Dominic Bradbury, Journalist & Writer
 
HOUSE & GARDEN – UXUA HOTEL, TRANCOSO, BAHIA, BRAZIL – ‘HOTELS BY DESIGN’


WORDS – DOMINIC BRADBURY
PHOTOGRAPHS LINE KLEIN

The picturesque town of Trancoso, on the tropical coast of Bahia, inspires a loyal following. Blessed with a welcoming climate and a unique, seductive charm all of its own, Trancoso draws in creative minded people, bohemian adventurers and devotees willing to make a long journey for rich rewards. A place of infectious calm and delightful modesty, this is a place where worries fall away and even the teenagers leave their phones in their pockets. The pace is slow here and the setting is positively therapeutic.

No wonder that Dutch designer and hotelier Wilbert Das was hooked on his very first visit to Trancoso, back in 2004. Having spent twenty years as creative director of the Italian fashion brand, Diesel, which he helped to grow from a small company to a global concern, Das has always been a traveller. Yet his first visit to Bahia was life changing and led, step by step, to the decision to open Trancoso’s premier hotel, UXUA – a word which means ‘wonderful’ in the local Pataxó Indian language.

‘When I first came here it was June and low season, so I was the only tourist,’ says Das. ‘By the time I left, I had fallen in love with the place, the people, nature, food – everything. Every holiday that I had, I would come back to Trancoso and then we started building home after home here, each one of them fulfilling a dream. It was a collection of dream houses.’

With his business partner Bob Shevlin – who also worked at Diesel for many years - Das already had experience of restoring and designing homes in Italy, Monaco and Los Angeles; there were also the interiors of the Pelican Hotel in Miami, owned by Diesel, as well as Diesel furniture and lighting collections. Falling in love with Trancoso coincided with the ambition of steering his design career further in the direction of architecture, interiors and furniture, with Das starting work on UXUA as he served out his last year at Diesel.

Das and Shevlin found a magical spot on the quadrado – a town square bordered by low slung, multi-coloured former fishermen’s houses with a 16th century mission church one end. Football games are played here every evening and it’s also the focus of any local festivals; it is made all the more charming and peaceful by the fact that no cars are allowed onto the quadrado, which is now lined with restaurants and boutiques.

Initially, Das and Shevlin thought they would build homes for themselves and a design studio. Yet the whole process proved so positive that Das kept designing and building, embracing the decision to fund the project by opening a luxury hotel. By the time UXUA opened in 2009, there were a whole series of villas hidden away within a lush, secret garden, complemented by a communal pool plus a larger cabana alongside, holding a bar and restaurant. Das and Shevlin also created an UXUA lounge down on the beach, which is ten minutes walk along a winding path that starts off just by the nearby mission church.

Today, there are eleven villas at UXUA, designed in an organic, casual, contextual and sophisticated aesthetic, using reclaimed and recycled materials for reasons of sustainability, but also to add texture, history and character. The relationship between inside and outside living is always vital, with the tropical greenery forming a constant backdrop.

‘We had always dreamed of having a place with the luxury of a hotel and the comfort and decoration of a home, rather than some kind of standardized design,’ says Das. ‘I don’t like chain hotels if I want to feel good. If I’m following my heart, then I want to feel that someone has put their love into a place. There needs to be real passion and character behind it.’

If the success of a hotel – and a town – can be measured in terms of loyalty, then UXUA and Trancoso are certainly thriving. Guests return again and again, captivated by the combination of a characterful hotel with warm hosts, the unspoilt beauty of the coast itself and a unique food culture, big on taste, spices and healthy ingredients, especially fish and seafood. More recently, Das’ guests have started asking him to design private homes here as well on the same design principals, combining indoor-outdoor living with sustainable sensitivity and a bespoke approach throughout. His clients include CNN anchorman Anderson Cooper, whose compound house on the quadrado is rented via the hotel when the owner is not in town; the same arrangement applies to three other houses nearby, encouraging year round use and giving another boost to the local economy.

Although fortunate to be able to pick and choose his projects, while also making time for friends and guests, Das is still driven by the energy to design and create. Having developed a whole series of collaborations with local artisans, over the course of many projects, Das has just developed an UXUA Casa collection of textiles, furniture and ceramics marketed to guests, extended ‘family’ and more widely via a new online shop – uxuacasa.com. A talented weaver works within the grounds of the hotel itself, while Das also collaborates with – among others - a ceramicist in the town and an artist from the local Pataxo Indian tribe. The impact upon the evolution of the local arts and crafts industries has been a positive byproduct of Das and Shevlin’s commitment to the community.

‘I love the longevity of what we are doing here,’ says Das. ‘They are timeless pieces, beyond fashion, and purely based on what our creativity can do in combination with the local style and the local vernacular. That’s important to us, because the sense of the ‘local’ so often gets lost in the world. My next dream would be to create a factory school for craft in Trancoso. It would make a lot of sense because there is a huge market for the work and there are a lot of kids here with nothing to do. It is a fantastic dream but it would be a lot of work….’

After just a few days in Trancoso, most visitors are completely seduced, giving in a wholly different pace of life. It becomes harder and harder to leave as the days pass by, especially if you have been wrapped in the warm hospitality of UXUA. No wonder that so many people find themselves drawn back again and again. I‘m sure that one day I will be among them.

 

UXUA Hotel – www.uxua.com