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Island Design

Island Design: Open-Air Restaurants

What makes a restaurant a favourite? It’s not always the food. I’ve chosen restaurants for their high-backed private booths or slate tabletops with chalk for doodling. I’ve dismissed restaurants because of uncomfortable chairs or a lack of windows. When I dine out, I want to linger in an atmosphere that encourages me to do so.

The décor of a restaurant can dictate whether an establishment feels casual, formal, romantic, raucous, hip, cozy, elegant, retro or relaxed. It can even give clues as to what type of food might be on the menu. Restaurants in the Virgin Islands tend to be open to the elements—taking advantage of the external climate and beauty, but this exposure poses a few challenges that indoor restaurants do not face.


Jen Bogdany of CocoMaya in Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda, spoke with enthusiasm about designing the British Virgin Islands’ newest dining establishment. The theme of the restaurant, Jen said, is “beach chic” with a mix of contemporary and traditional materials such as slate, liana wood vines, thatch and hardwood “to create a relaxed, but elegant setting that blends harmoniously with the natural beauty of the site–white sand beach against a dramatic backdrop of granite boulders.” The materials also need durability for the outdoor conditions, so CocoMaya features rain blinds, shade sails, slate, hardwoods and synthetic thatch. Jen added that the décor employs accents that reflect the contemporary Latin-Asian fusion menu. These accents include “hot cushion colours” to represent the Latin side complemented by “subdued cool Asian materials and colour palette.” She said, “We wanted it to feel open and breezy, to capture the essence of dining and drinking on the beach.” Roy Keegan from Arawak said, “Jen called us to source weathered, earthy items for her new restaurant. We suggested knotted and twisted liana vines for the blinds.” Arawak also supplied the open fighting cockerel baskets as overhead lights “to give it the beach-earthy, open feel they were looking for.”

When redecorating Cooper Island Beach Club two years ago, the managers chose synthetic, weatherproof rattan for beach and dining chairs mixed with teak from recycled boats for their bar stools and cabinets. Additionally, their deck furniture is sturdy teak topped with overstuffed Sunbrella cushions. I reconnected with Sam Baker, manager of Cooper Island Beach Club, to see how the restaurant’s renovation and refurnishing has held up after two years of the elements. “Many designs and materials look great,” Sam said, “but you have to ensure that they are practical, comfortable and will stand up to commercial use and exposure to salt air, intense sunlight, humidity, termites, heavy downpours and the occasional hurricane force winds.” She added that when planning the refit two years ago, “Arawak proposed the use of solid recycled teak furniture that would naturally weather from brown to driftwood tones.” Since then, “the low teak tables and outdoor sofas have weathered to a beautiful silver grey, and everything looks lived-in and comfortable.” The furnishings and vibe reflect the menu, said Sam, because they are both “casual and unpretentious.” She mentioned that “woven chairs and coral-stone tile means that guests in swimwear with sandy feet are welcome for lunch,” adding that she has “given out the contact details for the tile, lighting and furniture to over fifty visitors this year.”

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