Back to the Future

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“We loved the architectural bones of the building. It had a 60s motel vibe to it. As Rockhouse had the rustic vibe, we went with that; at the beach, the bones had a modern, 60s style to it, so we were inspired by that.” But, he concurs with Glazer, “we had to chop back a fair amount to get to those bones.” As much as possible was made in Rockhouse’s own woodworking shop next to its organic farm.

Finally, they added smart, simple contemporary furniture that flows nicely from the earlier era but feels very much of today. Inside the rooms, there are bulletin boards instead of televisions, to accommodate guests’ pinned inspirations and postcards, as in some Doris Day movie. Architect Jean Henri Morin, a French transplant to Australia, where he met the Rockhouse partners, says of the style, “It’s a trend at the moment. It was the last period of romanticism in architecture. But everything’s a collage — what are the materials available? It’s about using local tradesmen and knowledge. It’s that big Jamaican notion of respect — for nature, history, culture, roots. You have to look at that first. Everything can happen in Jamaica if you have respect.” Morin looked at the cinema, music and art of the era, but for his architectural inspiration, he looked not to the period’s buildings in Miami or New Jersey, but in Jamaica. “Breeze block is the perfect material for here: it’s see-through, and cooling; it becomes the fabric of the building. But,” he adds, “the land and the people here are my greatest inspiration. It’s such a beautiful place.”

Skylark will also be home to a Miss Lily’s, the hip downtown New York Jamaican restaurant owned by the same group, which has recently also opened a Dubai outpost. This clever decision should bring in incremental business from its loyal fans. “We hope that’s the case,” says Salmon. “They do have a love for Jamaican food, culture and vibes.”

Head partner Salmon, an Australian-turned New Yorker, had college side jobs in bars and restaurants which left him with an affection for hospitality, and on a trip to Jamaica in the early 90s that took him to every part of the island via minibus, he started to think a hotel in Negril might be an attractive proposition. At that time, hotels in the resort town were mostly either big cookie-cutter all-inclusives or small, family-run properties. It was the beginning of the boutique hotel craze worldwide and Salmon thought there could be an opening for something along those lines. It was kind of the same thing he’d done in his work life as head of Global Arbitrage at Banker’s Trust — where he sought out opportunities in irregularities in prices of assets.

“I had fallen in love with Jamaica by that point; not only the beauty, but the music and the people,” Salmon said. Rockhouse had been possibly the first actual hotel on the cliffs, and reputedly frequented by Marley, Dylan and the Stones. It had been designed by two architects who’d worked in Frank Lloyd Wright’s office — octagonal rooms were made in kit form in Miami and shipped down, and thatch and stone added.

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