The disciplined grandeur of concert halls formed the basis of The Brew Orchestra, a cafe in Johor Bahru designed by EHKA Studio, writes Iliyas Ong.
12 February, 2014
Hsu Hsia Ping and Eunice Khoo were faced with a problem: the 200sqm shop unit in Johor Bahru, Malaysia that they were designing for a new cafe was unusually deep and narrow. The awkward layout meant that establishing a hierarchy for the space would be a complicated affair – and just where do you put the main feature of the F&B outlet, the coffee bar?
The limitations of the space led the Singapore-based husband-and-wife team to rethink what Hsu labels as “loose” interiors common to many hip coffee joints. The couple, who co-founded architecture firm EHKA Studio, decided to first resolve the floor plan and use that solution to inform the overall design. To that end, Hsu and Khoo took inspiration from the cafe’s name: The Brew Orchestra. And they brought the entire symphony in.
Five layers of space, each with a distinct function, segment The Brew Orchestra much like a concert hall. A foyer area with plush couches occupies the front of the cafe, followed sequentially by a showcase for desserts, a main seating area, and then the stage itself, where the barista performs with his instrument, the coffee machine. A kitchen, or ‘backstage’, lurks in the bowels of the unit.
“It started from a very functional and strategic kind of design, and then we made sense of it using the musical idea,” says the 36-year-old Hsu. “We feel that there must be a story. And the idea for the musical component came from the brand. Even [the cafe’s] logo [is based on] the musical stuff. It gave us an idea for this plan.”
But positioning the bar that far behind raised another hurdle: passers-by wouldn’t be able to see it from outside.
EHKA Studio composed two methods to mitigate that concern. Firstly, it extended the glass-panelled entrance into a corridor that penetrates halfway through the cafe. Customers upon entering will skip past the foyer and instead be welcomed by the sweet treats in the showcase. And secondly, the practice designed a dramatic music-themed ceiling installation that directs the eye from the facade to the bar.
The feature looks like a monstrously oversized zither. Made of brass and string – materials typical of musical instruments – the piece flexes towards the end to echo the traditional proscenium arch found above stages. Lightbulbs that dangle below the strings also resemble the fret markers of a guitar.
The well-defined lines of the ceiling fixture is mirrored by the furniture arrangement. A long, communal table, purpose-built for the cafe, slices the main seating area vertically in half, while banquettes on one side of the wall conform to the linearity of the space. Even in the more casual foyer area, tables aren’t so much littered across the floor as they are smartly lined up in a phalanx.
“[The client] wanted something that’s a lot more disciplined in its design. He gave us images with a very strong sense of linearity, with everything in good order,” says Hsu. “For us, design is very much a part of branding. We believe that especially in F&B, your interior design must show off your brand. There must be a relationship [between the two].”
The designer adds that as shops are expressions of their owners’ personalities, The Brew Orchestra reflects a similar self-discipline in its proprietor. So it’s not surprising that the client, whom Hsu describes as a “coffee artisan”, supervised the six-week renovation process; EHKA Studio only checked in intermittently. The only thing left is for the cafe to put in the same thought and rigour to its take on the caffeinated beverage – and then it’ll surely be as sweet as a song.
Follow Cubes_Indesignlivesg on Instagram
The internet never sleeps! Here's the stuff you might have missed