Alfred & Constance

May 31, 2013

Derlot’s Alexander Lotersztain reinvigorates two timber Queenslanders in the heart of Fortitude Valley to produce a labyrinth of bars and dining areas imbued with whimsy and humour.

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Above: Sited in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley, Alfred & Constance is housed in two adjoined timber cottages.

Residing within a pair of grand and sprawling Queenslanders on the corner of Alfred and Constance Streets, Alfred & Constance is a delightful and whimsical new hospitality venue in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley. Comprising several dining areas and bars, the interiors – while wildly eclectic – are a very carefully curated series of discrete experiences. From the laid-back Hemingway Room to the hip White Lightning Tiki Bar, the experience of each zone is delivered through a selection of artefacts most imbued with the nostalgia of their period. As a result, the design comprises an assortment of design icons from different eras that have been recontextualised to create a unique and spirited environment that sidesteps cliche in favour of theatricality.

A casual and domestic-inspired setting upstairs in the Hemingway Room


The enormous medical lamps, for example, transposed from surgery to stairwell, carry the visual motif of classic cinematic science fiction. These light fittings – used in sci-fi films since the 1950s, and in every film in the Alien series, to convey sterile medical settings – are used here in an entirely new context, with their scale and visual presence serving an altogether different function. The creative brain behind this project is Alexander Lotersztain, director of Brisbane-based design consultancy, Derlot. Says Lotersztain: “The world is becoming tribalised with many trends: hipsters, people who only drink whisky, those who only drink champagne and people who like to eat. There is a fragmentation of the market and, based on that, we used the two houses to represent all the tribes of Brisbane.”

Two oversized surgical lamps loom over the central staircase


The main restaurant is approached from a hall lined with Japanned timber, with the vertical grain of the wood still visible. This then gives way to the horizontal pattern of glossy black tiles that line the dining room walls. Adorned with artwork as diverse as a floor-to-ceiling painting of an elephant, a 1940s wedding portrait, a human skeleton, an ornate chiffonier purchased on eBay, and a bespunked Chinese cat, there is nothing ordinary about the visual experience on offer.

Such extravagance has been tempered with an aesthetically minimalised seating arrangement. Comprising simple timber tables and uniformly blackened, but otherwise mismatched chairs, the effect is anything but ‘staid cafe’. Rather, thanks to the slightly blistered and shrivelled coating of Derlot’s bespunking process, which essentially sees the items sprayed with a black rubber coating, each of the second-hand chairs is imbued with a new life and a whole lot of cool. The glossy black tiles continue downstairs in the Fallout Shelter, where the gleam of black meets the sumptuous extravagance of luscious red velvet lounges – all eBay sourced.

A floor-to-ceiling painting of an elephant is among the wildly eclectic collection of artefacts


Interestingly, for a designer known for his furniture in particular, Lotersztain has elected to limit the use of his own designs, preferring a broad and humorous collection of pieces sourced from antique stores and online. These are supplemented by a few quirky pieces from the Derlot collection, such as Bolet pendants and Twig benches, as well as Fabio Novembre’s Nemo chairs for Driade (Space Furniture). The effect is far from ‘designer’ even though wholly designed and theatrically engaging. “I really didn’t want to make it about Derlot. The whole concept that I came up with was a mishmash of found products. There are some Derlot products, but that is not the main point,” explains Lotersztain.

The Tiki Bar is a case in point. Indeed, this area is positively crammed with Tiki-esque motifs – from the ubiquitous long-boards, Hawaiian dancer kitsch, gaudy leis and bamboo furnishings to the tiki tankards, Coke-drinking pirate and Astroturf-covered walls. There is, however, no sign of Derlot’s Tiki bar stool. Nor is there anything of the Disneyland experience, with Lotersztain adapting a style without importing it wholesale.

Acid yellow, astroturf and kitsch surfing paraphernalia adorn the White Lightning Tiki Bar


One of the quirkier environments is the Tunes Bar. With a timber-on-timber theme, the whole is anchored by a classic timber bar, yet allusions to anything ordinary end there. The face of the bar throbs with inset vintage speakers, while a jumble of lights are suspended from the ceiling – from a classic stained-glass shade with scalloped edge to spring-armed industrial desk lamps, glowing orbs and frilly bits of boudoir light candy. Speakers also abound in the adjacent lounge area, where a wall of mid-century boxed speakers and televisions are arranged in steps. This is topped by a rather fabulous row of antique musical instruments, a pipe-smoking taxidermied kangaroo head, a peacock and a set of deer antler chandeliers. Furnished with glorious seventies lounge chairs with an abundance of cream plastic and rust velvet, pink and blue velvet armchairs, squishy leather sofas and ceramic-based lamps, the whole is a veritable smorgasbord of funk. The grand mounted elk and Persian carpets bookend the affair to perfection.

Timber-on-timber in the Tunes Bar, where inset speakers and a jumble of lights create a layered eclecticism


Given the nature of the project and the long relationship Lotersztain has with the owner, the execution was far from typical. He explains: “We didn’t do technical drawings of [for example] where we were going to hang the deer head; we had a rough idea of where we wanted things to go and it was better to just get on with it. We really wanted to make the environment rich – a discovering experience where you come back over a course of time.”

Lotersztain and the owner have been in discussion about this project for the last five years, with each bringing a vast array of travel experiences to the table. This meant Lotersztain could develop the project as an art director with a creative licence that extended from graphics to theatrics. As such, ideas have been expanded to include the role of the bartender and his or her characterisation. And while the various themes have been influenced by travel – “I wanted the grunginess of Berlin with the casualness of Barcelona,” he explains – the overriding atmosphere is Australian beach house. As such, while the layout is designed as micro-venues for different audiences, these zones can also be transformed into a single engaged whole by opening the large sliding doors to the central balconies and courtyard: “It can all be connected to create a giant house party and I think that is very Queensland,” says Lotersztain.

Glossy black tiles, ornate furniture pieces and an assortment of bespunked chairs create drama and decadence in the dining room


Alfred & Constance is an extraordinary experience. As Brisbane’s hottest new venue, it’s one of those places where everyone wants to be seen. But beyond its status as hipster hangout, it is also a relaxed place to catch up with friends. Lotersztain has got this right on several counts. The decorations are fabulous, but so, too, are the structural concessions that allow the interior to shift in size and intimacy as the occasion dictates. It is also a lot of fun and, with so few prepared to make this step, it is a delight to catch sight of the pirate flag outside and know the night ahead will be anything but beige.

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