I’m mostly from California – San Diego and Los Angeles. I moved around a lot growing up, and that has continued my whole life, including New York City for 7 years. I also spent some very formative years in Cocoa Beach, Florida, where we lived for 4 years while my dad was in charge of the first soft landing vehicle on the moon. The past couple years, I’ve been based in Amsterdam, and that’s where I’m still based.
Around 1996/97, my girlfriend and I decided to spend the Christmas holidays in St. Thomas. My mom actually grew up in Puerto Ricco and used to holiday in St. John, so I’d heard of the general area, but never visited. We stayed on a sailboat and I remember seeing all the blue roofs on St. Thomas as we flew in, a result of the most recent hurricane (Hugo). The day before Christmas, the owner of the boat we were staying on, suggested we sail over to Tortola to spend Christmas Day in this bay he knew about. It sounded good to us. We arrived at night, and the next morning woke up to this amazing setup of mountains, well, hills really, coming down to greet the water, a few assorted houses sprinkled amongst the hills and the water, such amazing colors and textures. We had one of the best Christmases ever, just hanging out on the sailboat, swimming, snorkeling, eating and drinking, just taking it all in. The next day we headed back to St. Thomas and I remember being on the bow of the boat as we left thinking, “Wow, this place is amazing! Why are we leaving?!”
That first trip we spent New Year’s in St. Thomas, and then headed back to California. A couple months later, my friend, whose boat we stayed on, wrote me and said, ‘hey remember that bay we anchored at over in the British Virgin Islands, well there’s a house for sale overlooking the water there. Of course I remembered, and a few days later I contacted the agent and shortly after that, I made a very low ball offer on the house. Sight unseen. I knew nothing about buying a house, but I trusted my gut on this one. I’d seen the area, met a few friendly local people, and knew I had to try to buy this house.
My very low ball offer was very politely refused from the very nice Canadian couple who owned the house. They sent me a letter, pre-email days, thanking me for the offer, but that it was a bit low. The owner was Mr. Roberts, who had a couple Hollywood movies made about his life in the military. Not really knowing how real-estate works, I sent back a very slightly higher offer. Two months went by and I tortured myself thinking, “Oh no, I lost the house”; probably for the best. Then the following Christmas, while visiting my folks in Oregon, I said to my girlfriend, ‘I never heard back from that agent, maybe I’ll give her a call. So I did, and will never forget what she said, over the phone. She said, “Oh yes, I’ve been meaning to contact you, they accepted your offer.” “What?” was my response and I turned to my girlfriend and said covering the phone, “I think I just bought a house.” Arrangements were made, and I needed to sign some papers, so on my way to Argentina to give a graphic design lecture, I flew into the then tiny airport on Beef Island, to visit the property, I thought I should at least see the house I am buying. I stayed at Loose Mongoose Apartment’s in Cane Garden Bay and can still remember the night I arrived.
Having just arrived from New York in my cold weather clothes, I thought I needed to walk over to the property late that night. I remember vividly the smells, especially all the crickets and sounds, the stars, the humidity and when I got about halfway to the house, I said to myself, no, I don’t need to go any further. I’m doing this. It all felt so right and that was it, I bought my vacation house before I ever bought a “real” house. I remember taking the keys to my new house with me to Argentina and kept them out on the nightstand next to the bed in my hotel room. Life comes at you fast sometimes and when I returned to California with new house keys in my pocket, my girlfriend called and said we were having a baby.
My son Luke ended up spending his first birthday on Tortola, at the shell museum, with Egbert Donovan serenading him on string ukulele and water tub drums. 17 years later he would serenade my 3rd child, and 2nd son, on his first birthday.
I’ve been coming, nonstop now for 23 years.
Besides the fact that I own my own house, the people and the beauty. In my work as a graphic designer, I lecture throughout the world, meet clients, and give workshops. Last year I visited over 20 countries and cities. Lots of airports and travel. I’ve always felt I make my living from my hobby – it rarely feels like work! The Virgins Islands to me has always been the perfect place to relax, stop, breathe, and enjoy in a way that has little to do with what I do the rest of the year. No matter where I travel, it’s always so good to know I have this house waiting for me in the BVI. It’s such a great place for my kids to experience. A place where I can relax, swim in the sea, fiddle in the yard, and just take it all in, especially the amazing sunsets. And, I so enjoy seeing the mood changes the weather produces on the sea.
As much as I love my life and activities in the graphic design world, I so look forward to and love the totally different experience of being in these amazing islands. What ultimately one remembers from traveling, I find, are the people you meet and I have met so many wonderful folks here. Good times at Elm’s Bar with the Elmtones, late afternoon into evenings with friends at Rudy’s, when he was still the main bartender. Rudy used to help me find abandoned signs around the island, including some from his bar, to add to my collection from around the world. I enjoyed hanging with Pouie at Da Wedding Bar and Restaurant, while he made one of those delicious fish sandwiches I always got. I took my parents there and it was also their favorite restaurant.
