The Old Library

Jun 1, 2012
  • Article by Online Editor
  • Photography by Shannon McGrath
  • Designer Hecker Guthrie

Within a simple palette of black, white and pale timber tones Hecker Guthrie has created a restaurant environment that harmoniously incorporates references to the building’s past, while solidly grounding the establishment in its modern beachside location – not an easy task, given the building was previously used as Cronulla’s local library and prior to that a church. Not content with the quasi-Victorian-men’s-club-overstuffed-couch direction most designers would pursue given this task, Hecker Guthrie has used the building’s heritage to trigger subtle and well-timed references that catch the eye without overwhelming the whole. As half of a U-shaped building, the basic structure is a well-portioned rectangle that is entered at midpoint on the internal side. Effectively, this commences a two-pronged dialogue with the restaurant prior to entering. First, the front section’s large windows allow an interior view and second, as the door is approached, the kitchen comes into view through a long horizontal window that perfectly frames activity. It is a well-orchestrated piece of theatricality that gives a glimpse without creating a distraction.

The black steel frame of the bar inside The Old Library


The interior of The Old Library is expansive with the internal pitch of the ceiling exposed and clad in wide boards painted white, which are punctuated by long vertical skylights. The look is slightly American east coast and would be well at home on Martha’s Vineyard or The Hamptons, but sits just as comfortably in its Sydney southern beach environment. Natural linen upholstery and drapery, teamed with creams and washed shades, further this aesthetic connection, while providing a backdrop to the grander elements of the design.

The innermost room viewed from the bar


Made from a single layer of Belgian linen in oatmeal, the curtains are light and simply threaded on elegant rods. It is, however, their transformative quality that gives them gravitas, allowing the front room, for example, to be screened from both the street view and the rest of the floor area. The restaurant’s innermost room can be closed off into an intimate environment in the same way. The curtains, when not drawn, are simple, unobtrusive and add to the vertical stripes of glazing throughout, while assisting in the overall defining of the three primary spaces.

The Old Library exterior


With reference to the building’s former life as a church, the architecture has been emphasised with the exposure of the steeply pitched internal ceiling line providing an overall simplified outline of a house – a box topped with a triangle. Effectively, this gives the entire building height, but, more importantly, strengthens its internal dimensions and presence. As such, the ceiling exists as a high angular void further exaggerated by the skylights. This internal shape has been reinforced visually by a black steel frame resembling a child’s drawing of half a house that demarks the bar’s perimeter. The lightness of these sharp vertical black lines within a white interior is decidedly elegant and structurally grounding to the whole. “The sculptural presence divides the space into architectural elements. It’s an austere object that has real presence and has been designed to appear quite pared back, painted black to read off the white. All we want to read is shadow and the sculptural element,” says Paul Hecker.

The elegantly restrained palette of white, black and pale timber tones


The furniture has been kept as simple as possible in black and white with natural timber. Finished with matt white paint, the chairs are of a simple timber design repeated as different heights to suit different tables. Bespoke, they have a particular lightness and appropriateness to the beach environment that works well teamed with white Smartstone topped tables of various sizes. The grand dining table in the front room, suitable for groups of eight or 10, is a large statement piece of white Smartstone surrounded by slightly more elaborate chairs in a matt black finish. The banquettes providing wall seating are slightly nautical, in that the turned wood supports have been left unpainted, thereby emphasising the grain and natural qualities of the timber. They are placed on a floor of oak, giving a calm and soft effect. There is, however, a resolute element of structural style to the room, brought home by the coupling of extremely tall, narrow windows and the long, thin skylights, which is further exaggerated by the use of striking black industrial lamps from Spence & Lyda with tall, vertical supports that appear as long black stripes around the room.

Exposed copper pipes and industrial-style basins in the bathrooms


The lighting throughout is very well-considered with emphasis placed on lamps as both functional and sculptural elements of the design. In particular, the Europa Light 1958 makes a robust statement, as does the Lean Light. With another nod to the nautical, the bathroom lights are of the caged industrial variety, while the bar lights are a slightly porthole-esque affair in brass. Completing the bathroom look, copper pipes are exposed from ceiling to handbasin, emphasising the height of the ceiling while bringing a slightly nautical flair to the whole. The basins by Reece are a fabulous whimsy of industrial fun and suit the rooms perfectly.

By breaking the room into three distinct sections without limiting the view between areas (unless desired), Hecker Guthrie has created a space that is visually available to the full at all times. There is not, however, any sense of void as the rooms have been punctuated with a combination of structural variance, intimate nooks and visual follies. Breaking the space has been achieved with walls of wire inlaid glass and the aforementioned curtains. Within these expanses, small recesses have been created with low screens of black and white patterned tile surrounding old-fashioned black fireplaces. Low, black leather lounge chairs complete the zones, which, while visually inviting, are actually waiter stations.

Patterned tiles and old-fashioned black fireplaces at the waiter stations


In completing the rooms, stylist Sibella Court collaborated with Hecker Guthrie to explore the theme of ‘library’. As Guthrie explains, Court worked with both Hecker Guthrie and the client directly to complete the look and bring a slightly clubhouse feel to the whole without it being overly contrived. “I think for us there was an element of serendipity in the found objects that Court presented that looked good and were fun and nice to include, and of course her idea of using a muralist to do the library,” says Hecker. Continuing the lightness of touch Hecker Guthrie had established, Court created a solution that was quirky without being obvious. Her interpretation of library as an illustration of black on white graphics works well, as does her inclusion of strange and fabricated animal heads, again in black and white. Rounding out the whole are faded 1950s magazines and a collection of equally antiquated books in the far room, which nicely skirt cliché by being quirky in their own right.

The restaurant is delightful: it’s cool, elegant and decidedly ‘beach’. Hecker Guthrie’s design is open and bold, while unrelentingly proving that a beach aesthetic can be just as serious, just as comfortable, just as quirky and just as chic as an inner urban interior. Moreover, it is a physical manifestation that Cronulla is emerging from the mindset and harsh element that catapulted it, unfavourably, into the press in previous years.


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