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Above: The low caramel expanse of a custom Arte sofa works beautifully with Cassina’s Gianfranco Frattini-designed nesting tables (Cult)
Location: Sydney, Australia
Design: Smart Design Studio
Text: Gillian Serisier
Photography: Sharrin Rees
Once the personification of all things late night and naughty, the Taxi Club on Flinders Street, has been radically transformed into a chic, light-filled backdrop to Oxford, one of the most prolific real estate agents in Sydney.
Smart Design Studio’s aesthetic is quite possibly the most polar to come to mind when considering the Taxi Club. Known for its perpetually midnight interior, the black on black of this erstwhile drag queen haunt was once littered with a sea of sequins permanently wedded to the always slightly sticky floor. Mirror balls and a strobe effect were key to lighting, while smoke and booze hid the nastier bits and set a certain mood.
SDS’s transformation of the site is such that it is almost impossible to conceive of such a past. Opening the whole with a large street-facing window, the immediate foyer is bright and light. It is, however, not simply a matter of switching black for white. Rather, several key qualities of a dark interior have been retained, but where they once coalesced to be an impenetrable murk, the dark shades of the staircase and floor now foil the white walls and various colours. Using the textural nuances of a deep grey Bolon flooring, SDS has exploited the flooring’s capacity to slightly reflect light, which in turn makes the broad textural stripe of the flooring present without distracting. The staircase is similarly nuanced with a simple but perfect cladding of deep lustrous black that has been detailed to make existing lines continuous and sometimes a little cheeky.
Occupying the immediately entered space of the foyer is a tableau of furnishings: a custom Arte sofa with Cassina’s Gianfranco Frattini-designed nesting tables (Cult) and Tolomeo Mega floor lamp in black with black shade (Artemide). Effectively, SDS has created an aspirational setting of domestic scale that informs the client experience and expectation, while setting the tone of transaction. Structurally, the couch provides a low horizontal line to balance the diagonal of the stairs and higher horizontal of the adjacent counter. Branding has been both underplayed and delivered with brilliance via the large but low, lower case single word – oxford – in reflective silver on a black ground fronting the desk. Placed to the side it remains visible from the street when clients are being received.
The client brief for ‘wow factor’ has been achieved through the illusion of a vast expanse of desks below a sky of architecturally scaled floating lamps.
The whole is flanked by an enfilade of arches to the right and a wall of coloured vertical stripes to the left, both of which seem twice their actual length. This aspect is rendered possible through the meticulous attention SDS principal William Smart pays to detail, where every proportion has been exactingly balanced to be mirrored, without giving the illusion away. It is well done and, despite the artifice being acknowledged through the viewer reflection, continues to inform the room’s reading.
Custom designed for the project, the SDS Moon feature lights comprise slightly off-centre, and extremely large, curved discs that fill the visual field as a repetition of glowing form. Cabinetry for the large volume of storage required is also custom, with each floor-to-ceiling section realised in blue, orange, cream or charcoal to create an irregular stripe. Rather nicely, the vents punctuating the wall of colour have been colour matched for a continuous colour-field experience. Similarly, the full width desks are realised as unbroken charcoal expanses that softly reflect the coloured wall.
The second floor provides an expanded iteration with no need for a mirror. Rather, the floor stretches the entire length of the building with abundant light entering from windows at both ends. The entrance tableau for this floor is again aspirational, though of a slightly more sumptuous level of finish with a pair of Walter Knoll Andoo lounge chairs (Living Edge) in rich caramel leather and the quirky quality of the Eames Walnut stool trio (also Living Edge). A Flos Ktribe F2 bronze floor lamp (Euroluce) and potted Ficus lyrata (Trueform- Alpine Nurseries) anchors the whole and provides a polite nod to mid-century interiors.
A stunning sculptural work by Daniel Templeman, Rejoin, 2014 (Sullivan + Strumpf) completes the space and again establishes an experiential calibre. On this executive level, glass-fronted offices are designed for expedient confidential exchanges rather than relaxed engagements and are exactly as the directors require. Conversely, the upper floor is all about relaxing, partying and enjoying possibly the best view of Taylor Square. In the light-filled white interior, the long slim room has been slightly exaggerated with an elongated Meika table of solid American oak (Zuster) flanked by high Copenhague bar stools in stained grey timber. Large windows and frosted skylights – once housing the massive smoke extractor vents – give this room a particular character not dissimilar to a beach house. In doing so, it lends a flavour of relaxed fun that acknowledges the need for the company’s workforce to party as hard as they often work. SDS’s penchant for line detail is evident in fine handrails that mock any assertion that safety compliance compromises aesthetics. An open deck completes the scenario with appropriate furnishings and three very large potted olive trees.
While SDS’s transformation of the site is complete and without compromise, it is also dotted with subtle acknowledgements of its former late night glory. One such nod is the decal running across the glass doors to the back office: a yellow-edged stripe of repeating taxis left over from the original design. The use of dark shades, while also a reference to the past, has been completely subverted to become a vehicle for intensifying the once banished light and is very nicely done.