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Casa Karma: A House Grows Up in a Hillside Garden

People often come to Vieques to find a new lifestyle and that style is sometimes reflected in their homes; their location on the island, their design, and their décor. Creating your own space on a small island presents challenges that are usually met with ingenuity and creativity. Occasionally, Vieques Insider will feature one of these homes and their designers to show a unique expression of Vieques lifestyle. Meet Judy Chadwick and John Towne of Casa Karma.

On a sweeping high bluff with a magnificent view of our sister island of Culebra sits the very private home of gifted artists Judy Chadwick and John Towne. Weary from traveling the world for their work – a print consulting business – the Connecticut couple decided they wanted to slow-down and smell the wild jasmine by moving to an island in warmer climes. One cold day, while on a business trip in Buffalo, NY, John was flipping through a wedding magazine and came across an ad for a vacation rental in Vieques. They flew down and decided that this was THE place for them to start a new life. They returned home to 29 inches of snow and started making plans to move. Seven months later, they were back in Vieques and found a one-room house to buy on a piece of property that had no water or electricity, but had beautiful views. Back North again, the couple sold just about everything they owned and packed the rest in a shipping container to be delivered later. When Chadwick and Towne moved here for good in 1997 the one room house and the bare ground surrounding it was to become their labor of love. They lived for six and half years without power. For a year and half a 10-gallon metal drum became their rainwater catchment system. And now after seventeen years, through their hard work and possessing a unique vision, the dream of island life has become a very real paradise.

As you enter, an arched doorway leads you into an open courtyard bordered by a tropical garden, backed by a brilliant blue wall – a color reminiscent of the sky overhead and the sea in the distance. Judy and John have successfully managed to bring the outdoors inside with an airy openness to their living space. Color, texture, and balance show off their exceptional gardening skills. John credits Judy with her signature “wild but tame” gardening style that is lively and refreshing. A thicket of bamboo provides shade to the open-air dining room while an inviting pool in the back yard beckons you to jump-in.

Everywhere you look around their home, there are intriguing re-purposed treasures. What others have discarded, John and Judy have transformed by skill and imagination. A series of license plates painted red, white and blue have become a Puerto Rican flag. A salt-weathered shutter is used as a canvas for one of Judy’s colorful folk-art-inspired paintings. John uses his metal working skills to turn old rebar into a whimsical wine rack, and an old wallpaper print cylinder sees new life as an enormous wind chime. A broken chair has been lovingly repaired and painted in funky colors while the lacey metal grill work from an old sewing machine becomes a stunning wall ornament. They have fashioned an environment of creative idiosyncrasy – a home that truly reflects their personalities.

For John Towne and Judy Chadwick, Casa Karma embodies an island dream come true.

“We quit our very lucrative jobs and moved to Vieques to a house with no water and no electricity. Our friends either thought we had gone mad or they envied us moving to the ‘simple, island life’. To be honest, we have never worked harder in our lives than we do here. But now we love what we do and where we live.”

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