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Casa Alba – The Spanish Home of Candida Taylor

Photo: James Fennell.

Candida Taylor has long lived a three-tired existence. Born in Argentina, the landscape and property consultant spent her formative years in London before moving to southern Spain in the late 1980s. From 1990 to 1997, she was commercial and marketing director of Sotogrande SA, the 4000-acre golfing resort on the south coast of Andalusia. As the second millennium came to a close, Candida and her husband Gerald purchased a 3-acre plot of barren scrubland on a steep hill adjacent to the Old Sotogrande golf course. By the summer of 2002, the Taylors had converted the site into a place called home.

Casa Alba is a multi-tiered triumph of high ceilings, big beams, neo-classical staircases, massive windows, flagstone floors, spacious balconies and an abundance of different sitting areas. Such features are the hallmarks of Sotogrande architect Antonio Casada Perez. The award-winning Spaniard spent many long days pacing around the site, following the course of the sun and the shifting winds, admiring the contours of the land, inhaling inspiration from the Mediterranean breeze. The main axis of Perez’s creation revolves around a central courtyard, directly accessible from both living room and kitchen. This veritable sun-trap is where friends and family recline upon soft linen-covered loungers and handsome cane chairs, the air alive with the aroma of wisteria and jacaranda.

While Perez designed the house, Taylor supervised the design of the large, open-plan Vochetti kitchen. This spruce, bone-white emporium was fitted by Danespan Marbella ( ‘I often cook for twelve and we sometimes have parties for 50 people’, says Taylor. ‘So I needed considerable space. It’s also the room where we eat and sit so storage was a key factor in the design’. Light floods in through a pediment–topped kitchen window, rebounding off the white walls and white Macael marble worktops. The ceiling overhead was salvaged from a bodega in Jerez. These same timbers provided the kitchen table where the Taylor family take most of their meals. An alternative dining area consists of a large 19th century table in the adjacent courtyard,

One of the most impressive aspects of Casa Alba are the magnificent panelled doors, principally carved from Spanish walnut and mahogany in the 19th century. ‘I wanted to create a house with immediate atmosphere’, explains Candida. ‘The doors make the house seems older’. One such door leads into the master bedroom, with its own ensuite sitting area, comprising a sofa and armchair set under high white beams. ‘I wanted a lot of light here’, says Candida. ‘The beige and white give different textures and create a very serene feeling’. The same ethos lay behind the bathrooms, with its gleaming white marble and state of the art fittings from Keramag.

Photo: James Fennell.

An elaborate arch leads through to the main living room. Morning light explodes through a vast pedimented window, echoing that of the kitchen, framed by white linen curtains. Sofas are covered with white linen spreads, creamy velvet Turkish pillows and Burgundy silk cushions. By night, the room is lit by a series of steel Italian lamps (Ikea Spain, Conran) and silk shaded wooden lamps by Pedro Peña of Marbella. With its vaulted roof, venerable fireplace and alluring armchairs, the living room instantly inclines one to a state of peace. Shelves, alcoves and glass top tables are bedecked with family heirlooms, well thumbed books and oriental vases. Much of the furniture and sculpture was collected from visits to the antique shops of Paris, Madrid and Barcelona.

Taylor personally orchestrated the transformation of the uncultivated scrubland into a garden. ‘Planting and spending time in my own garden is the most satisfying part of my day’, she says. The consequence of her work is a magnificent, three tiered floral fiesta that tumbles down the slopes to the sacrosanct cork trees at its base. The first terrace is a formal French parterre, encompassing olive trees, fish ponds, white oleanders, boxus, cypresses and an 18th century marble fountain. This terrace effectively encircles the lime-hued house and an infinite pool that beholds the Straits of Gibraltar and the mountains of Morocco shimmering beyond.

Each terrace is held in place by retaining walls of Iberian granite. Steps crafted from stone and terracotta zig-zag down through the second terrace which hosts sumptuous tropical plants from the vast African continent across the sea. Water lilies and lotus plants float serenely in the ponds. The tropical paradise rolls down over railway sleeper steps through bamboo and oleander to a constructed wilderness of romantic greensong and a useful fruit and nut grove.

The Taylors became partners with Casada Perez in Predio Estates, the agency that looks after some of the most exciting properties on the Costa del Sol. By 2008, they had collaborated on eight new houses. ‘But this is the house we live in and it’s the only one we designed for us’, says Candida