Inside David Bowie’s unique Mustique villa

The inimitable David Bowie has passed away at the age of 69.

The singer and actor, whose hits range from Modern Love and Space Oddity to Heroes and Life on Mars, was a performer as much as a musician, known for his theatrical alter-ego Ziggy Stardust and his flamboyant flair for reinvention.

In celebration of his career, influence and legacy, we look back at the singer’s equally unique holiday home on the island of Mustique.

Called Mandalay, the Indonesian-style refuge was built for Bowie in 1992, a getaway that was designed to allow him to do just that; there are fewer than 100 other homes on the island, which lies south of St. Vincent in the Eastern Caribbean.

“I wanted something as unlike the Caribbean as possible,” Bowie said of the property. “It’s a whim personified. I love a good cliché, and this house, for me, is just the most delightful cliché. What you have to realise is that Mustique is a fantasy island.”

Edward de Mallet Morgan, of Knight Frank, who marketed the home last year, described Mustique as “endlessly social, but at the same time perfectly private”, a description that could easily apply to Bowie himself, who surprised the world when he announced his 24th studio album, The Next Day, on his 66th birthday in 2013, simultaneously releasing the single Where Are We Now?.

He did, though, open his doors to Architectural Digest back in 1992 to give a tour of his new villa.

Designed by architect Arne Hasselqvist, and overseeen by Robert New York-based Robert J. Litwiller, the property is, fittingly, a chameleonic series of Japanese and Scandinavian pavillions, which descend down a slope.

“You’re never able to see much of the house at one time,” said Litwiller, “and we wanted to create different moods as you proceed through, with surprises around corners. We hit upon a formal European living room that enhances the whole ‘British retreat in the tropics’ concept.”

Bali-based designer Linda Garland designed the 19th century-style furnishings and introduced Indonesian elements to the interiors. The result was an ever-shifting atmosphere with a distinctly original identity – a perfect fit for the star. And so an 1850 crystal oil chandelier, found in London, sat alongside 19th-century engravings of the pagodas of Pagan and Rangoon. In the kitchen, teak housefronts from the Javanese village of Kudus were used as façades, while columns were carved with patterns inspired by those found on the island of Sumbawa. Dining chairs were modelled after the ones used at Raffles. In the master bedroom, which has views of the islands of Bequia and St. Vincent, 19th-century Egyptian Revival furniture stood alongside a Moroccan chest-on-stand.

“I think Mustique is Duchampian — it will always provide an endless source of delight,” said David Bowie, who, at the time, had just married actress and model Iman Abdulmajid.

“The house is such a tranquil place that I have absolutely no motivation to write things when I’m there,” he added.

What did David do in his holiday home?

“I get up between five and six, have coffee and read for a couple of hours before everyone else gets up,” he revealed. “And then we have breakfast and everyone goes down to the beach – nothing startlingly original. One thing that’s quite sweet about the house is that it’s broken up into little areas that you can get lost in – you can go at least eight days and find a different place each day. I am doing a bit of sculpting there, something I’ve not attempted since I studied art.”

Bowie eventually sold the home to millionaire publisher Felix Dennis, who founded Maxim, The Week and Mental Floss. Dennis bought the villa for $5 million.

Gardener Made Wijaya, who designed the exteriors for the estate, told Phaidon that Dennis had since replaced some of the gardens and original interiors.

She detailed how they worked on the project, a process that overall took five years: “I brought over four of my Bali commandos and stayed at [Mustique’s famous] Basil’s bar. The happy hour got earlier and earlier, and there was nothing but clouds of marijuana on the building site from day one.

“By fortune, this wave of statues, or actually funerary markers, from east Indonesia had started coming onto the market in Bali. I got to pick up the best of them, because I had a decent budget. I added them to this salt-tolerant, arid-tolerant garden, around these pools. Inside the house it’s a blaze of Victorian exotica. It really was very special.”

Dennis passed away in 2015, leaving the home to come back on the market with an asking price of $20 million.

Knight Frank says the villa is currently under offer, hailing it as “one of Mustique’s iconic houses”. Indeed, it is a unique property for a unique man.


All photos: Architectrual Digest