Today we’re trying something new – in an effort to cover Sydney design news a little more effectively, I’ve decided to enlist some occasional assistance! We’re thrilled to have Sydney-based writer/blogger/sub editor extraordinaire Lee Tran Lam contribute today’s interview with dynamic Sydney design studio Luchetti Krelle.
Lee Tran Lam has been working in magazines for the past ten years, contributing to publications such as The Big Issue, Rolling Stone, Sydney Morning Herald and the Good Food Guide. Most recently, she spent five years working for Inside Out, where she was deputy chief sub-editor, blog editor and all-round social media guru! Lee Tran has her own excellent food blog, The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry, which she’s been writing for nearly five years, and she’s also a presenter on Sydney’s FBi 94.5FM. She is currently working as a freelance writer. Please make her feel very welcome! – Lucy x
Following the work of Sydney’s Luchetti Krelle is like going on a choose-your-own adventure. You never know what will happen next.
One moment, this dynamic interior design duo offers up Hinky Dinks – a charming, time-tripping Darlinghurst bar that makes you feel like you’re sipping cocktails in a 1950’s kitchen. Among all the retro-pop furnishings is an actual working fridge from the era – it’s so heavy that it took four men to carry it through the door (they don’t make ’em like they used to!). The fit-out is quirky but super slick – you wouldn’t guess for a second that the fridge came from Gumtree(!!), and the deceptively tiny bar hides concealed storage in every nook.
And then there’s a blockbuster project like Momofuku Seiobo, the first restaurant that superstar chef David Chang opened outside of New York. Part of the $860 million redevelopment of Sydney’s Star casino complex, this establishment is sleek and understated, enveloped in striking rows of black vertical bars that elegantly conceal the diners inside from nosey passers-by (or anyone wanting to cast a judgemental eye over the Angus Young photos prominently featured in the restaurant – David Chang really likes his AC/DC).
In the opposite direction, both literally and conceptually, is Luchetti Krelle’s colour-dazed patisserie for Adriano Zumbo. It’s an attention-grabbing saccharine wonderland, complete with a dessert version of a sushi train, macaron wallpaper, and Willy Wonka-inspired flourishes in every corner – such as the quirky macaron display cabinets which read ‘In case of emergency, break glass!’
Luchetti Krelle’s varied portfolio clearly favours restaurant and bar interiors, but also includes residential and commercial projects. Impressively, their CV also boasts a number of industry awards, and a stint as interior design consultants for the Sydney Opera House!
The Luchetti Krelle studio, based in Surry Hills, has been running since 2008. It was started by Rachel Luchetti and Stuart Krelle when they were in their twenties. This talented duo thought striking out on their own so early in their careers was worth the risk – they didn’t have kids or mortgages, so why not? ‘I just figured that if it didn’t work out, we could just go and work for someone else again.’ says Rachel. Luckily, with a swag of impressive projects under their belts and many more in the pipeline, that doesn’t look likely anytime soon!
Major thanks to Rachel and Stuart from Luchetti Krelle for their excellent answers and pictures and to Isabel Koenig for her help rounding up these pics!
Tell us a little about your background – What path led you to what you’re doing now?
Rachel Luchetti (RL): I knew that I wanted to be an interior designer or architect when I was just a kid. I set my path and just stuck to it single-mindedly through my final years of school and right through university. I’ve never even considered doing anything else. After graduating and working for an architecture firm for few years, I ran into Stuart (who I was acquainted with from uni) and asked him to join our interior design team. After working together for about a year, we identified a niche in hospitality design and just went for it.
Stuart Krelle (SK): Well, my path into interior design was an indirect one. I danced around the idea of design for three years, before making a serious attempt at it. I had a go at marketing and business in the meantime.
You’ve made your name on a variety of jobs (including Sake, Adriano Zumbo, Hinky Dinks and Momofuku Seiobo). What have been some of your favourite design projects in recent years?
RL: In all honesty, I love them all. From the big-budget polished jobs – like Sake and Momofuku Seiobo – to the more quirky and low-budget projects like Hinky Dinks and The Cottage Bar & Kitchen, where our clients are basically doing a DIY to keep costs down.
We had a lot of fun with Adriano Zumbo’s patisserie, which balanced a sense of humour with a healthy budget, and we really loved sourcing bits and pieces from all over the world for The Cut. For this project we sourced a lot of the lighting and furniture from Restoration Hardware in the US, but the most unusual objects were found right here at Wombat Hollow in the Southern Highlands, which makes these wonderful lamps using old farming implements, feathers and even an old Driza-Bone jacket!
SK: In recent months, working on Adriano Zumbo’s patisserie and Momofuku Seiobo (both at The Star), have been really exciting experiences. Both these spaces are representative of the big-character chefs behind them. Capturing someone’s essence and putting their food and their creative passion on display requires a sensitivity that can be challenging and thought provoking. What we’re proud of are two restaurants that literally sit opposite each other that look so different: dark moody timber and pools of light vs. hot pink neon, all shades of candy and lots of moving parts!
What does a typical day at work involve for you?
RL: Our studio is very relaxed, so Stuart and I both bring in our dogs. My day usually involves a mix of product and concept research, client meetings, site meetings, sketching and, of course, playing with the dogs.
SK: What’s great about the design business is that there is no typical work day. Once I arrive and drop off our office mascot, Winston (with his pal, Rachel’s dog Horse), I can be off doing anything from heading down to a site, meeting with suppliers or, as expected, madly documenting all the drawings required for construction of a project. As we are still a young company, it is still difficult to juggle the design arm of the business and the administrative arm. The business side can start to dominate how my time is spent, rather than what I love and set out to do – design.
