Situated on 1,400 acres of verdant land, Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve is an idyllic sanctuary unlike any other on Puerto Rico. The sand is golden, the grounds are home to over 300,000 plants, and the Bill Bensley–designed spa is one of the finest oases to have ever been built.
But nestled within this peaceful enclave is an even more special retreat. On the eastern end of the 114-key property, a private Spanish-style villa with a storied past overlooks the glittering Atlantic Ocean. Dubbed Su Casa, it served as the former home of Clara Livingston, the 200th licensed female pilot in the world, who built the abode in 1928 after Hurricane San Felipe Segundo destroyed her father’s wooden finca. With that the aviatrix also constructed her own airstrip, which welcomed Amelia Earhart on her fateful flight’s first stop. Later on when Livingston sold the grounds to Laurance S. Rockefeller in 1958, Dorado Beach became a site for Hollywood stars like Elizabeth Taylor and Joan Crawford.
While Su Casa was refurbished when Ritz-Carlton took over the grounds in 2012, it needed another refresh, and following the destruction that Maria caused throughout the Caribbean in 2017, Champalimaud was brought on to breathe new life into the hacienda. After the devastating hurricane, Dorado Beach had been stripped of its landscaping and things were left in disarray. At Su Casa, “floors were buckled, doors wouldn’t close, and half the roof was gone,” recalls Anna Beeber, the award-winning design firm’s principal designer. The heartbreak of everyone involved with the property was “palatable,” but they were all “trudging forward . . . [and] that passion infused me with this desire to not just put it back to the same level that it was, but to really try to transcend and come up with something that would be lasting and meaningful,” says Beeber.
One look at Su Casa and it’s apparent why it sparks such affection. As you pull into the driveway that’s laid with pastel pink and black stones, to one side is a tranquil garden, to the other an entryway with a direct view of the ocean. Pass through the black iron gates and you step into a courtyard that’s teeming with flora and outfitted with an Ohio Star–patterned pool. It’s inviting, instantly soothing and accomplishes Champalimaud’s vision for a holistic property.
The 8,000-square-foot villa is the type of place you don’t have to leave if you’d prefer not to. With an infinity pool, sun deck with loungers, movement pavilion, both indoor and outdoor dining spaces, game room, massage parlor and plenty of spaces to gather, there’s more than enough to keep everyone entertained. There are five rooms in total, all with en-suite bathrooms and either a balcony or patio, with two of the quarters downstairs having the added bonus of outdoor showers. With this reimagination, several adjustments were made. Wood trimmings were lightened, dark floors were traded in for black-and-white diagonal checkerboard tiles, red brick was replaced with coral stone, clawfoot bathtubs were swapped out for minimalist Apaiser basins, and four-poster bed frames were removed. The result is brighter and airier spaces, with updated furnishings that include custom pieces by Champalimaud and hand-woven tapestry headboards by Maison AD that are juxtaposed by a few of Clara Livingston’s own original antiques. But the most significant changes were the extension of the indoor spaces, from the hallway on the second floor to extending the suites, while still having more than enough room outside for guests to enjoy.
Beeber found the view and environment to be “endlessly inspirational” and wanted to “unite the inside with the exterior,” while still drawing the eye out to the ocean. When the designer first arrived, she recalls that the interiors were “very dark and formal” and needed to be lightened so that the entire property would feel “unified and harmonized.” Now, the overall neutral palette lends itself to a more relaxed ambience, accented by pastel hues and vibrant pops of color in the form of artwork and murals by Puerto Rican artist Sofia Maldonado for a touch of whimsy.
There are also many references to Su Casa’s past. Inside, you’ll find a photo of Livingston and Earhart; beautifully patterned encaustic tiles have been kept; and the game room is painted a dusty rose, inspired by the villa’s original hue. But one of the most remarkable features that has been kept and highlighted is a two-by-four that flew from the ocean-facing facade to the opposite side of the home, piercing a palm tree at the entrance, and is now decorated with a Moroccan-style lamp. “I saw it immediately and said we have to keep that because it tells so much of the history of this place,” says Beeber. “And to work on a historic property is all about celebrating where it came from and the journey that it has come through. And Maria is a part of that journey.” The resilient island has certainly made a comeback, and with this revival of Su Casa it’s more luxurious than ever.