Stovetop is a household name for many Carlton locals, offering speciality stovetop brewed coffee, including house blends, and great food since 2013. With business booming, but capacity bursting at the seams on an incredibly tight site, in 2018 its owners jumped at the chance to relocate to larger premises below Melbourne Uni’s new Village student accommodation building 50 metres down the road in Leicester Street.
In doing so, the greatest challenge was in retaining the legacy of the Stovetop brand – of a warm café culture – while creating a new establishment in an exceptionally modern, slightly unappealing shell.
Enter Robert Bolitho, owner, Piece Design, who helped bring the Stovetop brand to life in 2013 by designing its original premises. But Robert realised that this time, it wouldn’t be about designing something completely new and different.
“Stovetop was a relatively new brand we had created, and everything they’d worked hard for in those five years, we didn’t want to have to start again. So I wanted to keep a legacy but create a new establishment and bring more focus to their offering,” Robert explains.
So, how do you find the right blend of taking something new, yet reflecting something that’s skilled and handcrafted, like family blended coffee and site baked food? Simply by retaining some of the new look and massaging the old look in, with a better design.
Robert designed two rooms for Stovetop’s newer site. The first is an imitation laneway entry housing Stovetop’s coffee counter. Its steel frame glass doors push all the way back into the brick walls, so the entry is flush with the street, and it looks as though you’re walking into a laneway. It’s a welcoming and cosy nook that has a natural indoor/outdoor feel where customers come in, order takeaway coffees and chat to the baristas, or turn right into the main seated dining area, featuring floor to ceiling windows and a variety of table types.
Robert’s thoughtful material palette has achieved the perfect balance between new and familiar. “For a street facing premises, I wanted to create a visual break between the building and Stovetop, so I used contrasting materials and bolder shapes to break away from the modern, concrete building and maintain that warm café culture,” Robert says.
Oregon, patina steel, polished concrete and brick are the principal materials, alluding to an industrial era. “It’s important to make people feel comfortable, and offer something that’s robust and warm, not clinical,” Robert remarks.
Brick is a dominant finish, used extensively to deliver robust warmth to the site. Robertson’s Building Products Iron Mountain brick tiles generously cover the walls, while Antico Casale Fumo brick tiles have created a spectacular floor in the laneway entry. Laid in a striking herringbone pattern, the brick tiles create a beautiful laneway ambiance and look as though they’ve been there for years.
“I love the finish of Robertson’s Building Products’ brick tiles – they’re a bit more organic, and when you have a lot of them together, particularly the ones I chose, you get that variation in the tile. So it looks as though they’re handmade; the light does pick them up differently. The tiler likes them as well, and they get good corner edges so they look just like bricks. These are the things we like – all of the little details,” Robert reflects.
One year on after completion, Stovetop hasn’t looked back. Its loyal Carlton customers are still filing through the doors finding the same great coffee and food and the warm café culture environment they had come to know, yet with more space and a brilliant new design in which to enjoy the entire experience.
Designer: Piece Design
Photographer: Courtesy Stovetop, Kate Shanasy