Kanuhura, Maldives

Interior design firm MUZALAB creates a place for free spirits – and a unique island retreat for Sun Resorts’ latest property, Kanuhura, Maldives...

Kanuhura has been re-imagined by Inge Moore and design team members, Nathan Hutchins and Caitlin Miller, as a unique island retreat in the atolls of the Maldives. Their project has included the re-design of every existing area and the introduction of some new spaces, working from the big picture through to every detail, from creating larger guestrooms and reimagining the F&B outlets to details such as crockery and picnic baskets as well as uniform collections for the staff.

In their ambition to create a truly different destination for this part of the world, the designers took as their starting point the word GYP.set N \‘jip-set\ - a lifestyle that combines the unconventionality of the gypsy fused with the sophistication and speed of the jet set. Familiar with the best things in life, gyp setters are free in spirit and roam the world, finding places to escape to. They have an intuitive understanding of modern sophistication and international tastes, and they seek to be emotionally and creatively connected with wherever they land. Kanuhura has become a place full of this bohemian spirit - unfettered, chic and enticingly laid-back.

Design inspiration came from the legends, culture and natural world of the islands - their stories, colours and sculptural forms. By bringing these influences into the experience of Kanuhura, the designers have created a sense of free-spirited timelessness and well-being where guests find a place to create their own special memories with family and friends.

The village at the heart of Kanuhura includes a cluster of thatch-roofed buildings offering easy eats, pampering and play, gathered around a ‘social’ lawn. Poolside, there is diverse selection of eateries and restaurants set into the natural landscape including the new Cowry Club named after the local Cowry shell which naturally celebrates the beauty of local materials and the 360 degree vista of sea, pool and lush gardens. At the furthest point of the island, another restaurant and lounge are woven into the sea shore while for those who dream of an even more castaway experience, a tiny off-shore island is translated into an unforgettable escape complete with laden picnic baskets and huge cushions to lounge upon.

Guestrooms are either Palm Houses – bedrooms on the beach – or Shell Houses raised over the ocean. Both combine simple white painted walls and lime washed teak floors with vividly coloured upholstery, oversize abstract paintings and locally crafted furniture and objects. They flow into nature. The Shell Houses enjoy large terraces outside the bedroom and indoor showers with a floor opening allowing guests to shower while watching the fish below, while the Palm Houses open onto a garden terrace, most with a pool and outdoor dining area.

Inge Moore talks to Can Faik about Kanuhura and designing extraordinary experiences...

How did you decide upon the Gyp.set lifestyle as your original inspiration for the project?
For me, island retreats are all about being free-spirited, places where you take off your shoes both literally and emotionally. Then there was also the challenge of creating a resort that was different from the many other exquisite resorts in the Maldives which tend towards an Asian design for understandable reasons. So we decided that we wanted a resort that was less perfectly tailored both to differentiate it and to help it become synonymous with laid-back escape. The bohemian nature of Gyp.setters was a perfect starting point for this.

How much does the design of Kanuhura reflect your personal values?
We believe in creating places with the right narrative for their location. All our projects are unique and the way to achieve this is by really thinking through the history, culture and specific qualities of the local natural world to develop a new story that could only belong there and which, as a result, is authentic. The experience of Kanuhura is one hundred per cent collected with every detail, down to the sashes on the uniforms and the plates on the tables, considered and selected to express the individuality of the experience.

Please tell us about how Kanuhura’s design connects with the natural world of the setting?
The natural world leads the design; it is the key ingredient binding everything together. Whether, it is the Shell Houses raised just above the ocean or the restaurants and lounges spilling out into the landscape, the design completely connects with nature through the carefully organised views as well as  the materials, lighting, really everything we have introduced.

You were responsible for numerous elements of the design, including uniforms and table tops as well as interiors. Is there a benefit to a project in having one company handle so many elements?
Definitely because it ties every aspect of the “collection” together. Take staff uniforms for example. They should be every bit as much part of the overall design vision as a bedroom interior so that the employees can play their part in the narrative. Or table tops. Hotel guests spend a lot of time looking at the crockery and cutlery and touching it. They can tell a story as much as a piece of artwork.

If you were on vacation in Kanuhura, how would you spend your dream day?
I would start on ‘The Wild Side’, the farthest point of the island. Here we have created a new beach bar which is the epitome of design for the free spirited, sophisticated and creative souls of Gyp.setters. There are curvaceous blue wicker rocking chairs, rough wood picnic benches, hand carved tables and feature tents with hanging pendants and bohemian seating cushions while the traditionally thatched bar is a perfect escape from the sun.
At some point in the afternoon, I would wander into the village for a coffee or an ice cream and then maybe lounge on the lawn surrounded by Kanuhuru’s lush flora and then, in the evening, onto the Cowry Club and dinner in one of the poolside restaurants.

How important was sustainability and local community involvement in the project?
We always like to involve local artisans in creating original pieces and prefer to source other items from near the project. We were lucky with Kanuhura because there was a great workshop of the island which made or reconstructed a lot of items for us. Where we couldn’t use entirely local supplies, we were at least able to purchase from within the region.

You have just announced that you have set up a new design company, MUZALAB. Can you tell us some more?
MUZALAB is a high-concept boutique practice which will specialise in one-of-a-kind hospitality and residential projects. I am setting it up with my long-time business partner, Nathan Hutchins, and the studio will be based in London’s Notting Hill. The new company will have a very particular culture, shaped by the skills and passions of the team which means we’ll focus on more extraordinary projects like Kanuhura, both large and small around the world.


Kanuhura, Maldives