On a hilltop in Majorca, Serena Rees has created a plant-filled bohemian bolthole that doubles as the ultimate party house.
Up a winding camino, among the ancient olive groves and citrus orchards of the Serra de Tramuntana mountain range, Serena Rees’s Majorcan home lies hidden in a spectacular spot. Secluded behind sand-coloured walls and dark wooden gates, it perches on the side of a pine-studded hill that drops down through rocky outcrops into the deep blue Mediterranean.
“It’s paradise, if you can stand it,” wrote Gertrude Stein, corresponding with the poet and author Robert Graves, of this part of the world. Graves could stand it, it turned out. He set up home here in 1929 and stayed for the rest of his life, his reputation as something of a mystic drawing like-spirited bohemians to the island.
Over the following decades more artists, musicians, actors, fashion designers and models have found that they, too, can stand a location so naturally beautiful it has been appointed a Unesco World Heritage site. And perhaps, at some point, some of these glamorous visitors have ended up at Serena Rees’s house. As the highly sociable 51-year-old acknowledges, “I’m kind of known for throwing a good party.”
The businesswoman and MBE founded the va-va-voom lingerie brand Agent Provocateur in the 1990s, with then husband, Joe Corré (son of Vivienne Westwood), before selling it for a cool £80 million in 2007, in the same year that the couple divorced. Ten years later, after getting together with her new partner, the former Clash bassist Paul Simonon, and watching her daughter, Cora, now aged 21, and Simonon’s sons – Louis, 25, and Claude, 27 – tackle life as young millennials, she has launched another zeitgeisty underwear brand, the street-to-bed label Les Girls Les Boys.
She first came to Majorca over 10 years ago with Simonon and fell in love with the island. Initially, they rented a house from Lynne Franks, the veteran PR made famous by Jennifer Saunders in Absolutely Fabulous. “It was hilarious – exactly like the Ab Fab kitchen when you came down the stairs,” remembers Rees. “We rented it for years, and Majorca became our ‘other place’. It’s magical. Whether it’s the ley lines or something else, there’s just a very special feeling about it.”
After much searching, Rees and Simonon found a Balearic nook to call their own. It took five years to rebuild the “weird 1960s bungalow” that occupied the site, but now the new house, clad in local stones hand-cut on location, emerges organically out of the vegetation like a little earthen dwelling.
Since buying her first flat, in Notting Hill, when she was 20, Rees has become an interiors expert, renovating or building more than 10 properties (“and hundreds of retail stores,” she adds), including a Grade I listed John Nash house in Regent’s Park, and her current home, a five-storey 1752 terrace house not far from Oxford Circus, dubbed Hotel Serena by her friends on account of her hospitality. With three bedrooms, and a guest room in a casita, the Majorcan home is bijou in comparison, but it has been created with indoor-outdoor living in mind, making full use of the verdant grounds that teeter down the hillside to the ocean.
“I wanted different spaces for different times of the day and year – to hang out in and chat or maybe read a book,” says Rees. Almost everything at the property was made by local artisans. Doors and windows open wide on to the gardens, where terraces are furnished with local textiles.
A paved “chill-out area” with a bar is ready for an impromptu soirée (or yoga session), and a spectacularly located mirador is the perfect setting for panoramic sundowners – or sun-uppers, should you party the stars to bed.
Having worked in fashion since leaving school at 16, London-born Rees has cultivated a network of loyal friends. She and Simonon’s circle includes Kate Moss, Sam Taylor-Johnson, Charlotte Tilbury and Sadie Frost, as well as musicians and DJs – Simonon is part of Damon Albarn’s supergroup The Good, The Bad & The Queen. Rees’s passion is for sharing her space with friends and their families – hence the open-plan layout of her Majorcan home. Inside, the tranquil effect of the waxed plaster walls was achieved with a traditional lime mortar base and lime paint with a polished finish. The dark Sarci Peninsula stone of the kitchen counter tops was carved into a sink by a local stonemason in the shallow Majorcan style; a mother-and-daughter team of potters made the simple lampshades that hang in the kitchen.
Rees, an enthusiastic foodie, had her Lacanche oven shipped from France. “The kitchen is set up with the idea that everyone is going to be mucking in,” she says. With vegetables from the garden, meals can be thrown together easily. “The tomatoes here are just to die for,” she says. “You’d never have a supermarket one again. And we get fresh fish from the port – Paul goes off on his scooter or we go out on a boat and pick it up at the end of the day – then grill it outside.”
Perhaps she hadn’t planned for quite the 250 guests who ended up attending, but that’s the Majorcan vibe. “People came with their whole family. Charlotte Tilbury – I call them the Travelling Tilburys – brought her mum, her dad and her sister! Amazingly, we didn’t run out of booze.”
For Rees, it was the perfect celebration. “The music, the energy of the place, the years of friendships and different generations… it was everything I love.” So will she do it again this summer? “Nothing planned,” she says, with a smile that suggests good times are never far away.