Oh that’s tough. Seeing my parents swimming in the sea behind Da Wedding, putting my 3 kids in the ocean for the first time, so many I can’t find only five, and so often it’s more a feeling than an event. Each evening I’m still surprised how many stars you can see here, even after seeing them all these years, and this time I’ve been here long enough to see the sunsets switch from finishing over St. Thomas to setting over the very north edge of Jost Van Dyke, and now it has started to return back towards setting over St. Thomas.
Sometimes, when its gets really windy, not hurricane windy, I’ve taken my kids up to the Sky World lookout bar just to feel the wind. I enjoy walking in the Sage Mountain rain forest and the boat trips to Jost Van Dyke on New Year’s Day with Pouie steering the ship! Also taking friends and relatives to The Baths. My son Luke’s first birthday, we celebrated at the Shell Museum in Carrot Bay. I always take visitors to meet Donovan and see his amazing collections, shells, art and food!
The first morning after arriving at night, is always so amazing – just like wow, look at this! I’ve had friends, parents, other people’s kids, my kids, mothers-in-law visit, and it always so much fun; especially since they’ve arrived at night, and in the morning when they step out on the porch and really see where they are, the looks on their faces always amaze me.
I was lecturing at a design conference in Guatemala and was watching the news. I’ve never quite understood the expression ‘in the eye of the hurricane’, until I saw the weather station showing Tortola completely “in the eye”. I came back as soon as it was possible, to utter devastation. I had to really mentally prepare myself for what I might find.
It was a tough decision I had to make, to get out quick, or ride it out here. And if I leave, would I be going anywhere safer? After weighing everything, I chose to stay.
A full spectrum of emotions, from fear to near panic, to calm and enjoyment of the down time. I’ve gotten some projects done, and just reflected on everything that being said. It’s been day to day, trying to sort things out and adapt. But it’s hard to imagine a better place to be in these strange times, or any time really. I’ve actually finally started an exercise regime I’ve tried to do for years. And with my gardener, Tyrone Durant, we’ve started growing a lot of new things on the property. Along with planting new coconut and palm trees, we’ve planted lemon grass, watermelon, cucumbers, banana trees, okra, pumpkins, five finger, pineapples, sugar cane, eggplant, plum, avocados, and lettuce.
Well that’s funny. “Tourist” has such a negative connotation. I don’t feel that I am, but technically, I guess I am. Just another snowbird…or maybe snowflake.
Enjoying natural beauty and moods of the sea. Sunsets, swimming in the sea, just noticing it all. Trying to be in the moment and take it all in.
Yes, this is by far the longest. I’m actually surprised how long it’s been now, and that overall, it seems to have gone rather quickly. Sometimes it’s good to be able to leave a place you love, before it starts being taken for granted. Every time I’ve come, I always end up pushing back my departure, but it’s better to leave and miss a place than to ever start taking it for granted. I’ve now gotten somewhat comfortable, but it will be nice to visit with my kids, and actually put on something besides a bathing suit and t-shirt.
Artwork, friends and family. There’s a line in a song that says, ‘if I could find my way back home, where would I go?’ I sometimes feel this way as I’ve moved and traveled my entire life. When I return to Amsterdam I have good friends in the graphic design and advertising worlds I’ll enjoy to visit again, and my five-year old son who lives with his mom in Warsaw.
I’m hoping things open up and I can get him down here for the holidays, but who knows. I have business in California awaiting, so it will be good to go there and visit my two older kids who are in college there. Now I’m sitting waiting for hurricanes, which I’ve never done.
There is a part of me that enjoys getting away, and to look forward to coming back. So far, I’m still fine with coming and going; though I must admit, it feels awfully good being here for this length of time.
Maybe just to remind people how blessed they are to be here on this island, and try not to take any of it for granted and be sure and get off the island from time to time. It will help you appreciate the BVI even more. Plus, wear those masks!
David has been on the leading edge of graphic design for decades and has created iconic work for some of the biggest companies and most important brands in the world including Nike, Pepsi, Microsoft, Apple, Armani, David Bryne, Prince, British Airways, Ford, Audi, and many others. The American Center for Graphic Design has exalted him as having made “the most important work coming out of America,” while Creative Review magazine in London called David “the art director of the era.” In 2014, he was awarded the AIGA Gold Medal, the graphic design professions highest award, and in 2019 his work on the John Coltrane boxed set of 5 albums was nominated for a Grammy Award.
You can see David’s work at: davidcarsondesign.com or on Instagram at #davidcarson