How is your business structured? Do you do everything yourselves, or are there others you employ to juggle the variety of work you need to do?
RL: We used to do everything ourselves, but have gradually built up a team – so we can take on more projects and take a step back from many of the more cumbersome tasks and concentrate more on the big picture and running the business.
SK: We are a team of six now, with two additional, very committed interns. We all have our defined roles and strengths as designers. We pull together different groupings of people as we see fit for particular projects. But there is always a lot of chatter and discussion in the office – everyone has their say! Of course, there is the business and housekeeping side of the company that Rachel and myself take care of. But really it is just another dimension of my job that, though time-consuming, is still fascinating.
Are there any significant tasks you outsource?
RL: We try to do everything in-house, including lighting design, custom furniture design, wallpaper, graphics etc.
SK: The beauty of being a designer is that it is difficult to be reduced to a speciality. We are constantly extending ourselves on projects and we see our roles shift into graphic and furniture design, and sometimes stylist. Out of a concept we discussed with our client Adriano Zumbo (‘King of Macarons’) for a Willy Wonka-esque lickable wallpaper, we made the gradient macaron wallpaper that adorns the dining area walls of his patisserie.
Can you name a few creative resources across any media which you turn to regularly for a bolt of creative inspiration?
RL: I find the best source of creative inspiration is to be well travelled and we both value this highly – taking it in turns to visit all corners of the globe for research and inspiration. The internet also offers us a virtual tour which we use on a daily basis. I also like watching old films for era-specific design clues.
SK: A corny as it sounds, the greatest creative resource is the world and travel. Be it overseas, interstate or simply getting out of the city, travel always reinvigorates and inspires. I always have my camera and notebook at the ready.
Which other designers, architects or creative people are you most inspired by at the moment?
RL: I’m a big fan of what some architects are doing with public building designs at the moment. Take ARM Architecture, for example, and their work at Hamer Hall in Southbank, Melbourne. It’s adventurous, playful and clever.
SK: I’m really interested in the work of furniture designers Jaime Hayon and Patricia Urquiola. They both seem to be able to turn their hand to such varied design briefs and produce anything from a chair to a glass vases, bathroom fittings and giant chess pieces – always with their unique stamp. It’s particularly fascinating watching Hayon’s projects as they move more towards interiors.
What would be your dream creative project?
RL: A resort on a tropical island – the ultimate in relaxed luxury and hospitality design.
SK: To design a space – say a hotel – and then design every fixture, every light and every piece of furniture within that space.
What are you looking forward to?
RL: I’m really looking forward to unveiling the two French-themed projects we are currently working on at the moment. It might just involve a research and buying trip to Paris!
SK: We’ve got a couple of things in the pipeline. Would you believe we are working on a French bistro for one client down in the Rocks and then another French-themed pub for a different client? We’re keeping busy with a revamp of the foyers and bars of the Lyric theatre down at The Star. There is also an exciting potential project for us up in Brisbane, so fingers crossed!
Your favourite Sydney neighbourhood and why?
RL: The Rocks. I just love the historic buildings and the buzz. It used to be too touristy, but now with cool bars and restaurants – us locals get to really celebrate it. I live in Kirribilli with my husband Gerard, so we can just walk across the Harbour Bridge or jump on a ferry for Sunday arvo drinks in the sun.
SK: I’ve always loved Darlinghurst. My partner and I have lived there for many years. The history of the place is palpable in the narrow streets and lanes with deco apartments and turn-of-the-century terraces hidden behind overgrown ferns and palms. But it’s also modern and sophisticated. It’s a great place to go for a walk in the evening, because it is one of the few places in Sydney that feels truly European; the streets are buzzy late into the night any day of the week.
Your most admired architectural icon in Sydney?
RL: Apart from the obvious – the Opera House and Harbour Bridge – I would have to say the adaptive reuse of the finger wharves.
SK: Roslyn Street Bar and Restaurant by Durbach Block Jagger architects in Kings Cross. It incorporates the architecture typical of the area – like the small, irregular sized windows all around the facade – while also absorbing the buildings in the vicinity, in its surface of gloss, matte, white and biscuit-coloured tiles.
Your favourite bookstore in Sydney for reference books and inspiration?
RL: Kinokuniya on George Street in the Galeries Victoria is an excellent source for reference books, with an extensive range of Japanese material.
SK: Published Art tucked away on Mary Street in Surry Hills. It’s a must for anyone interested in art, architecture and design. It has plenty of air-freighted magazines and Sharon (the owner) is always happy to order in a more obscure title.
Where/what was the last great meal you ate in Sydney?
RL: Porteno in Surry Hills. All I can say is that I actually dream about its lamb ribs. And who knew brussel sprouts could taste that good?
SK: Can I cheat and say somewhere in the Southern Highlands? Bowral is a perfect spot for a weekend getaway for Sydneysiders and Biota Dining knocked my socks off. The food is all about freeze-drying, dehydration and micro-herbs and yet is still wholesome, warm and reflects the very essence of a kitchen garden. The atmosphere is inviting and homely too.
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
RL: Every Saturday, without fail, we go to Curl Curl beach – Horse (our dog) swims in the lagoon and Gerard sometimes surfs.
SK: Weekend breakfast out is a must, and usually in Redfern or Marrickville.
Sydney’s best kept secret?
RL: Springbok Delights – a butcher and smallgoods shop on Mowbray Road in Lane Cove. It has the best wagyu biltong in the world!
SK: The old institutional grounds dotted around Sydney, where you can walk like you are the only one around. These include the Convalescent Home or Dame Edith Walker Reserve along the Parramatta River.
There is also getting from Erskineville to Coogee in under 15 minutes on a Saturday, but I am not going to give that away!
– Interview and story by Lee Tran Lam