Palm Heights — a Modern Paradise

Maria Joudina

Set in the tropical paradise the is Grand Cayman, the largest of the Cayman Islands’ three isles, Palm Heights hotel is a heaven for beach and design lovers. We caught up with Gabriella Khalil, creative director and founder of this stunning properly to talk about the Palm Heights family, the importance of sourcing and the newest collaboration with sustainable lifestyle brand Marrakshi Life.

Maria Joudina: Apart from being set in absolute paradise with a dreamy beach and ocean on its doorstep, Palm Heights looks like a heaven for design and art lovers, can you please tell us about your inspirations for the look and feel of the interiors?
Gabriella Khalil: We started by taking inspiration from the 70’s as a reference to the glory days of Caribbean understated glamour. We also studied a huge image catalogue of references which included Grace Jones as a muse, imagery taken by Slim Aarons from the decade as well as contemporary artwork artists such as Chris Ofili. The idea was to draw design references from the 70’s and to combine this with a contemporary cultural narrative. The visual story of the hotel is a mix of iconic vintage furniture, found objects sourced globally and a strong mix of modern and vintage artwork.
MJ: I read that you enlisted an all female design team when working on the project, was it a conscious choice or coincidence?
It meant a lot to work with an all female design team. It wasn’t necessarily a conscious choice as I was drawn to the talent and experience of each of the designers, but having an all female team is something that I felt proud of as it was such a unique collaborative design process. 
MJ: What’s your favourite decade for design?
GK: I think that every decade has a lot to give. Over the past couple years I have been fixated with the 70’s because of the design process for Palm Heights, but lately I have been heavily drawn to the minimalism and materiality of the 90’s such as granite and dark woods. I can also say I love art deco design as I have found it to have influenced so many other genres over a span of many decades. 
MJ: Sourcing seems to be at the core of your research and design process, can you please tell us about your favourite places for finding the best design treasures around the world?
GK: There are so many amazing places to source and for me it provides the ultimate inspiration. I source literally everywhere.  One of my very favorite places to find treasures is in the souk in Marrakech where I have sourced everything from rugs, rattan, ceramics and handmade apparel. I also love visiting the Paris Flea markets for furniture heaven and have connected with so many incredible antique dealers here in the UK. 
MJ: You previously mentioned that you see Palm Heights as a place for collaboration for artists, athletes and musicians, a sort of family of like-minded people, can you please tell us about some of those ‘family members’?
GK: From the beginning, having creative energy was extremely important to the culture and experience of Palm heights. This process started with inviting friends or friends of friends down to the property who were all individually passionate about their work. We have had incredible chefs, musicians and artists (to name a few) down to Palm Heights to take part in residencies and truly create while they are on the island. Over the years this has expanded to a full artist residency program which invites creatives and athletes to experience the island as well as share their passions within our community and with our overseas and local guests. 
MJ: You have recently opened your hotel spa and well-being space, the Garden Club, can you please tell us about it and what self care means to you?
GK: We are launching the wellness concept very soon. I think for me, self care is all about consistency and keeping a positive state of mind. Over the years as things have gotten so intense with the pandemic and just general stresses of work, I focus on incorporating wellness rituals that work for me into my everyday schedule. This includes everything from adding relaxing baths into my week, infrared sauna, consistent workouts and rest. The most important part of my self care these days though is knowing when to say no to some things and choosing quality time for myself and my family. I find that when I do that, I am happier and therefore work better. 
MJ: You previously mentioned that sports are a huge part of your life and daily routine and you recently launched Palm Heights Athletics, are you someone who exercises even on holiday?
GK: I actually am that person who exercises on holiday. I think for me the key to feeling my best is consistency. I try to focus on work outs that I enjoy so boxing and running are a big part of my weekly routines (even if I am away from home). 
MJ: You have a library as part of Palm Heights, the Library Fetish, what are the three books you think everyone should read or own?
GK: These are some of my favorites: 
Passage Irving Penn
Probably the most comprehensive collection of Irving Penn’s career including his iconic and signature food photography which featured in Vogue, still lifes, portraits and fashion work. His work is as impactful today as it was 30 years ago.
Ecran Total, Jean Daniel Lorieux
Published in 2001, the book which translates as total sunblock, features a collection of photographs by the iconic French fashion photographer over the preceding 20 years featuring his slightly surreal and humorous style and trademark deep blue shots. 
Memphis by Barbara Radice
A wonderful survey including essays, drawings, photographs and sketches tracing the development of Memphis Group headed by Ettore Sotsass. The Group radically departed from traditional thinking and presented techniques and colour schemes that had never been implemented or combined before in the architecture and furniture design world.
MJ: You split your time between London and the Grand Cayman, what are your favourite parts for each of those?
GK: I have been living in London for about 14 years so there is a lot I enjoy about the city. I find London to be a truly inspiring place. What I love most about this city is the juxtaposition of  classic traditional experiences and modernism.  London is truly diverse and culturally rich with a mixture of classic institutions and new concepts. There is always something or someone new and interesting to learn from in London.  Cayman is a place of such incredible natural beauty as well as an extremely cosmopolitan population (60,000 people live there and over 130 nationalities).  In both London and Cayman there is a connectivity with the natural environment.  London with so many beautiful parks and in Cayman with ocean and marine life.
MJ: What’s next at Palm Heights that you’re excited about?
GK: There is a lot I am excited about! Over the next six months we are launching several new outlets at the hotel including a retail concept, athletics and wellness and cocktail bar. We have been working on these spaces for a while and with the delays of the pandemic over the past two years, I could not be more excited to share these spaces with guests! 
MJ: I just saw a sneak peek of the Marrakshi life collaboration which looks fabulous, can you please tell us about the pieces and how the project came about?
GK: I have always been such a huge fan of Marrakshi Life. I love their sustainable process, beautiful fabrics, bold colors and of course their use of stripes. I felt that our brands were aligned in a lot of ways. When I met Randall and Nick from Marrakshi Life and felt their incredible energy, I instantly knew that collaborating was something we had to do. The pieces are so special and we collaborated on a collection which includes a caftan, hat and robe.