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the bottom line is not a design tool


yesterday i finally got to see the inside of the seaford surf life saving club. the [award-winning] building designed by robert simeoni is amazing and after seeing its exterior when first finished, i was hankering to check out the insides and have an awesome coffee right out on the beach, raising some cash for the club in the mean time.

i'm not sure how mr simeoni feels about it post-occupancy, but i'd have to say that i can definitely see the difference between the intentions of the person who designed it, the person who is running the space and the people who are using it. i can't speak for the SLSC, but the cafe is such a disappointment - it oozes bottom line design.


the space is all clean and raw materials - joined recycled pine beams, marine ply, stainless steel struts and wooden floors. the kitchen itself looks well-designed and it oozes potential. but, at 1:30 on a sunday afternoon, there were 5 tables, when it should have been rammed (even with the rain) and it was almost as cold and lifeless as the fake bodies being rescued by the crew next door.


the tables were cheap plastic crap inside (and, ironically, beautifully recycled wooden ones saturated outside) and the chairs were even worse. there was off-the-shelf salt'n'pepper shakers (i know, but it's obvious when they're on the table!) - no sense of either cosiness, or attention to details or even community spirit. it was all a little rushed really.

and, had i my way, i would have included a corner seat near the front window, with a table of newspapers and an amazing view; and a huge communal table with some more reading material and better seating - something with character. i also probably would have 'lowered' the height of the interior by about 30 cms. the place is pretty low and wide, and i think that the decor really needed to reflect that. as it is, it's angular and jarring.

you can tell that the owners of the beach cafe have seen dollar signs and tried their best to replicate what they think would be a good look, without a sense of connection, passion or authenticity. hell, even the line protecting the birds from the glass (or vice versa), was a half-arsed line of orange tape, obscuring the amazing horizon. surely they could have found a better way that that?


and when you design with this in mind, you make a cold place and your job difficult. in fact, a place with a little attention to detail, good atmosphere and true spirit half the effort in running a social environment is taken care of. when people feel comfortable, or welcome, cosy - you know, it's hospitable - the service, food and quality of coffee doesn't get quite so much scrutiny and you can afford a bit of leeway.


however, with its awkward spaces and empty feeling, the sub-par food, the awkward staff, bad logos and uniforms at the beach cafe (and that title!) were obvious. in fact, we didn't even want to stay for coffee and/or sweets, that's how 'perched' we felt. given the beautiful building, it was disappointing.

and, in terms of bottom line, if you have 5 tables an hour NOT making an extra $12 on upscales, for 8 out of 9 hours' trading, 5 out of 6 days a week, you're losing a minimum of $2400. not to mention the lack of customer retention - the novelty of the beautiful building will wear off soon and you have to sustain them somehow. an empty box with a coffee machine doesn't cut it - not in seaford, or anywhere else.

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At 05 April, 2009 16:44, Anonymous niko said...

man u should write more of these business postst...this is deff in the top 4 things I've read written by u

At 05 April, 2009 22:03, Anonymous Rory said...

Hey Lauren-
Made me think of that great bit in 'Ornament and Crime' where the architect comes to visit unannounced to ensure his clients are wearing the right slippers in the right room - a level of obsession that Loos was opposed to - but I think many architects secretly wish they could design the tenants along with their buildings. Great post!

At 06 April, 2009 02:16, Blogger mayhem said...

I'm sorry. I think Melbourne is starting to be influenced by all the Sydney-siders moving south and contaminating local venues with po-mo brutalism. Sydney venues are designed to remind people that they would be happier sitting outside... on a brighter note - I finally saw the interior of the Moreland Hotel. bloody brilliant!

At 06 April, 2009 12:33, Anonymous lauren said...

thank niko. i think.
that is unless you are saying i'm shit at writing about art, etc and should start a business blog like the 2,375,099 other business/planning blogs out there.. :)

hey rory. thanks for the props. and i must admit that i haven't read ornament and crime. but it's now on my list of things to read (especially seeing as i have a postcard DIY model of the secession as pride of place in my studio).

interestingly enough, i don't even think they would have needed to go to such extreme lengths with a designer. just a little nudge in the right direction would have been fine. even a visit to some of the great cafes around melbourne would have been enough, i think :)

mayhem - i wish it was po-mo brutalism! i wish it was a wannabe icebergs, or something from campbell pde or god-forbid the woolloomooloo wharves! (although i don't know if i could have done manly corso furniture)

sadly, i think the penny-pinching design tool is universal.

At 07 April, 2009 08:45, Blogger (Text)ure and (me)aning said...

Good on you L.B and
I coulnt agree MORE..

They may as well have
an A4 computer print out
on the window saying
' Chef Required
also a
good barista,
floor staff,
or at least one person
with some clues about hospitality
and ambiance.
slide resumes under
glass doors.."

What a shame!

At 15 April, 2009 14:52, Blogger Like Butter said...

amazing! if i owned a cafe i'd be in awe of your critical skills. as it stands i'm just impressed.

At 16 April, 2009 15:16, Anonymous lauren said...

hey ed - that comment made me laff!
thanks LB - that's the handy thing about having a blog - a whinge becomes a critique in the click of a button. ha!


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