Cocoa craving

As themed interiors go, subject matters are rarely as tasty as Maya's area of expertise - chocolate.

Milk, dark and white chocolate coloured squares visually divide the spaces.
Milk, dark and white chocolate coloured squares visually divide the spaces.

Its name derived from the French for 'unprecedented' and 'extraordinary,' Bahrain-based design firm Inoui was commissioned to introduce the chocolate-themed Maya to Seef Mall in Bahrain. The allocated space for the F&B outlet is 150m'² and encompasses four distinct zones: The bar counter; the retail section; the dining area with lounge seating and a fully equipped kitchen. The exact spatial division was decided according to the part generating more economic return to the space. The bar counter and the dining spaces takes about 65% of the whole shop, while another 15% is for the retail section and 20% for the kitchen.

Hamad Janahi, general manager, Inoui Designs describes how Inoui started the design process by researching everything to do with chocolate. "We immersed ourselves in finding out about the history and origins of chocolate, the different looks, colours, textures and shapes of chocolate. The tastes and flavours and the feelings chocolate evokes in those who love it - the passion, nostalgia, innocence and elegance." He adds: "We wanted to understand the true spirit and sensual feelings when dealing with chocolate."

Maya is designed to be semi transparent, with its sides open to the passing shoppers in the mall. "We wanted any passer-by to get the feel of the chocolate and be lured into entering the chocolate fantasy. Our concept behind designing Maya was to create an elegant, trendy, fashionable environment, yet cosy, comfortable and fun at the same time. In other words, taking all of the characters of chocolate and introducing it to the designed ambience."

The completed space is reminiscent of a box of chocolates as Janahi explains: "It is simple and plain on the exterior while filled with amazing flavours, colours and tastes in the interior. The three different colours of chocolate were used (dark, milk, white) in the furniture (chairs, booths, stools) with milk chocolate walls adding more warmth to the space." Couple this with walls and counters blanketed with golden wallpaper, to resemble chocolate foil wrapping, and the effect is smoothly decadent. Different textures of chocolates are represented in the materials chosen with rough, silky and smooth finishes all nestling alongside one another in the space.

Three different types of flooring are used to create contrast and visually segregate the areas. Custom-made solid parquet flooring was supplied by Al Nooh Interiors, which introduces a textured authentic finish that adds warmth to the dining space. This is complemented by 80x80 pure white porcelain tiles that Janahi describes as: "Shiny and sleek like a catwalk of white chocolate river." The final type of flooring is a 60x60 cocoa powder colour porcelain tile that covers the remainder of the space.

Minimising the heat generated by the light sources was a major consideration, but the careful use of fibre optics and a comprehensive dimming system ensures all the chocolate remains intact in their wrappers. Janahi says: "For the lighting, we used Vestosi from Italy after a huge research into lighting suppliers. Its lights were exactly how we pictured the space and they fit perfectly."

"The swirling lights used over the bar area are like caramel toppings added as decorative garnish on top of chocolate drinks. The other lights are cube shaped, which is a common shape used in the whole design, in addition to spot lights and fibre optic lighting used in the retail section over the Praline table, to make sure no heat is generated while having the display well lit," he says.

A variety of different seating options and arrangements are used in the dining and bar areas, including leather chairs that look like melted chocolate, chocolate cubes and circular buttons. The tables were custom designed and made exclusively for Maya. They were designed to resemble boxes of chocolate, and similarly the leather booth and lounge area, were all locally made and created to look like cubes of chocolate. Vetrai leather dining chairs were ordered exclusively for Maya supplied from Italy by Vinece Store and designed by Arch. P. De Longhi.

Drums with swirling hot white and milk chocolate liquid add flavour, motion and the inimitable chocolate scent to the space. The chocolate is taken from the drums to the bar counter through pipes running along the light cocoa powdered coloured ceiling, adding a 'chocolate factory' feel and echoing the colour scheme of brown and gold used elsewhere in the outlet. So immersed in the theme, Inoui was even involved in the design of the ceramics, creating hot chocolate mugs that are designed to resemble melted white chocolate.

The whole project took one year from the initial client meeting to the launch of Maya. The overall budget for the fit-out work and furniture was in the region of BD100, 000 (AED 973,000).

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