Buchan inserts nine-metre porcelain bar into Melbourne eatery

Aug 16, 2021
  • Article by Stefanie Markidis

A nine-metre porcelain bar destined to be “stamped with red wine rings and drippings of olive oil” is at the centre of a new fit-out by global design label Buchan in Melbourne.

Made from Calacatta-style porcelain, the piece, which runs down the right-hand side of the narrow Bar Alba in Kew, is fashioned after “nonna’s table” with a “joy in letting life live” in the material.

“We wanted something that felt like it had been there forever,” explains Bar Alba owner Kym Davidson.

“A classic, timeless European-style bar that is very much the kind of place we’d like to sit in in Italy. We wanted it to feel lived in.”

Davidson runs both Bar Alba and the adjacent restaurant Centonove with partner Jesse.

The former has been designed as a complement to the inner-city institution, serving a modern Italian snack list designed by head chef Patrick Fletcher.

“Taking cues from Kew’s renowned interwar architecture, Bar Alba channels the old world European charm of Italy’s enoteche, while respecting the remnants of its Heritage-listed site,” says Buchan.

Bar Alba sits within a circa 1925 corner building that originally housed a butchery before becoming a chemist, pastry maker and, more recently, a homewares store.

Its black brick facade was a key source of inspiration for the interiors, with Buchan referencing its linear, geometric forms and the “sinuous flow of the time”.

The decorative copper frame around the main shop window is replicated by gold trimmings internally, while an original leadlight window with honeycomb detailing inspires the custom walnut joinery.

The signage itself is a nod to the “subtle advertising aesthetic” of Italian streets, featuring a small brass plaque with Deco type face.

Inside, more metal is inlaid into the polished concrete floor entrance, tracing the building’s preserved parapet and “bringing to life” the Bar Alba name.

The original 3.6m high timber ceilings have been painted white and paired with grey columns and bare brick and rendered walls punctuated by individual gold sconces.

“The project celebrates the sharing of fine food and wine,” says Buchan.

“It’s not merely how a space looks. It’s the all-encompassing sensory experience that comes from the food, the wine and the staff that makes a space successful.”

At the bar, scalloped panelling in rich emerald green and heeled with brass foot rests are paired with burgundy leather stools.

Curved walls mimic the shape of the feature and bring a “softness to the design”, juxtaposed against the metal details and fluted wainscoting.

Elsewhere, seating is deliberately diverse with a mix of European Gubi chairs and barstools in three heights.

“Different seating spaces provide versatility in the patron’s experience,” explains Buchan.

“Seating at the bar allows for education and engagement with Bar Alba’s knowledgeable staff, while single tables for two or four provide privacy, intimacy and space to simply enjoy quality wine in good company.

“Finally there is also seating in the shopfront window to watch in on the theatrics of the outside world.”

In the bathroom, the tiling is “artfully done” with inlay feature ‘rugs’, emerald Kit Kat wall tiles and brass finishes, including modern Hollywood mirrors.

Sleek lines are arranged and broken up by curved ornamental elements in true Art Deco fashion.

Buchan is an architectural, interior and brand-experience practice, operating across studios in Australia, New Zealand, and China.

Photography: Tom Blachford.

Meanwhile, also in Melbourne this month, Austin Maynard Architects clad this multi-generational Melbourne home in terracotta tiles.

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