COX has balanced poetics and pragmatics in its design of Poetica, a new bar and grill in North Sydney.
When you’re trying to guess who might be behind the interior design of a tiny restaurant, COX Architecture isn’t necessarily the first practice that comes to mind.
A titan of workplace and multi-residential design, COX counts nine-level offices, the Australian Museum and the nation’s first five-minute vertical city – STH BNK by Beulah – among its planned and executed projects.
But, according to COX director Brooke Lloyd, the practice also started to seriously engage with boutique hospitality about three years ago.
“I would say people didn’t come to us typically for hospitality until more recently, but we have started to explore that typology with Tedesca down in the Mornington Peninsula, and more recently [through other] small projects,” Lloyd tells Australian Design Review from her Sydney office.
In these smaller hospitality endeavours, COX is able to balance a “bespoke level of detailing, but with big practice delivery,” says Lloyd.
One such COX project is Poetica, a petite but buzzing bar and restaurant tucked away inside a North Sydney office tower. Lloyd oversaw Poetica’s interior design, working with design lead Sam Ellinson and delivery lead Brendan Nolan.
“The site came to us in the form of a commercial building and that was quite a daunting chassis for a restaurant. The projects that we’ve done prior to Poetica were Heritage spaces and they so easily lend themselves to a certain sort of character,” Lloyd says, referencing the sun-soaked café Glory Days on Bondi Pavilion and Sydney’s Charles Grand Brasserie and Bar.
“But when you’re given a commercial space and it’s got a little bit less character, you just need to start to look into the context,” Lloyd says.
The client, hospitality developer Etymon, envisaged a timeless clubhouse that captured the exciting new scene in North Sydney, but that felt like it had always been there.
“We envisioned a classic steak and seafood grill reimagined with a modern Sydney dining experience at the forefront,” Etymon CEO Lisa Hobbs tells Australian Design Review.
“All-day dining with laid back lux, executed with precision and professionalism… in other words, we wanted Poetica to be accessible to all.”
COX thus set out to create a concept that forged connections with the site’s past and present and between food and theatre, fire and water. The team also applied touches of artistic whimsy to an otherwise raw and natural design, drawing on the creative legacy of past locals William Blue and Brett Whiteley.
A large-scale mural by local artist Kristian Hawker lines the eight-metre high entry volume and draws diners into the restaurant past a glazed wine display.
“Moments of curated dry-aged meat and fish and wine displays… make the space feel abundant, indulgent and special,” comments Ellinson.
Further inside, an open kitchen anchors the main dining space, flanked by a bountiful display of meat, fish and wine. The theatre of cooking over an open flame provides an activated backdrop for the diner.
Inspired by the textures of the nearby Sydney foreshore, calming sea foam green complements the warm but restrained restaurant palette of brushed oak floors, grey granite, concrete, tiles, glazed walnut and oak furniture with tan and burnt honey upholstery, and a brick wood grill. These are all juxtaposed by flourishes of high-gloss joinery and highly figured marble.
It’s not solely about the restaurant, however. Poetica’s adjoining bar seeks to be reason enough to visit.
Colours focus on stone with baby and steely blue hues and copper accents. Light-filled and opening out to its own covered terrace overlooking the street below, the bar’s atmosphere is still refined and relaxed with a little added playfulness.
The feedback so far from Poetica’s patrons has been positive, according to Hobbs, with guests consistently intrigued by the live open fire. They also praise the easy flow between the bar and restaurant, the combination of food, warm staff and a relaxing atmosphere.
This might be at least partly owed to COX’s recognition of the importance of functionality to hospitality.
“COX certainly doesn’t have a house style, but we do have a design methodology of balancing the poetics with the pragmatics,” says Lloyd.
Lloyd says the design team is delighted with how Poetica came together, finally able to relax and enjoy a meal there themselves.