a water garden
fed by streams.
The energy and color of Jamaica’s upbeat lifestyle are strong influences on the hip
new fashion scene shaped by a generation of young designers who are now making
a mark on mainstream fashion.
Reggae superstars, like Sean Paul, have become fashion icons, and don the gold,
green and black colors of the Jamaican flag in paying homage to their roots. The
sportswear company, PUMA, has created a special line for the athletes of Jamaica,
using these colors and making a bold statement with “must-have” appeal for sport
and non-sport fashion urbanistas alike. A hot new designer, Michelle Simone
Clarke, designer of House of Siim, has added stylish new cuts to Caribbean casual,
creating a look that is at once chic through the heat of the day and elegantly cool
when the evening calls for sophistication.
BOOK YOUR VACATION TODAY AND DEAL WITH AN EXPERT!