Rustic isle transforms into maximum luxury resort in Grenadines.

Toward the southern end of St Vincent and the Grenadines is Canouan, a magnificent beauty of rolling verdant hills encircled by silky sands and luminous aquamarine waters. It wasn’t long ago that the approximately 400 people who resided on this 7.6-square-kilometre speck in the sea lived a simple life with no electricity, relying on water deliveries brought in by boat from St Vincent.

Then, in the last decade of the 20th century, architect and engineer Elena Korach was presented with the opportunity of a lifetime—design and oversee the development of this relatively unknown island, bringing tourism to its shores. With the island’s development would come electricity, desalinated water, paved roads, and a steady stream of income that proved to revolutionise the lives of those on Canouan, and by extension, the greater St Vincent and the Grenadines area.

In 1996, the Italian born and educated Korach was brought on as project manager in the Canouan development. She was working in Berlin at the time and had never been to the Caribbean before. Local architects and engineers worked alongside Korach and her team, and in 1999, the Carenage Bay Beach & Golf Club opened on the eastern shore of the island. This resort was eventually demolished to make way for the new Pink Sands Club, which has now been branded a Mandarin Oriental hotel.

Korach also lent her creativity to Canouan Estate Villas & Residences, a collection of 34 bespoke homes, some as large as more than 10,000 square feet, offering superb finishes and unrivalled luxury accommodations. It was here that Korach implemented a traditional architecture style as a common denominator among the villas.

“When we started working on the designs, one of the things that became apparent to us was the fact that architecture can be quite transient,” says Korach. “You can really date a building according to its style. At the moment, we’re experiencing an acceleration of design styles, which is why we tried to develop a unique look that was more linked to the historic features of Caribbean colonial architecture.”

Korach and her team set out to develop villas with a timeless feel and modern amenities and features. Whereas traditional plantation homes served the function of sheltering their inhabitants from the weather, today’s Caribbean visitors often travel to the region solely to experience the brilliant sun and tempering breezes.

“The biggest challenge was how to take the Caribbean vernacular and utilise it in a way that is conducive to modern living requirements,” says Korach. “We achieved this by use of ample porches and columns, maximising the height within rooms, and using exposed roofs. This provides a significant amount of air flow to the interior, and reduces the visual effect of big door openings in comparison to the structure.”

Korach and her team were tasked with everything from area planning to the residences’ interior design. The sheer size of the project allowed for the global sourcing of finishes like precious woods and stones from as far away as South America, China, and Indonesia. Korach’s favourite villa is perched on a Canouan hilltop, a fusion between modern architecture and traditional shapes whose best feature, the designer says, is that it’s inconspicuous.

“We wanted to create a big, luxurious villa that would not clash with the natural environment and not be imposing compared to the rest of the island,” she says. “People come to Canouan in order to appreciate the nature of the island, so our best designs are not very visible.”

Korach’s decades on the island were guided by the balance of luxury tourism with the preservation of Canouan’s natural environment, yet a different kind of principle guided the design of the Pink Sands Club—the developer’s desire to create a resort comparable in style and appearance to Barbados’s famed Sandy Lane Hotel. “We tried to create a common feeling while adapting Pink Sands to the small island of Canouan,” says Korach. “It’s a bit of an exception because we wanted to establish a grande dame on the island.”

As people in the region took note of Korach’s work, she and her design partner, Luca Bentoglio, established a London office and branched out with other projects in the Caribbean, including design of the interior of a multimillion dollar villa in Barbados, and a luxury development in St Kitts.

There’s also another Canouan development in Korach’s future, one that promises to increase yacht traffic and high-end tourism on the southern Caribbean island. The designer reflects on her time in Canouan, and how much St Vincent and the Grenadines has evolved since she arrived more than two decades ago.

“It’s been a fantastic adventure,” she says. “An opportunity like this is unsurpassed. I see today a number of people who were toddlers when I came to the island who’ve had opportunities to study and work that were never available before. I like to think that maybe, in a small way, I was instrumental in helping some of them.”

 

Elena Korach and Luca Bentoglio | AQA Studio

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