The Wilkhahn showroom in Wentworth Avenue, Surry Hills combines a minimalist materials palette with abundant natural light to create a striking street presence for the European brand.

Creatively converted from an industrial warehouse, the Wilkhahn Forum has been designed by leading architectural firm BVN to position the brand in a more contemporary light. Since its opening, the showroom has revitalised Surry Hills, attracting new galleries and showrooms into the area, and also become the first Australian retail project to be WELL Certified Gold.

“The showroom reflects Wilkhahn’s evolution from a supplier of contract, designer-specified office furniture to a product with a broader audience. The space both debuts furniture and strengthens Wilkhahn’s role in knitting together, nurturing and educating the design community,” Sally Campbell, senior practice director, BVN, says.

Wilkhahn is the only European manufacturer with a factory in Australia, so it’s fitting that BVN’s design translates Wilkhahn’s deeply held brand values, including authenticity and a history of craftsmanship, and evokes a clear image of a dynamically evolving business.

BVN began by stripping the entire room back to minimalist simplicity, exposing a five-metre high, light-filled ceiling. An elegant promenade draws customers from the street entrance up a dramatic ‘path’, created by a series of oversized images showcasing Wilkhahn’s products throughout history. The ‘path’ ends at the back of the showroom where a projection screen displays films and images for talks and events. This is clearly the social end of the space, as it adjoins a large square stone bar, described by Campbell as, “a symbol of Wilkhahn’s history of providing great hospitality”.

The hospitality bar, along with floor to ceiling drapery and a steel-framed greenhouse thoughtfully divides the showroom into easily manageable volumes. “It was never our intention to build walls to the ceiling that would obscure the architecture. So the design deliberately places elements in the space to create rooms, which create additional rooms in the negative space surrounding them,” she continued.

The material palette reflects the minimalist tendency of the space – predominantly raw concrete and brick. BVN wanted the finish to be modern and sophisticated, connecting to the Wilkhahn brand, yet not look out of place in the envelope of a converted warehouse.

The ethos of Wilkhahn is to treat its products in an authentic, refined way, which is reflected in the use of Grigio Medio terrazzo on the benchtops in the bar area. When it came to the hospitality bar design, the monolithic nature of terrazzo perfectly represented Wilkhahn’s brand – refined and minimal, yet strong and impactful. The centralised bar design, held its own.

“The terrazzo was perfect for the space, providing an anchor piece that grounded the overall display floor for Wilkhahn to display its product. Conscious not to detract from their product’s beauty, the simple nature of the terrazzo was a perfect synergy,” Campbell said.

Perhaps one of the most appealing aspects of this space is the abundance of light. Natural light is particularly important in this space, which is long and narrow and has an opening on one side.

Flooding the space with natural light through the clerestory window facing Wentworth Avenue was critical to Wilkhahn achieving WELL Certified Gold. Issued by the International WELL Building Institute’s WELL Certified – Pilot Program, WELL Certification explores how design can be optimised to advance human health and wellbeing. For Wilkhahn, achieving WELL Certified Gold reflects the value it places on creating healthy environments and holistic workplaces – not only in its products but also in the company’s culture.

An abundance of greenery was also important to achieving WELL Certified Gold, as well as conveying additional warmth and texture to the space. Wilkhahn partnered with The Plant Society to fill the central atrium greenhouse space with beautiful large trees and dense plantings while potted plants are scattered throughout the Forum.

Wilkhahn Forum’s design was recognised with a Silver Award at the 2018 Sydney Design Awards in the Interior Design – Flagships & Showrooms category.

Photographer: Brett Boardman