Café culture in Australia’s major cities has reached new heights. Just when you think the experience of sharing conversation with friends over coffee has been redefined, industrious and innovative small business owners take it to the next level.
Adventurous menu items. World renowned baristas brewing expertly roasted coffee. And, of course, an urbane look and feel to the interior.
We are lucky enough in Australia, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne, to be the world’s envy for going out for coffee. Besides the obvious essentials for any hospitality business to succeed (good service and tasty food and drinks), how influential is the venue’s interior design?
Atmosphere is most important to weekend café customers
Out of nearly 500 Australians, 42.7% said they would return to a café for the atmosphere. Assuming the coffee was reasonable, of course.
The full set of results from our survey can be seen here.
Atmosphere – 42.7%
Customer service – 40.8%
Convenience – 20.8%
Other – 1.4%
How a popular Sydney café considers design
Café owner Sarah Hendriks has an eye for detail that sets Bondi’s famous Porch & Parlour apart, making it an institution for locals and tourists alike.
She is well aware of what it takes to make her business desirable for her customers.
“They are after the entire experience these days – it’s not just about a good cup of coffee. A positive, welcoming experience, with food that’s not only delicious but looks pretty (for those Instagram shots!) and a large focus now on interesting fit-outs,” she said.
Sarah and her team are about to open another location in the NewsCorp building in Surry Hills and she is conscious of what it will take to cater for a new market in a new environment.
“We have included lots of timber to soften the space, Dulux little mermaid as our feature colour, textured pots for flowers and greenery, leather banquet seating, tabletops from StonePony,” she said.
“Within a corporate setting the space needed to have different nooks for different uses – meetings, quick lunches, morning coffees, or events.
“Our food is similar to Bondi – clean, simple but creative & tasty. However the big difference within this venue is the efficiency and speed so we have adapted the menu for ease of service.”
When first opening in Bondi, Sarah said she wanted to create a space that was relaxed but well considered in every aspect, which was led by the kind of trade she envisaged doing.
“Guiding our design direction was the influence of our evening trade. This meant including café charms but with a sophisticated finish encouraging a glass of wine at the end of the day,” she said.
Sarah paid particular attention to the different colours, shades and textures of various furnishings and finishes.
Wooden bar Sydney Cafe
“Every texture, colour, timber detail sets the mood of the venue. Our style was very much a curated clash of patterns – recycled timber, concrete, heritage tiles, metals with patina, vintage kilims, and zinc paint,” she said.
“We then finished the space off with plenty of greenery and weekly flowers.”
Besides sourcing timber decor from a local supplier in Leichardt, Sarah also used recycled timber to help create a welcoming environment.
“We are big fans of timber,” she said.
“For Porch & Parlour’s fit-out, the timber for the bar top and water station came from old formwork from the Sydney Harbour bridge build, which was really special. Timber brings a warmth to the space, it’s beautiful to work with and look at.”
For their new location, Porch & Parlour didn’t exclusively focus on what was trending. Instead, they followed their own style with some adaptation and guidance from an interior designer.
“Our fit-out was guided by the layers of history in the flaking paint on the walls when we took over the site. We retained as much as we could of the walls and added materials that referenced history and our coastal outlook,” Sarah said.
“Our original business partner Gabrielle Scott has since moved back to Perth launching her career as an interior designer (Gabrielle Scott Studio). She has specialized in hospitality design opening Guild Hall, Propeller and Dominion League. We flew her over to weave her magic through the new space.
“We decided on the colours that were our kind of colours – muted, calm and a little clashing.
Sydney cafe wooden interior Sydney Cafe wooden seating
“With Gab guiding us through the world of interiors we took the reigns – the three of us contributing to bar design, handcrafting the furniture, paints, finishes and lighting. What eventuated was a reflection of each of our personalities rather than following current design trends, and thanks to Gab a nod to the original Porch & Parlour on Brighton Blvd.”
The use of wood and timber in interior design
Restaurateur, hospitality consultant and blogger Christine Green has seen plenty of trends go in and out of fashion when it comes to hospitality interior design. But she maintains that the character and aesthetic of wood is still essential.
“You know, styles of restaurant interiors have changed rapidly over the last few decades, but one thing that has been the main feature of almost all successful hospitality businesses for hundreds of years? Wood,” she said.
“When I design any space, I try to find somewhere I can add the warmth and comfort of wood. In Europe, it’s what gives historic places their patina. Most often, I design a space around it. My clients love it, and so do the customers. It doesn’t date, and there’s a deep human connection to timber.
“It’s also capable of telling stories and history in marks and use. So I spend time sourcing the right colour, grain, type and more often than not, it leaps out at me.
“Suddenly, the design becomes easy, and falls into place. I think it hasn’t hit its zenith yet, either. Not by a long shot. Tiles came and went, so did concrete. They just can’t replicate the softness yet strength of wood. For me, it’s necessary.”
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