The man who founded Island Records and discovered Bob Marley is also the visionary behind some of the Caribbean’s most innovative hotels. Chris Blackwell established Island Outpost – a collection of boutique getaways in Jamaica that have hosted everyone from Grace Jones to Jay Z to Steve Jobs – in the early 90s. Among this potpourri of impressive properties is GoldenEye, a resort in Oracabessa that’s built around novelist Ian Fleming’s former villa and the birthplace of all 14 James Bond books. This month, the tropical sanctuary adds 26 luxury beach huts to its iconic grounds.
In celebration of GoldenEye’s expansion, we sat down with Chris Blackwell to talk hotels, huts and the freshest voice in reggae today…
What inspired the new huts at GoldenEye?
Well, when I’m at GoldenEye I myself live in a hut. I built mine in 1995 and before that I lived in a similar structure in Ocho Rios. Years ago, I went to a little hotel in Negril and stayed in a hut and I fell in love with it – the shape and the size. You feel like you’re living outdoors because there are windows on nearly every side.
Do you let anyone else sleep there?
My girlfriend can stay in my hut. But it’s really my little place. It’s kind of cluttered – old people gather things over the years and get emotionally attached to some useless piece of something and you want it to always be there. My hut is a bit like that.
You have a hut in Jamaica, an apartment in NYC and a home near Reading, England. What do you consider home?
And the Jamaican home you grew up in, what was that like? It wasn’t a hut, I’m assuming…
No, it was the opposite of a hut. It was a huge house. I think that’s the reason I like the hut. You can rattle around in a huge house; you can be lonely in a huge house. A small place feels warmer and more comforting.
I’ve read that each of your hotels has a distinct rhythm. Can you describe GoldenEye’s rhythm?
GoldenEye has a European music feel to it. Of course we play Jamaican music, but the main bar is called Bizot Bar, which is named after Jean-François Bizot – a French journalist and writer who also started a radio station called Radio Nova. He passed away about 10 years ago. He loved GoldenEye. If you don’t already, you should listen to Radio Nova.
Producing an album vs building a hotel – are there any similarities in the processes?
Yes, there are a lot of similarities in the way I do it because I go slowly for both. At GoldenEye, I fixed up the original house first and then I built three villas around that and waited to see how it went. I built more and then I waited again. How did people use the place? How did they move around the property? So now I’m building these new huts and I’m going to leave them for a couple years to see how it goes, because you can imagine how you think it’ll work, but I’m not clever enough to know exactly. It’s the same thing in the music industry. You start off with somebody singing a song and then add, for example, bass and drums and maybe guitar. After that, maybe you add a keyboard and possibly another guitar, a saxophone… a trumpet. In other words, you build on it bit by bit. There’s a similarity. You’re going step by step, rather than one whack.
Are there any destinations you’re longing to visit?
I love Brazil, so I’d love to explore more places there.
Aside from the Island Outpost properties, are there any hotels that you admire?
I love all the Aman hotels that I’ve been to. I went to Amandari in Ubud, Bali and it was just breathtaking. But other than those, I like funky little hotels, ideally with owner management. They’re the root of the hotel industry, which is a hospitality business. You arrive and there’s a sense of warmth. When you go into a big hotel it may be organized and efficient, but it doesn’t have that warmth. Oh, there’s a hotel I really like in New Orleans called Soniat House.
What music should we be listening to right now?
There’s a new Jamaican artist called Chronixx, who is really great. I love that he knows what he wants to do and I think he’ll do really well. At the moment, he sings in Jamaican and makes no attempt to open it up to a wider audience. I talked to him about that and he said he wants to make sure he has a strong following in Jamaica before he starts doing other things. He’s very smart. Most people are in a big hurry to get there, wherever there is. And sometimes they get there too early and it’s not good. I think this guy is exceptional.
Featured image via (c) Nathalie Delon / Island Trading Archive