The Bentwood café on Napier Street in Fitzroy, Melbourne comes with a lot of history, which reflects off the design that cleverly integrates its heritage past and surrounds with a striking contemporary vibe. The sea of deep red hues delights the senses and warmly welcomes you inside.

Architecture firm RITZ&GHOUGASSIAN, which was recently named 2018 Emerging Interior Design Practice at the Australian Interior Design Awards, delivered this thoughtful, integrated design.

“We wanted to honour the past through a contemporary design approach. We maintained the idea of the heritage façade as an outer layer, a wrapping creating a layered response to the space within. Walking through the space you experience the unveiling of something different, something new,” comments Gilad Ritz, Director, RITZ&GHOUGASSIAN.

Red brick was the starting point for the materials palette, with the architects selecting the Krause Red/Blue bricks, supplied by Robertson's Building Products Pty Ltd, for the façade, and the Red/Blue brick tiles for the laneway. RITZ&GHOUGASSIAN decided to use the tiles as a floor solution throughout the space.

Gilad explained: “By referencing the adjacent masonry of the laneway, the apartment’s façade and the masonry of the heritage wall, what we’re really creating is a holistic project. We’re building upon the past and present history of that site.”

Since the café was built on a suspended slab over the basement carpark, weight was a deciding factor in material choice from a practical viewpoint. According to Gilad, they had to make lightweight structures, which would still have the impression of mass. Therefore, the Red/Blue brick tiles selected for Bentwood’s flooring was a great fit because the 30mm tile projected the appearance of a brick paved floor, complete with a recess to the mortar joint.

The Red/Blue brick tile flooring complements the exposed heritage brick wall, which was left untouched, adding to the rustic, yet sophisticated feel of the space. Gilad explains, “We wanted to create a distinction between the uniformity of our design and the existing wall, so we left the back of the wall as it was, with its original paint, to disengage on some level with our design, and maintain its own identity.”

The remaining design elements integrate well with the rich history, and maintain the monotone hue, while presenting something more contemporary. Design highlights include the primed steel wall cladding and a suspended gridded steel ceiling, reflecting Fitzroy’s industrial heritage. The ceiling is particularly striking as it seemingly soars mid-air, floating away from the heritage wall, and making the wall stand out. Primed in red oxide, both the wall and the ceiling pair well with the red palette, and create lovely pockets of glowing light and shade throughout.

Gilad explains, “We just saw this red oxide and thought it would be a fantastic combination with everything. It paired really nicely with the red bricks and we matched some leather to that as well creating a consistent palette throughout.”

The monotone palette gets some relief from the exquisitely designed shelving units and coffee bench, and the exposed original concrete columns, which arise throughout the space. These elements cleverly compartmentalise the space, clearly defining the entrance, the side and the middle, and essentially forming little pockets of space, which invite visitors to create their own little comfort zones.

Photographer: Tom Blachford