The shop next door was incorporated in a seamless design, writes Stephen Crafti.
Cafe Di Stasio, in Fitzroy Street, St Kilda, is a landmark institution. Designed by architect Allan Powell in the 1980s, it has attracted creatives to dine and yarn since it opened.
Recently, when the next-door shop became vacant, it seemed an appropriate time to enlarge the venue. And like an archaeological dig, the building's past has been respected.
"There's such completeness to Allan's design that it didn't warrant any changes, however cosmetic. His design is timeless," says architect Robert Simeoni, who was commissioned to create a new bar, additional seating and a private dining area within the shop next door. "We also had to bridge the new space with the original restaurant."
About 250 square metres in area, the previous sushi bar was gutted. But rather than simply insert new plaster walls, Simeoni treated the old plaster walls, complete with peeling paint, as though concealing an important slice of history. Even the glue outlining former wall tiles has been retained.
The layers of the building's past have also been elevated several notches with the protection of new timber and glass fixed doors, suggesting a museum environment.
The walls that have been "finished" are polished plaster, evocative of Italian cafes. "It was a strong collaboration with Ronnie di Stasio, Mallory Wall and artist Callum Morton," Simeoni says.
As well as a separate street entrance into the new space, with a scaffold-like sculpture by Morton, there are two narrow openings linking the original restaurant to the new.
Only 600 millimetres wide, and with only one accessible by patrons (the other behind the bar), these deep alcoves provide delightful vignettes between the two spaces.
"Our brief was to create a sense of memory of Italian places, gathering spaces that you find in pockets of Melbourne, a certain sensibility that often can't be articulated," Simeoni says.
"We also wanted to ensure the new space complemented Powell's design."
A new seven-metre-long marble bar is simply framed by a polished plastered wall. And unlike most bars, there are no shelves for displaying wine or other spirits.
"We wanted to keep the space as simple as possible, celebrating the volume [the ceiling height is 3½ metres] as well as Callum's sculpture," Simeoni says.
As well as additional seating, the extension includes a private dining room at the rear.
Accommodating 10 to 12 people, this dining area is simply expressed with polished plaster walls, discrete openings and recycled timber floors, the latter waxed rather than heavily polished.
A corridor leading to the bathrooms and dining area was also treated like an archaeological dig, creating the sense of an old shop that once led to a residence above.
The back wall of the corridor, also in polished plaster, appears to go on indefinitely. Even the bathrooms have been thoughtfully reworked. Old terrazzo floors were retained, with new marble basins added, appearing to be "carved" into the walls rather than added as an afterthought.
Those used to entering Cafe Di Stasio from the original front door can still enjoy this experience. There's now an alternative approach through Simeoni's new front door, complete with a raw steel handle.
"There is a hand-made quality to the renovation. We deliberately wanted to ensure a rich and worn patina," Simeoni says.