Location: Melbourne, Australia
Design: Elenberg Fraser Graduate School
Photography: Peter Clarke
Text: Annie Reid
A quick peek down a South Yarra lane may well require a second look. Two chairs on the pavement ooze an undefined pink and white, bubbled up liquid. Curious children clamber over and bite into them, sweet aromas waft from the store behind, as a steady stream of sweet-tooths queue for ‘zumbarons’ or ‘zonuts’.
Inside, a dazzling neon pink sign bounces off what resembles a wall of mirrors, while a glass and timber display cabinet is balanced on one rather bulbous Victorian-inspired, stainless steel leg.
This fabulous assault on the senses is the work of Elenberg Fraser, engaged by Adriano Zumbo to create the interior of his new Melbourne patisserie, Zumbo. For the celebrated pastry chef, it is a match made in heaven: an interior to complement his range of cakes, pastries and macarons, which reflect his innovative, experimental twist on cooking.
For Callum Fraser, founder of Elenberg Fraser, the project presented the chance to set a new benchmark for retail structures. It also serves as the final puzzle piece for Lilli, the building Elenberg Fraser designed and in which Zumbo now resides, completing the tenancies beside Mama Baba and Two Birds One Stone.
“This project is one out of the box,” Fraser says. “In Sydney, his stores are about letting the food speak for itself, but with nothing in the space. For us there was a desire to go in completely the reverse direction.”
Direction was placed in the hands of Elenberg Fraser’s 20-strong annual graduate program, hot on the heels of their first completed project – the Move-In showroom in Southbank.
“The story really starts for me with the young guys from the office wanting to have some opportunities. The practice needs continual renewal and it’s these younger guys that are leading it,” says Fraser.
Their design concept plays with experimental techniques and ornamentation that reference Zumbo’s main activity – traditional baking – but with a contemporary Elenberg Fraser outcome. Zumbo had already bought the Victorian-inspired cabinet with its pressed metal underside from the Milan Furniture Fair last year. The rest was left up to the graduates.
“We like to think we were in line with his brand, but also creating a memorable experience,” says Elenberg Fraser architect Kim Lai, who oversaw the project with her colleague, Thomas Orton, and associate, Reade Dixon.
The team was charged with creating the complete package – surfaces, graphics, rebranding, lighting treatment and furniture – for the approximately 80-square metre space, comprising a main retail area, a dedicated chocolate room and kitchen at the rear, with windows facing the adjoining public alleyway.
In the entry, the floors are concrete with an applied epoxy finish. To one side, cabinets offer the intense and colourful dessert and pastry products in different sections. The joinery features reconstituted stone bench tops, with a black high gloss 2pac finish, while a gleaming series of 535 wall and ceiling panels creates a delicious sense of distortion in a dizzying display.
The panels read as mirrored surfaces, but are actually made from vacuum-formed polycarbonate with a vacuum metallised finish (vacuum former: Castform Patterns and Plastics, vacuum metallising: Zeus Products). While vacuum forming is a commonly used process, only three people in Australia are skilled in vacuum metallising, where it is most often used for car headlight covers and even funereal accessories. The forming process works by applying heat to the panels, so they slump to different degrees, in this case to a maximum of 100 millimetres, with one side metallised depending on whether it is needed for the wall or ceiling surface. “Essentially, the slumping vacuum-formed panels record time – a little like baking,” Fraser says. “They form a very prismatic backdrop to the extraordinary produce on display.”
While waiting for the back-of-house to finish, the team worked on the furniture. They sourced 27 unwanted chairs from an auction house in Richmond, and up-cycled them to create seven chairs and benches, plus two tables. Self-expanding foam and six 20-kilogram buckets of pink and white silicone were then applied.
“We started pouring it on and massaging it in. It was a real process of just designing on the spot, and there’s a little bit of us in each of them,” says Orton.
The effect complements the sweet nature of the store and, like the metallised panels, references cooking themes, such as marshmallow, dripping gelato or sandwich cakes drenched in icing.
“People are really intrigued by the chairs. Kids jump over them and touch them; occasionally you see them biting them, and I think that experience is really valuable,” Orton says.
Fraser agrees. “The furniture challenges you on many levels. It’s irresistible in terms of the body’s attraction to it, but it appeals to the limbic brain centre in a way that your instincts take over and you want to engage in something in a tactile sense,” he says.
Meanwhile, the graphics team designed the free forming, pink neon sign for the rear of the space. The neon shade was specially selected to match the chairs, where it reflects the panels at different points, and ties together each of the separate elements.
They also created abstract, black vinyl window decals along the glass façade of the store, taking inspiration from Alice in Wonderland’s Mad Hatter’s tea party, rabbit silhouettes and melting chocolate.
“For me, I think the interior design works on a part of the brain that’s dormant for a lot of the time and it opens that up through this theatre of fun,” Fraser says. “We always try to work with all the senses, and ask,’ how does it make you feel?’”
With a design and build process of 10 weeks, the graduates split into teams for each stage of the process, arriving on site at around 7pm and sometimes working through to 5am, allowing trades access during the day.
“Somehow it was all worthwhile, and it was fun,” Orton says.
“Everybody got involved and it taught the graduates a lot about working together, protecting ideas and extending the ideas through the process of construction. The platform has allowed us to break out of our normal process, and it has captured the imagination of the much broader public than the design public,” concludes Fraser.