Fresh From the Bath

Like any aspect of Caribbean living, constructing or renovating a bathroom in the British Virgin Islands requires careful consideration of some of the region’s more volatile and inconvenient elements. Weather durability, import costs, shipping – all these things need to be evaluated in the BVI on top of the normal slew of factors any homeowner weighs before embarking on a big interior design project.

What type of wood, for example, holds up best if a hurricane causes flooding in your home? What type of countertop presents the most low-maintenance cleaning option if you plan to rent out your villa? How much extra should you expect to pay to have a custom vanity constructed in the islands?

And it’s not all practical considerations: a bathroom style that’s desired in the United States or the United Kingdom may not work as well in the BVI.

“In the US and UK there is a big move towards darker, sanctuary-type bathrooms, but often these trends do not translate to a warmer Caribbean environment,” explained Fran Morrell, the owner of House BVI, an interior design, furniture and decoration business that operates out of Road Town.  

Instead, Caribbean homeowners tend to prefer more understated, open designs.

“Larger, walk-in ‘party showers’ are now more popular,” Morrell said, “Bigger bathrooms are more sought after. Static shower panels are easier to maintain than moveable doors. The aim is to create a spa-type, minimalist feel.”

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Image courtesy of Necker Island

When paired with a simple black-and-white colour scheme, such designs can have a classic but masculine atmosphere. Marble countertops and/or wall tiles fit with that aesthetic and have recently been a trendy choice for bathrooms in the territory, according to Morrell.

“Pair it with traditional hardware for a classic look or black plumbing for a more modern vibe,” Morrell said. “Bringing wood flooring into the mix gives it a more Scandinavian feel. As with the rest of the house, the trend to mix old with new works really well.”

For example, House BVI recently completed a bathroom with large marble wall tiles, wood floors, and Crittal-style, black-panelled shower doors, which combined for a smart look, Morrell explained.

Functionality

Marble also has functional benefits: it cleans easily, decreasing the maintenance burden for commercial rental properties, and it shows very little wear and tear over time, according to Roy Keegan, the owner of Arawak Interiors, an Indonesian furniture and home accessory business in the BVI.

Keegan, who also designs and buys for Arawak, has recently worked on custom vanity and sink projects for customers both in the BVI and the wider region, and – as with projects for any other part of a property – practical Caribbean considerations are never far from his mind.

Image courtesy of Necker Island

“I work in solid teak for all furniture as it stands up to the harsh climate in the BVI,” Keegan explained. “[During] the recent hurricanes, when a lot of houses were awash with water, any non-solid wooden furniture – chipboard, composite – just disintegrated as it soaked up water from the storm and also the humidity afterwards.”

Teak also has other benefits, Keegan noted: It’s a hard, oily wood that termites don’t have an appetite for, and it can be maintained and refurbished easily.

“I try and use reclaimed teak as much as possible to be sustainable or plantation teak when a customer requests a cleaner, more modern look,” the Arawak owner said.

Image courtesy of Necker Island

Shipping and Imports

Keegan recently designed a free-standing teak vanity with a marble countertop and an undermount sink for the “Leha Lo” villa on Necker Island. Space was the issue in the villa’s small bathroom, so he designed a curved-front cabinet that fit well and gave the vanity a clean appearance.

Keegan built the unit in Bali and transported it in a full container to the BVI, which cut down on shipping costs. Still, he estimates projects are 25 per cent more expensive to finish in the islands, given their isolation.

To make the process easier, he designs free-standing vanities so – after being shipped – they can just slot up against a wall have their piping connected by a plumber.

Homeowners who try to import materials on their own face serious risks.

“It’s always better to try and source locally if possible, as the importer is responsible for any breakage in shipping,” Morrell explained. “If you cannot find what you are looking for and decide to import yourself, make sure you overbuy by at least 15 per cent, as you are not able to run down to the nearest tile shop to buy more if needed.”

Conor King Devitt

Conor King Devitt

Conor King Devitt

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