Aura Cafe, a recently opened upscale coffee café and restaurant located in the Signature Lux Hotel in Sandton, South Africa, selected Cottle & Bergh Architects (C+B) to design its interior dining and exterior areas.
Opened in July 2017, Aura Cafe was developed in tandem with the Signature Lux Hotels Sandton branch. This state-of-the-art hotel aims to cater to millennial and business travellers, offering smart technology that includes free unshaped, uncapped Wi-Fi; an integrated app; 24-hour self-service check-in; in-room Wi-Fi calling and the capability for guests to use their smartphones as their room key.
C+B’s brief was to create a bespoke coffee brand to service the Signature Lux hotel – providing breakfasts and room service – but also hold its own as a standalone brand bringing in foot traffic from the street says Frans Bergh, a founding partner of C+B. “The interior had to be inviting, cosy but contemporary, durable, and memorable. As always, our client was looking for the best result on a limited budget.”
In designing the Aura Café interior, C+B sought to reflect the modern offering of the hotel and blend it with a warm, inviting interior inspired by the latest design seen in the similar cafés overseas. “We love to travel and make a point of observing the ways in which design is expressed across different locations for different cultures,” says Bergh. “We drew our inspiration for this interior from the modern functionality of the hotel itself, the efficiency of pedestrian traffic seen in New York City and the level of elegance and emphasis on coffee as a product and the theatre of the baristas seen in Vienna.”
According to Bergh, C+B was involved in the project from the start – planning sketch designs, providing 3D presentations, construction drawing, designing all shop fitting elements, specifying complimentary furniture, applications of the logo, menu boards and finishes. Being involved from the early stages was important says Bergh, due to the cafe’s location in a hotel that was still under construction at the time. “The hotel was being developed within what was an office building. Aura Café’s location is actually in what used to be the basement of the old building which meant that both old and new services required for the hotel were in the ceiling and underneath the café so we had to make sure we dealt with these. This brought up a host of potential and unforeseen design issues so we did intensive site inspections to be able to deal with design solutions on the spot, as they came up,” Bergh explains.
“Our early involvement gave us the opportunity to influence the designs around this area together with the landlord architect – including how the café would benefit the reception lounge of the hotel and tweaking it aesthetically as we needed to. We also needed to consider the design of the external area and patio and how this would influence the rooms upstairs and had to address the approach in order to create a welcoming facade for both the hotel and the café,” Bergh recalls.
Unique and well considered aspects to Aura Café’s design includes the use of solid locally sourced Kiaat timber, which has detailed imperfections and a rich, varied grain making each piece that was used unique. Bergh adds that all the shop fitting elements were designed to be easily removed which means that when the space needs to be refurbished again in the future, the elements can easily be taken off while the shell undergoes building work, moved to a new location or absorbed into another store.
“What we hoped to achieve – given the close proximity to Sandton City – was a space that could compete with the offerings within the mall. The area in front of Aura also doubles up as a pick-up point for taxi’s, Uber and hotel shuttles and so we tried to soften the boundary between the storefront and the street by adding external seating and creating a ‘ grab-‘n-go’ offering for both visitors and locals,” Bergh enthuses. “We also put a lot of emphasis on texture and layering it into the design to give it an urban feel reflective of the location. The use of materials like the solid Kiaat table and countertops exposed stock brick, polished granite, leather and painted mild steel played a huge role in bringing this idea to life. We were careful to allocate ample budget to elements that the patrons would physically touch, saving money by leaving some of ceilings and service infrastructure exposed and painted to blend into the design.”
Bergh says that this is the type of project that the C+B team enjoys working on the most and that the synergy and balance between service efficiency, customer experience and aesthetical appeal provides an interesting challenge for everyone at the firm. “Every store space has its own context, flow of people and site conditions that need to be analysed and interpreted to produce the optimal design solution. This coupled with the quick turnaround time required on these projects makes them fast paced and exciting.”
“We work extremely hard to present projects to our clients in as much visual detail as possible, leaving little chance for misinterpretation or a difference in expectations between our vision and theirs. We are proud of this store and of the on-going working relationship we have with Aura Coffee Excellence,” Bergh concludes.