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52: 11 - Flipboard

Name: Flipboard
Address: 141 La Trobe St, Melbourne VIC
Served by: Lincoln Walker
Owner: Martin Heide & Megg Evans of Brolly Studios

Going to a new café each week is awesome – but even more awesome is when you get to meet the people behind the design of these cafes.  And the designer behind Flipboard is quite literally behind Flipboard – the café – in his co-working studio called Brolly Studios.  Martin Heide (of Brolly Studios and Brolly Design) and his partner Megg Evans (who also runs Bennetts Lanes Jazz Bar) opened Flipboard 4 months ago and in that time have established quite the community in their little corner of Melbourne’s CBD.  But let’s not forget the reason we’re writing the review – this is all about Flipboard, and it is one of the most dynamic café spaces in Melbourne.

So what’s good about Fipboard?

Like I said – community.  When I sat down with Martin and he described to me how Flipboard developed as street frontage to Brolly Studio, I was immediately struck by his determination and how he didn’t wait for opportunity to come knocking on his door – he went looking for it himself.  Flipboard allowed Martin the opportunity to not only flex his design muscle and create a dynamic multi-layered space. And it also tied together the 3 ‘industries’ of the building - Jazz, Design & Coffee.

The first thing you notice when approaching Flipboard is the booths tucked into the façade.  Like Steven Holl’s Storefront for Art and Architecture, this unfolding façade creates niches and spaces for people to inhabit.  It’s an active space that creates interaction between the coffee drinkers of Flipboard and the general public who stroll past.  It was also another one of the opportunities discovered by Martin, who on removing boards covering the façade found that a 1400mm deep void in the ceiling space above Bennetts Lane was available.  Opportunities = booths.

When you enter Flipboard you are confronted with stairs.  Stairs that go up, and stairs that lead down.  But move past the stairs and the main counter awaits, manned by Lincoln to take your coffee order.  The material palette is unashamedly warm – like a cocoon of timber.  Looking around Flipboard for the first time, the different levels are overwhelming.  Martin has described the decision to work with levels when designing the café, as being informed by the principles of Adolf Loos – a series of interconnected volumes.  What is created by these levels is a series of areas to inhabit – the stairs, the different landings with their benches and tables, the upstairs window seat, the outdoor booths and the fold up seats at the entry.  This is a café where small groups can take up space and feel like they won’t be interrupted by other people.

Martin was also very keen to tell me about the stools he has designed and that are scattered throughout Flipboard.  He described the café as a platform for testing multiple design ideas – a kind of testing ground, and the stools produced by Brolly Design are used throughout the space converting the café somewhat into a shop to display Martin’s designs.  And these stools are clever, a sandwich of books or magazines wedged between two pieces of ply and bolted together.  They are each one unique, they gain character through wear and tear, and were surprisingly comfortable!

After taking in the large gestures of all the different levels, you began to notice all the little details carefully crafted in the space, and there is many of them.  No corner has been left unconsidered.  From the fold down seats that when folded up allow for more standing room in front of the counter, to the beautiful handrail details and the mini handrail itself on the first landing that an espresso could easily balance on.  The more I looked around, the more I enjoyed the level of craft within the space.

And it appears that Melbourne is embracing this café too.  Martin has described hearing customers proclaim that that awesome window seat up the top of the stairs is ‘their’s’ and that many people are returning as regular customers.  All of which is great to hear for a café that’s only 4 months old.

What could be better about Flipboard?

On face value, and from a design perspective when trying to figure out what could be better I physically wrote the words ‘I don’t know…’.

But some things might in fact be a bit of a pain in the space.  With so many levels, corners, stairs etc. I would imagine that cleaning the café would take a lot longer than a standard café.  I also noticed that the staff were being extremely careful carrying coffee up the stairs to the top table – again, a slight pain in comparison to a flat floor bog standard café.  

There are also a few quirks behind the counter.  Lincoln and I discussed how he is still getting used to the space and how they are continually shifting things around, seeing if some items work better in one place rather than another, and also adding elements to make for a more functional work space.  In particular it appears that the introduction of a fan beside the coffee machine was to blow away the hot air that was accumulating around the machine.  With no way for the hot air to escape it made for quite a hot workspace!  So the fan has proven a handy addition.

What’s its thing? 

It’s got to be the levels – the layers – both physically and metaphorically.  There is no space in Melbourne on the café scene that is as dynamic as Flipboard.  And by this I mean both the ability to sit and enjoy a coffee in so many different seating scenarios, and also that behind and below the café there is a world of creativity bubbling along.

Defining Design Details

  • Simplicity belying complexity – the simple branding, the simple material palette, the simple design elements.  It all seems so simple!  But it has taken a very creative mind to put all the pieces together so well.
  • The lighting – there is some beautiful lights throughout this place.  They enhance the warmth of the timber throughout. 
  • The window seat – worth a trip to this café just to sit in and take ownership of whilst drinking your coffee. 
  • The levels – do I need to say more? 
  • The community – it’s all in one place… I’m thinking of moving in myself!

Martin seems like a restless designer, and for his design baby - Flipboard - he still has many plans.  There is a design market that he runs from the space and he is also looking at ways to combine the Jazz Club and the Cafe in some kind of combined events.  And then there is also the Press Stool, designed by Brolly Design and used throughout the space and certainly worth checking out.  But first and foremost, go and have a coffee in this space - it is absolutely worth the trip.