A Surf Resort's Luxury Makeover

Hotelier James McBride—who ran Grosvenor House in London and The Carlyle in New York—has partnered wth real estate developer Chris Burch to transform Nihiwatu, on Indonesia's Sumba Island, into a world-class destination for more than wave chasers.

Nihiwatu is famous for being an incredible wave break, but since becoming a partner in the operation, you’ve really focused on creating top-class accommodations. What kinds of things have you been doing?

We’ve built 20 new villas, ten of which have opened, and the rest are opening next March. They’re inspired by two-story Sumbanese homes, where people live upstairs and animals and livestock live below, giving it a kind of tree-house design. In our villas, the bedroom and bathroom sit on the second floor, 20 feet above the ground, extending over the living room lounge and pool below.

The use of height to create drama seems to be a running theme.

I love the design of a Javanese joglo, which uses poles as accent pieces around the main house, so we’ve borrowed that theme for the beds by using poles that extend 15 feet from the corners and draping the mosquito nets to create that real “wow” effect.

What design detail did you really want to make sure you got right?

I’m kind of obsessive about outlets, and both Chris [Burch] and I are always driven mad by looking for places to plug our electronics! There must be 12 plug points in one suite [laughs].

What’s the transition been like moving from a place like The Carlyle to Nihiwatu?

I’m still in New York quite often, but being here has been such a design inspiration because you have colors and the ikats that are so much a part of the Indonesian tradition. And we’ve been able to incorporate local and regional materials like Sumbanese mahogany and Javanese black volcanic rock. There’s an authenticity here that’s inspiring.

Rooms now start at $495 a person per night, with a minimum three-night stay; West Sumba, Indonesia; 62-361/757-149; nihiwatu.com.