The creative director of the Caribbean’s chicest new hotel discusses her design resources and her daily wellness ritual.
Located on a gorgeous stretch of white sand in Grand Cayman, Palm Heights Hotel opened last year and instantly became the It destination for the fashion crowd. Much of the appeal can be credited to its founder and creative director Gabriella Khalil, whose eye for art, design and all things cool (Sky Ting Yoga wellness programs, Bode hotel uniforms) has made it into the chicest new spot in the Caribbean.
You started out in the art world. How did you transition to hotels?
GK: I undertook a postgraduate degree in Contemporary Art and worked in a private London gallery. After a few years, I realized that my passion was really working with interiors and thinking about how art fills these spaces. This informed my approach to interior design. Living in London opens many doors and this was one exciting, extremely serendipitous opportunity that presented itself.
How did you envision Palm Heights, design wise? And how did you go about realizing that vision?
GK: I began by thinking about the 1970s when the resort was envisioned, which was really the initial heyday of Caribbean glamour and the jet set coming to the region. I started to think about the kinds of pieces that people traveling to the region would have collected and the color palettes of the time. The space had to be comfortable and feel like a home, so the vision was to create a beach estate. A lot of thought has gone into soft furnishings in both the indoor and outdoor spaces. I also imagined an extremely lush environment with outdoor spaces carved out from abundant greenery, so I became engulfed in research about tropical gardens in the region.
What are some of your favorite aspects about it?
GK: The natural environment is breathtaking and the ocean has a calm like nowhere I’ve seen in the world. But design-wise, it is the pieces that feel unexpected for a Caribbean hotel that I really love—from the Ingo Maurer fans and the Ettore Sottsass rug that greets guests in the lobby to the Mario Bellini and Vignelli sofas, which live in my favorite suites.
What are your favorite resources for design?
GK: I love Marrakech and the Paris flea market for serendipitous finds. I’m very particular about material too and much of the stone for Palm Heights was sourced directly from quarries I personally visited.
What or who is inspiring you now?
GK: I research and collect vintage travel magazines, vintage design books and old fashion magazines and scour them for inspiration. Lately I have been collecting old issues of Photo Reporter and Architectural Digest from the ’70s and ’80s. One of my favorite collections that we have been building for a while is a back catalogue of original Interview magazines during the period Richard Bernstein and Ara Gallant were producing cover art. I usually hoard these in my office.
What is your daily routine?
GK: Currently I am based in Grand Cayman and have a 3 year-old daughter, so my first hour or two is dedicated to her. Once she’s set for the day, I usually workout. I then hit the office, walk the property, take meetings until about sunset when I go home to spend time with my daughter before bed.
You curated the wellness center at the hotel. What is your wellness ritual?
GK: Fitness is a core part of my routine. I workout daily and alternate between running, boxing and circuit-based functional fitness. Running has always been my mental escape and lately I have been treating myself to a meditative sound bath at sunset once a week which has been helping me stay grounded and connected. I have also been experimenting with intermittent fasting and I limit my caffeine to natural and herbal teas throughout the day.
What do you think of Costa Brazil?
I'm a huge fan of Costa Brazil. I always love to use an oil to hydrate and since February I have been using the Jungle Firming Body Oil in the evenings. It is one of my favorite products that I use daily. I try to stay away from overly scented products and I am so drawn to the naturally fragrant, yet gentle, scent of this particular oil as well as the toning element.
What are you currently working on?
GK: The Garden Club is my current focus. It’s a social wellness space that encompasses an indoor/ outdoor gym space, multiple treatment rooms, a hammam, pool, ice room and infra-red sauna, all staged in a tropical garden setting. The program is being developed around treatments for the mind, gut and skin— all inspired by the heritage, diasporas and natural environment of the Caribbean.
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