Sylvia Demarco: Interview



We’ll say one thing about Sylvia DeMarco:  The girl is a warrior!  We saw her finish two restaurants on one leg.  It’s the same drive that has allowed her to succeed at every professional turn from  photographer to movie set maker to sommelier to defining interior restaurant design in Puerto Rico.  She has worked with MTV & HBO.  Her local credits include El Livin, Perurican, Cocina Abierta, Lima, Bartola, Laurel & Ikebana.  Her company, CoLab, has become the go-to for trendsetting restauranteurs.    At the root of it all there is the heart of a storyteller.  Her work carries strong thematic elements that create a conversation about her subjects.  Walk into any of these eateries and it’s like taking a culinary Disney ride. was lucky enough to get some time out of her hectic schedule for a little Q & A and here’s what we got:

Foodies:  As the name implies, CoLab is built on collaborations of different artists.  Take us through the advantages to the creative process of using that model.

Sylvia DeMarco:  I feel that when there is collaboration we never fall into the same pattern. Minds that think alike do gather together, but at the end of the day we are still all different and we all come from different backgrounds and our strengths varies……everyone in my team brings something unique and out of the norm and together we find a special proposal for each client. We enjoy each others company and we appreciate each others talents….. every project is an opportunity to click, to bond, to learn to push each other, to complement. Every project it’s an adventure

My strength is to conceptualize ideas, to wrap things up and to coordinate. I’m quick and spontaneous, I’m also a great problem solver. My teammates compliment me with structural solutions, their own approach to the same idea, always challenging the ‘thing’ with a: “what if we build it with a different material….”, and with this attitude in mind we grow and learn and are able to make something different every time.

Foodies:  We can see the correlation between a movie set design and a restaurant.  Both are stages for a type of performance. How much “Hollywood” is in your designing of a restaurant?

SdM:  A lot. Yes…. Making movie sets did more to my actual career than the obvious. I learned to budget, to solve problems on the spot, to be fast, to coordinate.

On the artistic side I saw how lighting was everything, how important is the mood and how as I design I need to keep it always in consideration. I learned the importance of detail and that designing a space is one thing, and creating a space is another. All my restaurants feel personal, as if they have been there for a long time, they have precious little things everywhere, items that build a layer of character, individuality, intimacy.  This attention to detail started when I studied photography. I used to spend more time building my photo sets and the wardrobe than clicking and developing the film. Then with set design this aspect of layering became more acute. A great example of this is Cocina Abierta, by Chef Martin Louzao. He wanted me to create the most intimate space I could, where people could feel at a home, a place he could feel his own home, a place where he could cook for his friends, to his family and to anyone that wanted to go into his house and eat his food. This inspired me to build wall furniture filled up with his cook books, and personal items from his family. I fell in love with his project so much, I started bringing things that belonged to my family, my first camera, my first encyclopedia, my grandmother’s hats, and then the waiters started bringing vintage items from their houses, so the place became everyone’s home, and the result was powerful and it happened in such an organic way.

Another restaurant that has a lot of that Hollywood approach is El Livin, which is design inspired in the prohibition era and it is located in the middle of Parque Luis Munoz Rivera as if it was a clandestine…..underground spot. All the furniture is vintage and re-worked, the light fixtures are replicas of old ship hardware done by Rafy Perez who specializes in special effects for movies. There are old pictures from a family album I found in a basement at a location for a movie.  They are framed and hanged all over the wooden walls, which are actually huge 500 ponds barn doors built by Tom Darby, my hero wood worker! I’m in love with this place….. yes, I’m happy with it. Everyone should take a walk in the park and climb up to this hidden tree house and see a sunset from its balcony which looks to the ocean and has a 360 view of the park.

Foodies:  The importance of use of space is covered very seriously in metaphysical subjects like Feng Shui and scientifically in fields like chromotherapy.  How much of that has influenced you and how much of it is your philosophy?

SdM:  To be honest…..none. it’s all heart and intuition.

Foodies:  OK, Time for some fun.  As a sommelier, tell us what kind of wines your recent restaurant projects would be?


El Livin is like a wine from the hidden town of Bierzo in northern Spain. They use a very beautiful grape call mencia, rumors say she is a long lost cousin of cabernet franc. This small grape survived the plague of phylloxera, which killed most of the vineyards in Europe in the 19 century. After the plague the Europeans had to travel to America and get grapes from their vineyards, which they had once brought to America, to take back to Europe and re grow. But this mencia grape survived and we can say she is one of the few specimens of grapes that are original to the region.  El Livin has that essence as well of surviving time….hidden, special.

Cocina Abierta is fun an eclectic like a malbec, when I think of Laurel at the museum of art, a buttery chardonnay comes to mind, Mario Pagan has a special talent for fish dishes…..i can still taste the lubina. The perurrican, in condado, call for an albarino, the endless fish dishes and the salty air leave me with little choice!

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