A conversation with Eva Malmström Shivdasani, our Creative Director and Conscience, on the innovative and unique design of our villas and resorts.
How is your own vision of sustainability realised through the Soneva Villa Ownership programme?
When Soneva Fushi launched back in 1995, they gave me the nickname “The Conscience”! I insisted on only using sustainable wood for the construction of the resort and all of the furniture in the villas and dining destinations. I would not let anyone cut down any trees, so instead we planned the buildings around them.
When someone buys a villa, it is very important that they understand our philosophy, as we are very adamant that everything on the island should be as sustainable as possible. Most villa owners understand this, and totally agree with our vision.
What does sustainable luxury mean to you?
I think luxury is freedom, privacy and the time to relax in a laid-back environment. Soneva’s Slow Life philosophy perfectly addresses this, while also providing enough rare experiences at our resorts, so that our villa owners will never feel bored.
On our beaches, you never see a soul – I deliberately designed the villa gardens with this in mind, so that our guests can have their own privacy. This is especially appreciated by the celebrities that come here, as they can really hide away.
How have you ensured that Soneva’s villa are luxurious yet environmentally responsible?
It is important to capitalise on the naturally beautiful setting of our island. We wanted to encapsulate luxury but in a simple and natural way.
At Soneva Jani, for example, we have maximised those spectacular views. From the daybed on the ground floor there is a view outwards through wall to ceiling windows, and downwards through windows in the floor, which reveals the colourful marine life in the clear blue lagoon below.
The highest-quality sustainable materials were used throughout Soneva Jani, just like in all our developments. Driftwood was crafted into furniture and lampshades. The floors are mostly made from tiles that look like wood, as well as Bole floors, which are wooden planks that retain the original curve of the tree. The decks are of sandblasted pine, and the roofs are made from river red gum shingles. We also use recycled Tetra Paks for roof tiles in certain areas. Recycled glass, made in the Soneva Art & Glass Studio at Soneva Fushi, is used throughout.
Sourcing sustainable wood was one of the biggest challenges I faced back when we were first building Soneva Fushi. There was no way I would allow wood that came from rainforests! Our construction manager finally found a huge collection of unused telephone poles from the UK – we removed the bark, but left the poles with their natural shape, with all the knobbles and unevenness. Now, when we build new villas, we follow the same idea, and use plantation pine and Clusiana poles from New Zealand.
What is unique about your design aesthetic?
I love to make quirky things and to use items for something they are not made for. When I am in London, for example, I love searching for old manhole covers, they make such beautiful side tables – I found some amazing ones in reclamation shops. I always like to design fun and unconventional things, such as funny hooks and cutlery that look like fish, furniture legs made of piles of recycled wood or ceilings covered in off-cuts from naturally fallen trees. I got the idea of using slices of branches from a wall light that my grandmother once had.
I like using natural woods without any varnish. It’s better to oil the wood – as it doesn’t shine, it’s so much more beautiful. For protection, we also use a nano product that will keep the look matt and natural, and does not change the colour of the wood. It’s also great to use recycled wood. Not only does it mean that no new trees are cut, but it’s usually so stunning with a beautiful patina, and occasional holes here and there that add a unique character.
As an ex-model and amateur photographer, great lighting is also very important to me. For instance, I make big sea creatures out of copper as wall decorations and place a light behind them. The illumination from the copper and background light lights up the whole wall and creates beautiful shadows. I will also never put a spotlight over a vanity mirror. Instead, I will place the light on either side of the mirror at eye level, which is much more flattering to both men and women.
A woman once said that she felt I make lights to make women happy, which is absolutely true 😊.