As a designer of homes, Wolfgang Ludes is a neophyte with a mere three credits. And yet his latest—a mountaintop aerie on the rarefied island of St. Barts—has no less an expert than architect Richard Meier raving. “Every detail is carefully considered and executed,” says Meier of the residence that Ludes, a friend and fellow East Hampton, New York, habitué, has dubbed the Peak. “The siting, the organization of spaces, the uses of natural light and spectacular views are all the result of thoughtful planning. It’s the work of a perfectionist.”
It’s also, intriguingly enough, the work of a photographer. For that is how Ludes has spent most of his professional life, shooting beauty and fashion campaigns for the likes of Chanel, L’Oréal, and Yves Saint Laurent, as well as capturing portraits of celebrities (Victoria Beckham, Penélope Cruz, and Samuel L. Jackson, among others) for magazines all over the world. His years behind the camera are evident in the Peak’s rigorous spatial clarity, in the careful way the living and sleeping areas are laid out, and in the precise framing of the panoramas. Obvious too is his early training in still-life photography: Glasses are marshaled neatly on a kitchen shelf, books are placed in short, tapered stacks, and there’s no clutter anywhere.
“I like order,” Ludes admits. In fact, he has something of a mania for it. “I can easily get too involved in details and it drives me crazy,” he says in rapid-fire German-tinged English (Ludes was born in Cologne, but has lived in New York since 1995). Yet seeing the big picture and making it manifest has enabled him to segue from photography to home design, from a medium that operates in two dimensions to one that embraces all three.
Architecture had been on Ludes’s mind for some time, but he never tried his hand at it until he and his wife, Antonia, purchased a house in East Hampton several years ago. Ludes was determined to remodel the place himself. Happy with the results and hungry for a bigger challenge, he jumped at the opportunity presented by a friend—“a financial partner with exquisite taste,” Ludes says—who offered to back him in more projects.
Their choice of setting was St. Barts, an island touted for glamorous hotels and superyacht traffic, but one that cognoscenti know is all about private villas. “It’s an island where you can actually have a life,” Ludes points out. It was also, they judged, a safe investment, and the photographer and his partner planned similar homes, one to rent and one to serve as a retreat for the two men and their families.
Locating the ideal sites, however, would take months. “It’s difficult to find land that says something,” Ludes notes. But he finally struck pay dirt when a broker showed him a pair of properties on one of the island’s highest points. Ludes and his backer bought both and reserved the more elevated, nearly 1.3 acres with a collection of concrete bungalows, for the residence that would be called the Peak.
To Ludes, the views were transporting but overwhelming. Still, the hilltop “talked to me,” he says, and what it told him—after he’d slept there several nights, both inside and under the stars—was to create a house and garden so well integrated into their surroundings that they would become part of the landscape, yet also serve as a frame for those awesome vistas without being dwarfed by them.
Collaborating with Johannes Zingerle, a Vienna-trained St. Barts architect he’d met several years before, Ludes proceeded to demolish the bungalows and build on the existing foundations. “It was learning by doing,” says Zingerle of the two-and-a-half-year construction process. “I was collaborating and guiding, but he brought the vision. I offered different possibilities, and we made choices together.”
The completed residence consists of four shingle-roofed structures mounted one above the other, connected by a paved drive, flights of stairs, and a winding path. The largest contains airy open-plan entertaining spaces—with travertine floors that echo the color of the beaches in the distance and louvered doors that provide shade from the Caribbean sun—all furnished with classic modern European seating, including dining chairs by Hans J. Wegner and armchairs by Antonio Citterio. Further up the hill, through terraced palm groves and gardens, are a pair of guest rooms and a master suite with its own private pool. Wenge wood and more travertine grace the latter, along with a bed romantically draped with cotton netting.
What is most remarkable about the home is the ease with which Ludes plays with three dimensions, maximizing drama through his use of unexpected angles and perspectives. For example, in the master and guest bathrooms, huge windows frame craggy expanses of the cliffside. Each is a kinetic snapshot in a tightly controlled setting and a surprising gesture from a man who values order over chaos.
Speaking of which, one of Ludes’s favorite details at the Peak is pivoting closet doors that blend seamlessly into the walls when closed, a feature inspired by boat design. “I like to have room to put stuff,” he explains. “The more storage you create, the more people put things away.” After all, who would want to spoil the big picture? “I envision houses the same as I do a photo,” Ludes says. “Of course, there are some differences. A house takes longer than a photograph.”
The four-bedroom compound is sited on one of the island’s highest points; the view from the pool takes in St. Jean Bay, Anse des Cayes, and neighboring islands in the distance.
I literally die for this home. I can live the rest of my life and wake up every single morning to this. Such a dream home!