Tom Dick & Harry

Christopher Elliott’s initial introduction to this job was a simple case of helping a friend of a friend in need of some desperate design advice; who had just taken possession of a run-down café that he planned on renovating. All that would be required is a few hours, just to help him on the right path, or so the client thought. Christopher could see that clearly “a few hours” wouldn’t be enough to get this project to completion and given the limitations of time and budget meant it was not a favourable project to take on. But, the client is a charismatic person who convinced Christopher to be involved, against his better judgement.

“I was definitely keen to tackle more hospitality design but I was very sceptical that the client was prepared to commit to the level of design that I was interested in pursuing.”

Christopher’s initial hesitation was put to rest with further discussions were the client was able to communicate his passion for the business; giving Christopher the confidence that they shared a mutual vision for the project.

Architecturally the interior had nothing going for it and in fact had many obstacles; low ceilings, a long narrow space with very little natural light, dreary finishes; so not an ideal beginning for a cool café for the discerning South Yarra crowd. But, out of adversity shines innovation. Christopher’s first issue to resolve was the lack of natural light and that the best position for customer tables were the rear of the building near the kitchen; the darkest area. Coupled with this problem was the current lack of interest with the pedestrian look of the interior. There was nothing redeeming about the look of the previous café and when stripped of its fittings and fixtures left a cold commercial space; certainly not inviting to potential customers. So Christopher Elliott’s first inspiration was born from this conundrum, and that was to clad the walls in an inexpensive plywood material with a whitewash treatment. This solution solved both problems; the plywood panelling added interest to the space and assisted in reflecting the available light throughout the rear of the interior, where it is needed most. Further to this Christopher felt that other textures and materials were required to enhance the design by avoiding a homogeneous look and so lining board and handmade Spanish tiles were also incorporated.

The real hero of the interior design is a ‘Meccano’ style timber shelving unit that extends along the main café wall and wraps around to create a screen divide between the barista’s station and the servery adjacent, which are split over two levels. This also acts as a pass-over for the two stations; creating a window effect between the spaces. This ingenious design also has a very functional purpose for the café and aesthetically creates a visual statement as soon as you enter. It encourages one to explore further into the space because it offers glimpses of the panelled walls and café that lies beyond without totally closing them off.

This project goes to prove that passion and a commitment to design can result in great things. Christopher Elliott’s work offers a restrained palette of simple hand-crafted materials that are in essence reflective of the atmosphere the owner wished to create; a space for every Tom, Dick & Harry.