Bates Smart interior design director Jeff Copolov explains how he used functionality and art to create a modern, fine-dining restaurant.
“From the beginning, [owner] Neil Perry knew what he wanted from the restaurant. As a chef his first priority was the kitchen, but he has quite a good design sensibility, so he was also very interested in how the dining room was going to look and feel and work.
“The project got going in February 2006 and opened in late October—so it was very fast. Neil had a camera crew following him every step of the way—design, building, construction—so there were very few warts that weren’t exposed. It kept everyone on their toes.
“We wanted the restaurant to be a Melbourne institution, so the design product had to be modern, enduring and innovative. We didn’t attempt to be a trendsetter. Rather, we wanted materials that were robust enough to last 20 years.
“We used steel, copper, timber, leather and rope, and we wanted to celebrate the patina and the character that those materials develop over time.
“The $3.45m budget included all essential services, like electrical and gas, associated with a partially existing/partially new kitchen. Sometimes with an existing space it’s more economical to rip the whole lot out and start again, but we chose to retain some of the original features of the space, which made the detailing of new work a little more intricate.
“The biggest challenge was working out how to combine the functionality of the restaurant with a fine-dining ambience. The kitchen is a front-of-house display area, but it also needed to be extremely functional.
“All the chairs were custom-designed and made, except the bar stools. The armchairs are timber with leather upholstery, and the banquette has a commercial fabric, which gives the restaurant a different texture and some colour.
“The tables are timber-framed with a vinyl inlay. It looks like leather, but is easy to clean and also muffles the clatter of the cutlery. The space has five-metre high ceilings, and apart from carpet in the dining room and the wine bar, the floors are timber, so having soft, sound-absorbent surfaces is important to reduce the noise.
“We worked with lighting designers The Flaming Beacon, who custom-designed all the lighting, from the soft industrial area of the produce hall and the vibrant theatrical kitchen space, to the intimate feel of the dining room.
“Early on we discussed having personal photos of Neil on the walls. But once the interior started taking shape, we decided it was more appropriate to celebrate the origin of the produce, so Neil suggested that Earl Carter, who he had worked with before, photograph some prize cattle.
“Neil and Earl went out to Gippsland and chased some cows around. That imagery has been used throughout the restaurant, on the menus and the business cards, so it’s become a part of the brand.
“Although, the women’s toilet has a photo of a chicken’s backside. We thought it might be inappropriate to have a photo of a cow in there.”
Rockpool Bar & Grill, Melbourne
Southbank, VIC 3006
Phone: (03) 8648 1900 Fax: (03) 8648 1919
Bates Smart Architects
1 Nicholson Street
Melbourne, VIC 3000
Phone: (03) 8664 6200
Fax: (03) 8664 6300
243 Liverpool Street
East Sydney, NSW 2010
Phone: (02) 9380 7288
Fax: (02) 9380 7280