City leftovers used in recipe for organic hub

A CBD lobby has evolved into a stylish grocer and cafe, writes Stephen Crafti.

A CBD lobby has evolved into a stylish grocer and cafe, writes Stephen Crafti.

The Spring Street Grocer, in Spring Street, Melbourne, appears to have sprung from nowhere. The organic grocer and cafe didn't replace an existing tenant. In fact, the 120-square-metre site on the ground floor was previously a lobby, leading to a 1980s office building. "There was a 'for lease' sign attached to this property for several years. No one really knew what to do with this space," says architect Kristin Green, director of KGA Architecture. Restaurateur Con Christopoulos, who operates the European, Journal and Napoli in the CBD, came up with a use for this "leftover" space. With partner Joshua Brisbane, they saw a need for an outlet for quality organically grown fruit and vegetables, combined with coffee and ice-cream in the CBD. And, of course, what about all the great locally produced cheeses?

"The brief tended to expand the more things that had to be included in the grocery," says Green.

Abutting a laneway, Turnbull Alley, one of the problems with the original lobby was its lack of presence to the street. KGA Architecture not only gutted the space, but added generous windows to the alley. The new apertures follow the functions within.

The first window treatment is barn-like, with a large porthole-shaped window retracting to strengthen a connection to the alley. The second band of windows is curvaceous and framed by mirrors, evocative of the 1970s. The third style of windows is full-length and arched at the bottom, creating a dialogue with the windows of the Parliament building, opposite.

"I wanted to subvert the traditional windows and create something contemporary. But each space loosely defines a function," says Green, who included an informal dining area aligned with the arched windows.

KGA also designed a new open "lobby" to the street. But instead of a security guard, there's an ice-cream counter and stools. And like a welcoming mat, there's terrazzo flooring, featuring broad chocolate-coloured bands. "I wanted the terrazzo to be as delectable as the food. You can almost taste the floor on your tongue," says Green, who added stones from the garden to enrich the mix.

As well as fluorescent signage, the welcoming "banner" features Olympic figures from 400BC. "I wanted to equate this place with healthy food, enriching the body and mind," says Green, who also included a steel outline of the goddess Athena, cheekily holding a shovel rather than a sword.

Central to KGA's award-winning design are the steel shelves that appear to snake around the new staircase to the basement. Laden with fresh vegetables and groceries, these shelves have been deliberately designed to encourage shoppers to move in and out and to feel connected to the displays.

Green even goes a step further, using one of the balustrades to the staircase as a cheeseboard, tempting those with a penchant for fine cheeses.

With literally a smorgasbord of cheeses displayed on a table and in store rooms, behind glass, this space, formerly a car park, is intimate and highly considered. Here again, Green has approached this design as though every centimetre counted. Glazed tiles complement the exposed concrete floors and ceilings. And steel and glass doors partition the cheese room.

Used for intimate gatherings, the basement space offers a different view of Melbourne's underground scene. While Green appears to have developed every square centimetre of the fitout, she also improved the lane, with a few bright red brush strokes applied to ordinary wall pipes.

"Eventually, the lane will attract graffiti artists. It will then take on a new charm," says Green. "This place is about engaging with people. It's not just about standing behind a counter and waiting for your order to arrive."

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