Technē and Eleisha Gray transport guests back to sun-dappled days of the Italian Riviera circa 1975

May 16, 2022
  • Article by Elisa Scarton

Hiding inside the walls of Melbourne’s Garden State Hotel, Eleisha Gray and Technē Architecture + Interior Design’s latest restaurant, Tippy Tay, is a Slim Aarons still brought to life.

The US lifestyle photographer captured heady summers on the Italian coast throughout the ’60s and ’70s, ostensibly there to snap sun-bleached terraces and jewel-toned seas, but always more interested in what he described as the “fantastic girls” in their silk turbans and technicolour bikinis.

Upcycled curtains adorn the built-in stucco booths with their rainbow-striped cushions.

Fast forward half a century and any one of Aarons’ girls could saunter off the Riviera and into Tippy Tay trailing sand, but not feeling even the slightest bit out of place.

“Everything was a bit gloomy [when we were working on the brief], so we were daydreaming about a place that was fresh, vibrant and alive,” explains Technē director Justin Northrop.

“A family meal on holiday in Italy in the ’70s or earlier. A sort of seaside escape from the real world.”

Much of the art was sourced from secondhand dealers with the still lifes seeking to reflect mundane, but comforting scenes.

Tippy Tay was conceived, designed, built and completed during various stages of Melbourne’s lockdown. It takes the place of Garden Grill – a modernised bistro within the Garden State Hotel, which is, itself, a sprawling multi-level wonderland located in the cosmopolitan heart of Flinders Lane.

Technē was behind the design for the hotel and beer garden back in 2016, transporting full-grown trees into its glass and timber interiors for an experience that is already escapist to its core. Tippy Tay just takes things to the next level.

Standing in front of its double doors, a hand on its brass handles is, in essence, dissociative. Unless you’ve trawled through Instagram, you hardly expect to find yourself before a sea of hand-painted Italian tiles in pinks, greens and yellows protruding from a mint green stucco wall dripping in ivy and other vines. Salmon bay windows are partially covered in upcycled lace curtains and terracotta pots are brimming with geraniums and citrus fruits.

The thousands of flags that form the ceilings’ bunting were hand sewn by Eleisha Gray with help from friends and family.

You glimpse inside and feel yourself leaving Melbourne behind.

“The brief came to us for a venue within a venue with the character of a festive Italian trattoria,” says Northrop.

“It’s bright and sunny with lots of colour and a lot of decorations designed to evoke that era and dining experience. Even the light levels are higher than what you’d normally expect in this kind of space.”

Technē and Eleisha Gray collaborated on the interior design and styling, and worked with Ayus Botanical on the landscaping, with the goal of creating a restaurant that was as vibrant and convivial as its menu of Italian share plates and Negroni fountains, the latter available at the press of – an appropriately vintage-looking – button.

The iconic Sicilian head vases were imported and scattered in an ode to the authentic Italian trattoria.

Northrop explains that Gray, in particular, was essential in shaping Tippy Tay’s interiors.

“There’s a lot of second-hand touches, alongside an array of handmade, upcycled and purpose-built elements,” he says.

“There’s an emphasis on craft and a real push towards bring authenticity through the decorations. The carpets are second-hand rugs, the curtains upcycled. Even the thousands of flags that run the length of the restaurant’s ceiling were handmade by Eleisha with the help of friends and family.”

When you’re inside Tippy Tay, it’s hard to know where to look. The bones are beautifully simple – terracotta floors and white stucco and brick walls that evoke Italian seaside villas. But they stand amid layers and layers of intricate and exquisite detailing. Rows of liquor bottles filled with coloured water, vibrant tile accents inserted haphazardly into columns and corners, traditional Sicilian head vases peeking from niches and still lifes commanding attention in ornate timber frames.

Coloured water in the more than 3000 Italian digestif bottles that line the shelves on either side of the restaurant.

“There’s just a fullness to everything,” explains Northrop. “It’s part of that idea of abundance and authenticity. All those touch points, including the hand-painted and imported flatware and serving ware, were really important.

“Melbourne has such a strong and rich history of Italian dining, so the overall effect had to be really fun and fresh for Tippy Tay to stand out among it all.”

For furnishings, the designers opted for rattan and straw chairs and the sort of tables that would make Franco Cozzo swoon. In pockets of the restaurant, brightly striped cushions sit on stucco booths. The bar at the back and reception at the front are also built-in.

Imported hand-painted Italian tiles in green, yellow and pink cover the project’s facade.

“All three are clear references to the simple masonry of the Riviera,” says Northrop of the features.

“They’re made from Hebel block installed on-site with glue then shaved off with rasps and saws to give them rough, soft edges before they were plastered.

“It was the same with the niches, shelves and alcoves, all of which have a roughness to their shape that makes them feel not too precious.”

From corner to corner, Tippy Tay feels anything but. It captures the lived-in comfort and plenty of a well-worn, but much-loved family kitchen, apron-clad nonna optional.

“There are so many beautiful little moments. Just walking through the door and seeing this flood of light and colour and detail in a place from which you don’t expect it, it’s transporting.”

Photography by Caitlin Mills

This article originally appeared in inside magazine, which is on newsstands and available online now!

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