Steampunk is one of the most popular trends that has impacted the design industry in recent years. It is explained by Wikipedia, as a sub-genre of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery, especially in a setting inspired by industrialised Western civilisation during the 19th century. Truth Coffee in Cape Town, designed by Haldane Martin, is an emphatic embodiment of this very philosophy!
The brief given to the designer was simple – “promote the coffee roastery business through interior design;” which is why designer Haldane Martin and his team came up with Steampunk “as an appropriate conceptual reference, given that its obsession with detail and sensual aesthetics also captured the essence of Truth Coffee’s product philosophy – We roast coffee. Properly.”
David Donde, the co-founder of Origin, a café renowned for excellent roasting, has played a pivotal role in the rise of coffee connoisseurship in Cape Town; and he has now given its people Truth Coffee!
David loved the concept presented by Haldane Martin and his team, as this futuristic fantasy style and literary philosophy resonated strongly with his ‘maverick inventor’ personality. He worked closely with the designers throughout the design process; he and his business partner, Mike Morritt-Smith even physically built a few of the designs that had been developed by Haldane Martin for Truth Coffee.
A three-storey, warehouse building (from the early 20th century) on Buitenkant Street was chosen as the new headquarters. The top two floors have been converted into the creative studio and office rental space. The ground floor, all of 600 square metres is the headquarters, and has been designed to include a 120-seat restaurant, café, bar and kitchen.
A gigantic, fully functional vintage roaster is the kingpin of the space. “We surrounded the roaster machine with a six metre diametre circular steel shelving structure, reminiscent of Victorian gasworks,” adds Haldane Martin.
Barstools, copper-clad tables and overstuffed leather and steel chairs surround the leather-topped main bar which is clad in pressed tin ceiling panels. All these create a kind of formal raised dining area in front of the bar.
Along the wall is a series of five horseshoe-shaped, deep-buttoned, and high-backed banquette seats, each of which surrounds leather clad, long, narrow, profile-cut steel tables.
The front space of the café is dominated by a 7.2 metre long communal table with swing out stools. Built from industrial pipe, malleable castings and a table top made from Oregon pine (from the stripped ceilings of the building), the table is said to be the longest in all of Cape Town.
The warehouse building was completely stripped back to its bare bones and basic frame; the beautiful cast iron pillars were given visual prominence, along with Oregon pine roof trusses and floors. Original stone and brick walls brought out the raw and rustic nature of the roastery.
The building’s natural, aged polish was left largely untouched, and was just accentuated further with raw steel, timbre, leather, brass and copper finishes.
Haldane Martin believes in, “integrating conceptual depth, aesthetic beauty and elegant functionality into one seamless whole.” And clearly he took this seemingly effortless functionality to an all-new level. Even the restrooms of Truth Coffee have been meted out with the same kind of aesthetic, the Steampunk treatment – with exposed copper pipes, Victorian tap levers, pull-chains, spun-brass basins and brass shaving mirrors!
“The owners of Truth Coffee demonstrated their understanding of the value of taking a concept all the way through to the finest details,” adds Haldane Martin.
Given the look and feel of the cafe many patrons have likened Truth Coffee to the interior of a World War II submarine; and since Haldane Martin has also crammed the space with vintage typewriters, sewing machines and old candlestick telephones, we can surely understand what these
“I believe in personifying objects and spaces with unique characters so that we can relate to them in an intimate way,” says Haldane Martin. One can see how his design philosophy has been strongly integrated into the design ethos of Truth Coffee. It is indeed an iconic space which reflects true Steampunk character and style!
Text By Priyanka S. Menon Photographs Courtesy Micky Hoyle