The words ‘family seat’ conjure images of a chilly evening in a foreboding historic house that has descended through the generations, complete with draughty windows and beds that collapse in the middle. But this could all be set to change. American developers have given the idea a makeover and are converting the concept of the family seat into the ‘legacy home’. As David V. Johnson, chairman of Victor International, one of the leading developers of upscale residential resorts in America, explains:

‘A legacy home is a generational gathering place for families to come together, to reconnect and share life experiences.’ A swimming-pool accident led Mr Johnson to realise the importance of spending quality time with his family-a simple enough aspiration, but, in an age full of distractions, one that’s not necessarily possible. His solution was a special second home where his family could reunite at different times of the year: somewhere they could acquire ‘the memories we would share forever’.

He built this concept into a multi-billion-dollar business by creating resorts of what he now calls ‘legacy communities’, geared towards ‘providing educational experiences for children and adults, such as adventure and outdoor experiences’. Such is the success of his legacy-homes model that Victor International is responsible for developing 43 separate ‘generational communities’, including Bay Harbor in Michigan and Oil Nut Bay in the British Virgin Islands (BVI).

If this legacy home concept sounds a little corny to British ears, rest assured-the Oil Nut Bay community is anything but. Located on Virgin Gorda, the BVI’s second largest island, it looks set to blow anything else in the Caribbean out of the water. It’s on a sharply sweeping peninsular with views so rich they can barely be digested, and comprises 88 legacy homes, 10 of which are to be built right on an unspoiled beach. It’s hard to imagine a piece of waterfront real estate anywhere that compares with it. The plots alone at Oil Nut cost upward of $2.5 million; build cost starts at $600 per square foot for villas that are typically about 36,000 square feet.

According to Stuart Baldock of buying agents Property Vision France, the British idea of a home where the family can gather has also mutated. The place in question is increasingly likely to be a second home abroad. ‘We see more and more British families saying “We want to buy a property that our children will want to come back to when they’re married and with families of their own”,’ explains Mr Baldock, adding that one reason for this is that the profile of overseas buyers has changed dramatically.

‘Twenty years ago, people couldn’t afford a second home abroad until they were fairly old,’ he says. ‘Now, they’re richer far younger and more geared toward moving around the world. They tend to have very young kids who benefit from going back to the same place two or three times a year to play in the pool and ride their bicycles around.’

Whereas, 20 years ago, such people were more likely to have a second home in the UK-typically, a house on the coast in Cornwall or somewhere in the Scottish Highlands-today, they lean towards
a house overseas. ‘Low-cost airlines mean they’re cheaper to reach and modern technology makes them easier to run.’

Furthermore, as most modern fathers are in a position to take the office with them, the whole six-week summer holiday can be spent as a family in a completely different setting. Friends and other families can join them. ‘It’s a complete change of scene for a family. The sort of environment that is conducive to good humour and which provides a bonding experience that you just don’t get in your own backyard.’

In other words, just as Mr Johnson contends, homes are as much about building an emotional legacy as the inheritance potential of the physical bricks and mortar -or should that be stone and roof tiles? Even then, Mr Baldock believes a family home overseas is more likely to have traditional ‘legacy’ value. ‘When a lot of children inherit properties, they choose to sell family homes because they can’t afford or don’t want-to keep them,’ he observes. ‘Many brothers and sisters don’t want to spend a lot of money maintaining an old house in deepest Dorset. But chances are, they spent the happiest times of their lives in an overseas property, and are more likely to continue to want to gather there with their own families in the future.’

Forming a relationship with another country, its language, culture and climate is also a profoundly bonding experience for any family, reckons Rupert Fawcett, head of Knight Frank’s Italian department. ‘The allure of abroad is very strong, and if you have spent part of your childhood growing up there, it’s even stronger.’

Teenagers especially are more likely to join parents holidaying in a second home abroad-and bring friends with them. Mr Fawcett says this is just one reason why it’s better to buy reasonably close to a decent city or somewhere more vibrant. Swimming pools, tennis courts and plenty of bedrooms are also important, as is being within cycling distance of a decent village.

The concept of legacy homes covers many emotional drives. Mr Fawcett points to the number of homes in upscale Tuscan resorts owned by Americans of Italian ancestry, eager to explore their family’s past. Another factor behind buying legacy homes abroad is that ‘people today are so much more cosmopolitan. They’re also likely to marry someone from, say, France or Italy whom they met in London, and then they’ll want a home in their spouse’s birth country’.

In a sense, the idea of legacy homes for generational communities in the style of Oil Nut Bay was first developed by the British on the north-east corner of Corfu. Families such as the Glenconners started the influx of members of the British aristocracy to the island back in the 1960s, and it has since been dubbed ‘Kensington on Sea’.

Andrew Langton, director of Aylesford International, has had a home there for more than 20 years. Mr Langton is also a good case study for legacy in terms of the deepened relationships within a family and the wider community that such a home brings to a family. ‘We’ve brought up three children in what to them as youngsters was complete paradise.

They’ve developed a fantastic outdoor life, and it has given them a quality of life that they never would have had in, say, rural Dorset.’ As teenagers, the Langton children brought along friends who still say it was the best holiday they ever had. Now, Mr Langton’s son Harry has become involved in selling property on the island that he knows so well.

NEED TO KNOW

Locations to please all generations

Mallorca The island’s infrastructure allows easy access to Palma’s lively nightlife

Ibiza Elders can stay in the quieter north far from where the young dance to the thumping beats of the famous nightclubs

Saint-Tropez Make sure you’re within reach of Club 55, the yachts and the glamour

North-east Corfu There are fantastic beaches, watersports for all ages (and plenty of noisy resorts for the rest)

Italy The hills around Lucca give easy access to skiing, the coast and Pisa airport, and the A1 runs north to Florence and south to Rome from Orvieto in Umbria

Barbados It has enough beaches, golf courses and parties to suit all ages

* This article appears in COUNTRY LIFE INTERNATIONAL, out with COUNTRY LIFE magazine on March 2 

** Luxury properties for sale overseas