Nest Architects director Emilio Fuscaldo and project architect James Flaherty inherited a richly layered social and cultural history when embarking on the renovation of the iconic Readings Carlton store.
Mark Rubbo (managing director and co-owner) and Joe Rubbo (Carlton shop manager and Mark’s son) detail the origins of this remarkable local business: ‘Readings was started in 1969 by Ross Readings, and at the time specialised in hard to get books from America.’ By 1976, Mark and business partners Steve Smith and Greg Young purchased the business, with the aim of supporting local writers and the emerging Australian publishing industry. In the 42 (!) years that have passed since then, Mark has built Australia’s most successful independent bookstore, with an unparalleled commitment to customer service, and an intrinsic understanding of the central role bookshops can play in their local communities.
The beloved store was last refurbished 20 years ago by renowned architect Peter Corrigan and partner Maggie Edmond, and while Joe described loving the ‘feeling of the old shop’, the spatial design no longer reflected the way the business operates. It was time for an update, so the bookstore could fully perform and continue to serve the community that have helped build the vibrancy and energy of the store!
The community value of this local institution was acknowledged by architect Emilio, who describes how ‘everyone at Nest has a long established relationship with Readings, from searching for our first share houses on their community bulletin board, to buying thousands of dollars of books and vinyl.’ (Very relatable for anyone who grew up in Melbourne!).
Nest’s involvement in the renovations commenced two years ago, as part of a smaller brief, which evolved over time into an entire store overhaul. The renovation chiefly aimed to streamline the store; providing more space for bookshelves (and more books to fill them!), a dedicated music section, and a space to hold the many events which make Readings such a social hub. Emilio describes how ‘the grey tones of the tall shelving and walls let the books take precedence, and give the feeling of being enveloped by books, while the walnut throughout the centre of the store adds warmth.’ (Translation: a bookworm’s dream). A green Terrazzo floor and sleek black tiles add a sense of polish and grandeur to the space, while retaining a welcoming and inclusive character. The original Corrigan designed ‘R’s have been given a fresh coat a paint, retaining a continuity with the site’s history and welcoming in the new.
The atmosphere of the refurbishment is understated and refined, and pays homage to the culture and history of the Lygon Street area. Nest wanted people to ‘walk into the store and feel like it had always been there’. Emilio and his team have certainly risen to the challenge of updating this Melbourne institution, with a huge amount of care. ‘Knowing how much Melbourne love this store, we hope we have done it justice’ Emilio says.
We think everyone involved deserves a big bowl of pasta, and a relaxing afternoon with a beautiful new book.