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52: 16 - Spilt Milk

Name: Spilt Milk
Address: 288 Neerim Road, Carnegie Melbourne
Owner: Jansen
Served by: Emma

There’s no need to cry over Spilt Milk. But you SHOULD cry if you don’t live in Melbourne and can’t visit Spilt Milk Café. Because for a teeny tiny space, it has massive impact!  (Phew, Bad pun out of the way, now we can get to the serious part!).

 So what’s good about Spilt Milk?

The location is awesome. But you don’t realise this at first. Spilt Milk is sandwiched between a new commercial come retail/residential development and an old brick building. It sticks out because it’s the only active street frontage there. But being alone here is a blessing in disguise, because when you walk around the corner onto the busy Koornang Rd, with lots of shops, retail and cafes etc it’s all quite “urban” and the charm of Carnegie is lost. Speaking with the owner, Jansen said he had the opportunity to take retail space out on the main street but decided to tuck Spilt Milk around the corner and this was the first of many great design decisions he made.

Out the front of the café is a beautiful established tree, and amongst a sea of brick, bitumen and concrete, this softens the frontage of the street making it a really enjoyable external space. Cosy footpath seating is positioned directly in front of the café protected by charming timber fencing and complete with blankets on hand in case you get chilly (how thoughtful is that?).  The fencing does not extend an inch beyond the café’s boundaries - Jansen had the opportunity to get a permit for 15 meters of additional space for outdoor tables, but this would mean people sat too far away from the café itself, disconnected from the happenings within so he declined. Good design decision Number Two!

Spilt Milk used to be an Op shop. But about two years ago it was converted to this great café and walking inside, its raw dark atmospheric character is absolutely surprising – it’s not what you’d expect. You feel like you are in barn, with the timber / brick / concrete materiality just screaming to be touched (Design and Archi nerds you’ll understand this phenomena, inappropriate touching of finishes in public – “normal” people just don’t understand it!).

The compact floor plate is just that; and the kitchen/prep area out the back is small, but works for the size of the café. It is immaculately planned and meticulously clean with backdrop of timber boxes arranges as a sculptural display area for trinkets, personal artefacts, photos and the like, which makes you feel like you are in someone ones home.

The height in this space is amazing and the volume overhead allows the space to breathe and feel cosy, not claustrophobic despite being a full house at closing time when we were there.  The exposed beam ceiling with insulation adds to the ‘rustic’ feel with great large and small scale feature lighting complimenting pretty much everything! Add to this the tidy branding – quirky cow graphic and cost effective hand written laminated menus and Jansen has considered everything in the space and you notice it. The language is deliberate, but honest and it works.

What could be better about Spilt Milk?

Bench seating runs predominantly around the perimeter of the café, which leaves a big void in the middle of the space allowing good circulation for paying/waiting customers, but when vacant, it feels wasted and slightly exposing. Instead of using square tables, positioning rectangular tables to the perimeter bench seating would use the ‘vacant’ space more in the  middle. The current tables although rustic to suit the aesthetic, are very chunky and streamlined timber table would open the space up more. Fine-tuning the furniture and the arrangement would improve the cafés ‘feel’ dramatically – which is mind blowing because it’s already ridiculously good!

What’s its thing?

It seems like Jansen has shunned the norm, going against what most people “Should” have done in a cafe situation like this i.e. taken a lease on the busy main street – not around the quiet corner, provided more tables outside on the path, not less - so on and so forth. But what he has cleverly done is create a destination – and as a result you WANT to seek out Spilt Milk and go back there again and again and again.

Defining Design Details

  • High bench window seat –The window frames the tree perfectly and is lovely to look out.
  • Takeaway window – such a good business idea (more coffees for passers by) and a great spatial planning solution (clears inside space for more seats!).
  • Branding – from an illustrative painted map, to menus, business cards and finishes, these guys work their brand through the whole place exceptionally well.
  • Secret nooks – customised display areas in the joinery speak volumes about a considered approach.
  • Down Lights – Jansen got it right by positioning them in a small border of plasterboard – against the exposed ceiling you almost don’t notice them.
  • That floor – concrete base, worn yellow paint (reminiscent of artworks by Rosalie Gascoigne) – a rich patina of footsteps, stories and spilt milk – money just can’t buy that.

Visit Jansen, his super lovely team and amazing little space that delivers big on experience and considered design details.