The Rabbit Hole, Australia

March 3, 2016

Australian interior design studio Matt Woods Design reinvents the clichéd teahouse concept with The Rabbit Hole in Sydney, Australia.

An organic tea bar in Sydney, The Rabbit Hole is no exception to the name Matt Woods has built for himself so far with his design studio. An industrial designer by trade, Woods holds postgraduate qualifications in Sustainable Architecture and focuses on delivering high quality and sustainable projects primarily in the hospitality sector.

The Rabbit Hole’s design began in discussion with tea bar owners Corinne Smith and Amara Jarratt over five years prior to its realisation. “The brief was for the delivery of a unique tea bar that was unlike anything seen in the existing market,” said Woods. “We were to avoid the tired and clichéd examples that are out there. It was to be light, bright and dynamic.” The design team achieved this by taking advantage of the former industrial site’s inherent architecture. Concrete floors were polished, herringbone strutted timber ceilings unearthed, and original brick walls revealed. These newly exposed elements were then white washed to soften the masculine architecture, while enlarged northeast facing windows were added to allow light to flood the interior.

In view of creating a fresh, light approach to a teahouse, the lighting concept in relation to the interior design was paramount. “I always tell my client that lighting is the most important element in ensuring the success of any interior environment,” explained Woods. “The lighting at The Rabbit Hole has been divided into two distinct approaches, the feature lights and the workhorses. These two approaches work in unison to ensure the successful design of the space.”

Surface mounted spots that blend in with the herringbone strutted timber ceiling are used as the primary light source while decorative fixtures appear elsewhere to enhance the softness developed within the raw and exposed interior.

Inspired by Kintsugi, meaning to join with gold in the Japanese art of repairing ceramics with expressed gold lacquer, The Rabbit Hole shares in its celebration of the beauty of imperfection in ceramic objects. This is most apparent in the Speciality Tea Display, where custom designed Kintsugi bowls sit delicately above turned oak timbers beneath three of Allied Maker’s Dome pendants. With their golden shade, they reflect the inspiration behind The Rabbit Hole’s design, creating a link with the irregular golden joins of the bowls below. The Kintsugi concept is further reinforced with the expansive use of a crushed ceramic tile, featured on the service areas of the café, such as the central monolithic retail display. Above the tile clad monolith, a chandelier made entirely of tea bags by Chilean artist Valeria Burgoa is illuminated by Reggiani’s surface mounted Sunios LED projectors, which provide the base of the tea room’s lighting.

To counteract these highly conceptual feature elements, much of the remainder of the design is more humble in form without being modest in design detail. A steel framed glazed wall complete with custom designed pivoting windows outlines the smaller entry section with its own unique aesthetic. Adjacent to this entrance are Allied Maker’s Flush Brass Minimalist wall sconces, which also feature elsewhere in the space. On each surface, the ten pendants emit a bright white LED glow that complements the soft white wash of the once industrial space.

Woods commented on the effect of these choices in lighting and interior design: “I like to think my projects are warm and inviting environments for people to enjoy. I always lean towards raw honesty in materiality and form, and I enjoy expressing the intrinsic nature of an urban environment.”

Further adding to this aesthetic are Japanese designer Isamu Noguchi’s handmade Akari light sculptures, which sit as balloon-like shapes above the tea tables. Light in colour and weight, these translucent shades work with the rest of the design to lift spirits and moods when passing time in the teahouse.

Enhancing the brightness of this space and working to soften the architecture are ten of Australian LED designer Volker Haug’s Sole Trader pendants. These glow against the white washed brick and reflect Woods’ tendency towards raw and honest design as bare lamps that hide nothing and work to expose the space’s beauty.

“In The Rabbit Hole, decorative wall sconces and pendants provide that aesthetic punch,” continued Woods. This is further reflected with just two of American manufacturer Workstead’s cast iron, steel and brass wall lamps, which stand out from the other decorative fixtures with a darker frame yet remain soft in their illumination.

With these decorative fixtures and conceptual features of the restaurant, Woods reflected on how the project differed to others that the design team had completed: “It’s perhaps a bit more whimsical than what we’d normally deliver. The term whimsical was often thrown around at the early design meetings by the client and it pushed us in a direction that we would not usually have explored. As a result, we exploited this to its ultimate conclusion and as a result the project was stronger for it.”

The Rabbit Hole is a project that tested its design team, with everything that could go wrong, going wrong. The overall vision was clearly articulated and the team worked hard together to ensure the project was delivered as anticipated. The result is a testament to the design team’s efforts and in the end, any challenges encountered added to the improvement of the interior.

Pics: Dave Wheeler