Nestled amongst pristine rainforest in Byron Bay, the newly renovated Byron at Byron Resort and Spa is the first tropical resort completed by Sydney-based design firm Luchetti Krelle who has a solid reputation for well articulated and highly bespoke restaurants and bars in Australia and, more recently, Japan.
more space caught up with Rachel Luchetti to talk about the brief, the influence of the traditional Australian verandah on the project, and designing a destination restaurant for one of Australia's leading chefs, Matthew Kemp.
MS: How would you describe the design philosophy of your practice?
RL: We are concept heavy in our work and we like to be layered in the way that we design. Styling is one aspect, as well as the more architectural components of planning to make a space work. Our philosophy is never to have a set aesthetic and to approach each project in a unique way. We are interested in the human scale and really seeing the space though the eyes of the patron. We always try to make our spaces very comfortable, whether that is comfort in the traditional sense of the seats being comfortable but also the acoustics and the lighting to make the whole concept feel complete. We don’t design for the photo at the end, we design for the customer.
Tell me about the Byron at Byron project, where did the conversation start with the client?
We got a call from Lyn Parche who had seen the work we did at Hotel Centennial in Sydney. She had already spoken to the Centennial’s head chef Justin North who we had worked with closely. So it started with a discussion about the restaurant. Although the hotel had lasted well, after 13 years it was time for a refresh and time to put the restaurant on the map. So with Matthew Kemp coming on as head chef they are really upping their game. It’s no longer a restaurant in a resort, it is now a restaurant in its own right. We then said, “well, you probably need to improve the reception and common areas too”. That included the verandas and breezeways that tie it all together, and the client also wanted us to look at the conference area as well.
With its unique rainforest setting, can you describe the spirit of the design approach?
The first time I walked into the reception I was overcome with how was beautiful the location was, the photos don’t do it justice. That’s where the inspiration for the artwork came from and the colour palettes are inspired by the colours within the gum trees. So there is certainly some inspiration from the surroundings.
How did you develop the brief and were there any surprises within it?
It’s funny, we ended up coming up with a reverse brief. Our concept was all about the well travelled Australian. The idea that you are visiting a friend’s home who has travelled the world and picked up bits and pieces so it has a lovely lived-in feel. That really resonated with the client as an idea because you can personify that space. We were also interested in the Australian verandah and how traditionally they were extensions of the living space. What is really nice about a Queenslander, or a country homestead, is the wrap-around veranda that allows for the comfortable sofa, rug and bits and bobs to spill outside. It is the perfect anti-room. The hotel was already very open so we liked the idea that a verandah can also be a cosy room with the right rain and wind breaks. Believe it or not, it’s not summer in Byron all year around!
How did the design concept unfold?
Our approach was to create different little pockets and vignettes for people to experience and discover. We turned the existing breezeway between the restaurant and the reception into a courtyard because we found it wasn't really being used and it didn’t feel like its own space. We took up the decking and put down flagstone paving in a French pattern to create a courtyard that would really anchor that area. We also decided not to have just one type of furniture throughout like a lot of restaurants did a decade ago when the Byron at Byron opened. So what we have done is very eclectic.
When we looked at the restaurant space initially, we realised that there was’t really a proper bar and we wanted to make sure that people felt they could gather. A really good bar can energise a space in a way that you just can’t get with a restaurant. The bar was a big focus and we decided to make the whole thing in copper and it is now working well as a beacon. We also designed a large bar table on casters so it can be rolled away.
In the old restaurant everyone wanted to sit on the verandah and guests were very disappointed if they sat inside, so we made sure that we put all of the comfortable chairs and sofas in the restaurant and created an interior environment with suspended artworks, soft furnishings and lighting elements that made it really intimate. We also put an acoustic treatment on the walls so now everyone is very happy to sit inside too.
One of the big features is the artwork that we commissioned. Australian artist Julian Meagher produced a series of botanical still-life paintings and had the canvases stretched on aluminium so we could hang them outdoors. We also included some of his landscapes and had them mounted in clear glass frames and suspended in the large openings where the bi-fold doors separate the courtyard from the restaurant.
What are you most happy about?
I do love the European furniture that has a quality that people go nuts about. We were able to have a lot of fun with it. I think the reception counter is very arresting while also being very practical. It is a very large large sandstone slab with copper trim and custom joinery. We were lucky to have a great builder to make it possible.
Tell me about your approach to the furniture. You’ve mixed old pieces and new, and I noticed the GTV Promenade sofas by French designer Philippe Nigro, and Hideout armchairs by Swedish designers Front, which feel perfect in the subtropical setting.
We certainly like to see it as more of a curating of different types of furniture. We looked at families and groupings and also mixed in antiques that we sourced from all over Australia. We focused on Australian colonial cedar furniture that has a narrative that fits with the verandah, the symbol of the colonial outpost. The layers and the years bring the twist to it. We sourced some really beautiful old drapers’ tables and dumb waiters made of beautiful timbers that we have used as waiter stations, one of the dining tables is an antique piece as well as the Maitre d’ table. We love the collection by GTV and it makes a perfect addition to the reception which is now a really beautiful space.
What was the biggest challenge?
There were a lot of sensitivities around the resort being operational during the renovation. So we prefabricated as much as possible offsite to minimise the noise. We met a fantastic kitchen contractor who made all of the metal work, including the copper bar. He made almost all of it in his own factory, constructed it there first to make sure all the pieces fitted together, then took it apart, took it onsite and installed it.
What projects are you currently working on?
We have almost finished the Shoal Bay Country Club. It’s a huge project with restaurants, a sports bar, cafes and a large courtyard. It will be amazing when it’s all finished. We are doing another wine bar for Ovalo 1888 and we have been working in Japan. We designed Longrain in Tokyo and that has led to more work over there with that client which is great.