An Afternoon in St. Barths With Travel Photographer Kate Holstein

Champagne and coconuts all day.

By Jenn Rose Smith

When photographer Kate Holstein isn’t traveling the world shooting for publications like Martha Stewart Weddings and Cereal Magazine, she and her husband Matt stick to a pretty sweet routine: 8 months at home in Aspen, Colorado followed by 4 months on the beach in the French West Indies. The couple fell in love with their beachside property when they were vacationing together in St. Barths, a tiny Caribbean island known for it’s distinctly French culture and pristine white sand beaches. Together, they remodeled Villa Palmier inside of just three months to create a beautifully simple family retreat. The space is fresh, modern, airy, and (lucky you!) available for rent when the Holsteins aren’t using it themselves. Kate (along with adorable daughter Zoe and pup Bugaboo) invited us over for a long lunch at Villa Palmier, and we seriously might never leave.

photographed by kate holstein and matt holstein at villa palmier

Give us a little backstory on your home in St. Barths — You renovated the space yourself. What was it like taking on a big project like that in a foreign country? What inspired you to create Villa Palmier?

My husband and I had always dreamed about having a little beach retreat. Both of us grew up in the mountains of Colorado, but have a deep love for the ocean. We visited St. Barth for the first time in the spring of 2014.

We knew from the moment the plane touched down just beside white sand beaches, aqua waters, and the cutest red roofed houses that we had found our spot. Five days later we found our house.

It was in need of a remodel, but the bones were good as was the beautiful view of the ocean and constant breeze that blows throughout. It was a dream project for us, yet very challenging to do a remodel on a small, remote, French speaking island.

Our intention was to create the ultimate beach retreat, with an emphasis on bringing the outside in, and a nod to the French culture that permeates the island. The house is small, only around 1,000 sq ft of covered space, but with an additional +1,000 sq feet of decks and gardens. It is completely open on both sides so there is a seamless flow from indoor to outdoors, perfect for a beach house. The small size was something that attracted us to the house because in working with smaller spaces, we were able to focus on every detail and every corner. We finished the house in an organic style with a neutral color pallet to invoke a sense of serenity and an overall relaxed vibe that makes you never want to leave the hammock 😉

That’s incredible and so inspiring. Now on to our more fast-paced fun questions…

Your must-have entertaining tool:

Fresh ingredients and good wine.

The one entertaining rule you never break:

Greet guests with a drink, serve seasonal and local food.

The taste you’re always craving:

Fresh, whether it’s fruit, veggies, meat. Really anything that doesn’t come in a package!

What’s on the menu for tonight:

We love to eat big loooong lunches in St. Barths and go lighter at dinner, so if we’re going to host, it’s often for lunch. However, the menu would translate great for a dinner party as well.


–Champagne and potato chips – I don’t like to serve a heavy appetizer before the meal, I much prefer my guests to be hungry! (Hunger is the best sauce…) There’s something about craving salt and crunch by the sea, so potato chips are the perfect light and very easy snack. Champagne is the perfect appertif, so it’s a must.


–Local Dorado, caught the morning of, lightly floured then pan seared in butter with a lemon caper butter sauce.

–Lemon butter risotto

–Mixed greens salad and french vinaigrette

Cheese course 

–Simple: two different chevres with figues


–Vanilla bean ice cream in fresh coconut bowls with a wedge of lime

Checked bag or carry on?

Carry on. Checked baggage is like playing roulette – there’s a fairly high chance you’ll never see it again. I also like to keep it simple and bring only a few but nice things. A carry on is good at forcing you to bring only your favorite and essential pieces!

Your standard hostess outfit:

Barefoot and a caftan or summer dress.

On the Villa Palmier playlist:

Our dog Bugaboo (mini labradoodle), loves to post up on the cushions near the stereo where we play a wide range of things, but most frequently bossa nova, Billie Holiday, the XX, Thievery Corp, Phaleh, and Luiz Bonfa.

Do you have a favorite time of year in St. Barths?

Spring and Fall – it happens to be when we spend time on the island but it’s the more quiet time of the year, not high season, so the island feels even more laid back than it already is, and you’ll often find yourself being the only person on the beach. That feels really special in today’s world.

Favorite tabletop item you own:

Organic shaped wood serving dishes from Bali.

One thing we’d never find at one of your parties:

Plastic! It feels like a full time job trying to keep plastic out of our lives. I certainly have not achieved this, but on the dinner table you will rarely find it. Instead I use ceramic, wood, glass, any natural materials. I feel that every element on the table matters, including what the food is served in. It should be beautiful, functional, and compliment the food.

The best thing to eat that you can only get in St. Barths:

Fish caught that morning.

Click here for Kate’s mahi mahi recipe, El Jefe’s Dorade!

Dream dinner guests:

Friends and family. The more the merrier. Ok, and maybe Christian Liagre (very talented interior designer with a home on St Barth).

Your go-to centerpiece solution:

For the evening, candles. Everyone and everything looks good in candle light. It’s romantic, timeless, organic and simple. It seems to provoke good conversation and lingering at the table far longer than you would without it. I also love decorating with food – coconuts, herbs, citrus  – these can all provide a beautiful splash of color and texture and inspire the meal even if you aren’t going to actually eat them.

For day time/lunch, I love FOOD as the centerpiece and focal point of the table. I like to serve family style in beautiful serving dishes, so I think it’s important to leave room for the dishes and not have an elaborate centerpiece taking up space. I like to make sure everything on the table is both beautiful and edible (except of course, what it’s being served in). That way the entire table comes together as a work of delicious art!

Always in the fridge at Villa Palmier:

Large quantities of rosé and various French butters!

Drink or cocktail you’ve paired with meal:

Champagne and rosé, simple, elegant and perfect for a long lunch on a sunny afternoon.

Favorite after dinner activity or game:

Lounging in the hammock, hanging cocoon chair, or low rocker, listening to the waves, occasionally glancing up at the stars and listening to/telling great stories.

Your entertaining style in 5 words or fewer:

Organic, fresh, simple, with understated elegance and a nod to French culture.

Fill in the blank: “It’s not a party without _________ .”

Champagne… and someone jumping in the pool!