Stokehouse—a setting hard to beat

Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

Stokehouse has risen like a phoenix from the sand dunes of St Kilda and taken its place as one of the most dramatic venues in Australia. By Kerryn Ramsey

In 2014, the original Stokehouse restaurant—positioned in a 110-year-old timber building—was destroyed by fire. Three years later, Stokehouse Precinct has taken its place. The $13-million development on the St Kilda foreshore has not only expanded the first-floor restaurant, it also encompasses the beachy Pontoon bar and grill, StokeBar with a separate bar menu, and Paper Fish kiosk.

Frank van Haandel, who was part of the group that won the original tender back in 1989, was devastated when the building burned to the ground. He turned to two highly acclaimed architects to design the new project.

Robert Simeoni Architects designed the Stokehouse Precinct building, creating an imposing concrete shell on the first floor to house Stokehouse restaurant. The restaurant’s architectural interior design by Pascale Gomes-McNabb perfectly complements the exterior.

When designing the layout, Gomes-McNabb and Frank van Haandel wanted to imbue the new space with the essence of what had been before. Reinstating the original dining room layout—complementing that with the same Series 7 chairs in various beachy hues— creates a feeling of the old Stokehouse set in its new dramatic context.

The floor-to-ceiling windows embrace the view while charred timber screens break up the glare. The space has a high ceiling and includes a terrace, lounge area with a cellar door and an expansive bar that intersects the dining room. The new footprint is twice the size of the original, with the dining room accommodating 130-150 guests and the bar 120.   The interior has captured the atmosphere of the original Stokehouse but is much more than a replica.

The colour palette is drawn from the sea, sand and sun of a late afternoon at the bay. Gomes-McNabb also incorporated sustainable and durable materials and products in the design such as recycled timber from Dandenong firebreaks and pink quartz-like stone used in the bathrooms from a local quarry.

As a 5-star Green-star build, it incorporates a geothermal heating and cooling system; a loop system waste disposal unit and an e-water system. “It’s not only environmentally friendly, it also minimises the energy and water costs for the restaurant,” says Gomes-McNabb.

Roughly hewn flooring adds extra impact and wraps the walls and part of the ceiling to add warmth to the dining space. Bespoke brass details abound and a dramatic central chandelier comprises hundreds of hand-blown frosted white glass tubes which intermingle with disparate pink ones. They undulate to simulate the sea floor and when lit up recall the setting sun.

St Kilda’s Stokehouse sits in a dramatic and refined building, floating over the dunes like an other-worldly dream. At the same time, it offers superb food, an irresistible view and a laid-back resort feel.

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