Berman Horn Studio Designs a Sleek Speakeasy

Skål, a community-oriented bar on Vinalhaven, brings the light, music, and spirits
Words By Anna Mangum
Photos By Carley Rudd
Design:Berman Horn Studio|Cabinets:Joshua Eckels

Maine island life feels like a mysterious thing to an outsider, but Kris Davidson, owner of Skål, offers her perspective of Vinalhaven. “Island life isn’t isolating,” says Kris. “You have to be resourceful. People learn to make their own fun. Vinalhaven feels like a step back in time with so much original architecture.” From this curious and resourceful mind, the idea for Skål was born—what was to become a new gathering spot on the island.

Skål means “cheers” in Scandinavian, which owner Kris Davidson would hear many times growing up from her Scandinavian family members.

She turned to Maria Berman and Brad Horn of Berman Horn Studio to design the restaurant in a former general store. Maria and Brad are quite familiar with this island—though based in New York, they have a vacation home here that we featured in this year’s Landscape Issue. Maria notes, “These old hardware and general stores weren’t just places to go in and buy something—they were always a social experience. People would come together at this space and get news, gossip, and all that creates a sense of community.” Berman Horn Studio wanted to honor what this place originally meant to island life with their design.  

Maria Berman, Brad Horn, and Kris Davidson pose for a photo by the Dutch doors.

Skål offers a mix of seating. They rebuilt the porch and painted it in Benjamin Moore’s “Newburyport Blue,” offering a quieter seating area with views of Carver Pond. “Blue is such a lovely color for the restaurant because it calls to the ocean that surrounds it,” Maria says. The chosen fabrics have a domestic, warm, and welcoming feel, and even nod to Kris’s own history tied to the island. Kris recalls, “All of the lights on the bar have sweet little fabric lampshades. One of the fabrics Maria brought me looked identical to my great-grandma’s apron!”  

Music is a central part of the design, and Kris was adamant that there would be no raised stage. Instead, the music acts perform at floor-level to create a wonderful moment of intimacy with the guests—as if they are in someone’s home. To the side, the general store’s old cabinetry was repurposed into a long bar and is a more social spot. 

An outdoor seating area gives access to incredible views of Carver Pond.

The irony is this: In a place that was designed to welcome all and embrace the joys of island living, the entrance, like those of original speakeasies, is somewhat secret. Maria says, “Skål’s out-of-the-way entrance allows a journey of discovery. You have to know where it is to get there, but when you find the glowing lights, the warmth, and the people gathered there, it makes the experience more special.” But of course, there are no secrets on an island, and everyone is in the know. 

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