Project Feature

Hustle and Calm - Fitzroy's Bentwood Cafe by Ritz&Ghougassian

Fitzroy, VIC, Australia

Sophie Sisko

On a leafy corner of Napier street, in Melbourne’s bustling northside suburb of Fitzroy sits Ritz&Ghougassian’s masterfully designed Bentwood café.

The buzzing ambience of the café breathes an energy as you enter the front door – the space feels alive. When restaurateur Julien Moussi approached architect Gilad Ritz and interior designer Jean-Paul Ghougassian to design his newest café, the common goal was to bring this space to life with a recognition and appreciation of its past. “What I think a really good cafe comes down to now is its atmosphere. You want people to feel an electric energy when they walk in the door and take pleasure just being in the space,” says Moussi.

Before 237 Napier Street was Bentwood café, its stucco and brick walls housed a long life of ingenuity and design. The industrial heritage of Fitzroy inspires its first occupancy as a workshop for craftsmen to sculpt and shape the raw materials of their time. As Fitzroy transitioned towards its current edgy and bohemian reputation, the building adapted with it, becoming the showroom for iconic furniture brand Thonet. The finely crafted timber chairs featured in Bentwood café today were designed by Michael Thonet, an Austrian-German cabinet maker most famous for his invention of bentwood furniture.

Ritz&Ghougassian came on board, working with the shell of the existing original red pressed brick walls. Inspiration for the materiality of the design immediately started to present itself to the duo from the surrounding context of Fitzroy. Jean-Paul elaborates, “we related the design to the vernacular of Fitzroy by bringing the floor finishes in from the street and using found materials to inform the textures and finishes.”

Bentwood stands alone from the quintessential Fitzroy café with its monochromatic rouge palette. Robust materials such as raw concrete, pressed red brick and primed red-oxide steel create the brutalist backdrop for the layering of softer elements in the space. Delightfully worn leather welcomes guests who meet friends for a quick cup or bring a laptop and stay a while. It is the kind of place where tactile details continue to reveal themselves. “When you start to touch and feel and get up close to the space you can really see the crafted touches in everything,” Jean-Paul comments. Dove-tail joins in the solid timber tables and artistically formed joinery pay homage to the craftsmanship of the past custodians of the space.

By deliberately zoning off the 190 square-metre space into sections of hustle and calm, the establishment offers a range of experiences for members of the community to enjoy. Cleverly using the ceiling grid as a subtle definition of these spaces, the grid then appears to unfold to the floor, enclosing washroom and back of house areas.

At any given time of day, Bentwood can be a place to celebrate a birthday with friends, finish a thesis, or simply enjoy a peaceful moment with a good book. Having sat at almost every table in the venue himself, Jean-Paul agrees by saying “what I like the most about the space is that it unveils itself in moments. We have managed to create an eatery that gives you a unique sense of place whilst allowing you to experience it amongst a larger community.”

By combining Fitzroy’s industrial past with the communal values of their present, Ritz&Ghougassian have successfully revitalised this historic building to take its new form as a contemporary hub for its community. A true representation of Fitzroy in both aesthetic and atmosphere.

The buzzing ambience of the café breathes an energy as you enter the front door – the space feels alive.

By combining Fitzroy’s industrial past with the communal values of their present, Ritz&Ghougassian have successfully revitalised this historic building.

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