This is the place where everything that Super Tectonics is thinking about, talking about, seeing, doing, listening to, creating and so on gets documented.

52: 43 - Gardiner and Field

Name: Gardiner and Field
Address: 43 Union St, Armadale
Served by: Jesse
Owned by: Jesse

The great thing about doing Project 52 is that you get to meet lots of brilliant café owners. So when team Super Tectonics reviewed Frank and Ginger in Project 52:38 a little while back, we were excited to hear that owner Jesse had another café closer to our neck of the woods in the leafy suburb of Armadale. All the times we drove past to do a review, the place was packed, so we had to get up bright and early this time and it was completely worth it.

So what’s good about Gardiner and Field (G&F)?

Well, first off, is it a coincidence that the first letters of both of Jesse’s cafes have been switched around? Frank and Ginger, Gardiner and Field – see?!? So straight up you know these kids are onto something fun!

Now, just like Frank and Ginger in Caulfield, G&F is in a prime location. Positioned opposite a quaint park on the corner of a main suburban street, trying to get a car park nearby is chaos, but well worth the efforts once you are in. Outside above the simple box signage, (which has a classic but contemporary two line G&F uppercase font) perches an vintage Streets ice-cream sign and this is your first glimpse into what is unique about G&F. And upon walking inside the penny drops and you realise this cute little corner café actually used to be a local milk bar and family residence.

Once inside you are saturated with a sense of home. Honeyed timber floorboards run the length of the interior, lengthening the compact space and making it feel quite expansive. The main counter is positioned to the left, with a big glazed front window (with brilliant signage) allowing lots of light to pour in and allow passing traffic to see what they are missing out on.

Restrained clear glass pendants are positioned over the counter where there is a nice collection of pre-packaged food sorts, fresh baked goodies in a glass vitrine and the point of sale area. The timber slab bench top with white surrounds creates a welcoming domestic feel, whilst the back of counter area is tidily concealed by a gorgeous coffee machine with a framed back wall of rich timber shelves against a charcoal wall.

The great design feature of G&F however sits behind you. Harking back to the homes original milk bar days, rows of thick timber shelves span across yet another huge window, displaying coffee plungers, books and other café retail items. Local eggs, fresh bread and jams, complete with a collection of cereal prop boxes of Weetbix and Red head matches, romantically reference the good old days and it just makes you smile.

Continuing through the space, the layout is smart with a long continuous timber high bar to the right and smaller high bar wall mounted tables to the left which have clever bag hooks to their underside  - serious design points for you here Jesse! All high table areas are paired with brilliant timber saddle stools that are surprisingly comfortable and reassuring to sit on and straddle (pun intended).  So many cafes try so hard to find that commercial / domestic balance in their spaces, and ultimately fail – but G&F have mastered it perfectly.

Standard two person tables fill the middle zone of the café, whilst a step down the rear area sits an epic timber table for large groups or communal conversations. Jesse explained to us that the various steps and ceiling areas through the space are where the old rooms used to be. Corner store to the front area, then comes the lounge room, family room, bedrooms etc. And it’s nice to feel the progression down towards the tidy compact kitchen and out the back door to the bathroom and rear courtyard.

Sitting down at any table and you have considered aspects or views wherever you look. Staring out the beautifully ornate timber window frames, compete with cute planter boxes and potted colour on the outside; you can stare across to the park, which is lovely. If you sit facing inward your eye is cast to some of the best examples we’ve see of large, coloured artwork in a café thus far.

The last thing you notice when leaving the café is the great low-fi vintage photo framed on the wall, hanging proudly on it’s own. Upon closer inspection and after chatting with Jesse, we are told that it is the original milk bar owners’ posing for a photo on the front fence of the old milk bar #sigh! And that’s when you realise Jesse knows how to pull on the historical, architecture, romantic, narrative, conceptual heart strings  - and he is not holding back.

What could be better about Gardiner and Field?

Jesse has pretty much hit the nail on the head with everything he has done at G&F, but the elephant in the room is always down lights - too many, and too bright unfortunately. Switch out a few of them with some wall washers and creating that domestic feeling like you are in a friends house for a bite to eat will be complete.

The outside tables on the path are great, however their construction is quite chunky and they look awkward to sit it and fit your legs in / under. A slimmer profile and lighter materials next time would perfect the sidewalk table.

What’s its thing?

It’s got heart. Instead of Jesse coming in and trying to make a killer new “Melbourne” café that all the cool kids want to go to. He’s looked at the suburb, the people that live there, and delivered a product that is perfect for it’s location. Better yet, he’s tapped into the history of the Architecture and the stories of the people that lived there and continued that narrative thorough the entire fit out. And based on the fact that Jesse pretty much knew the first names of everyone who came into the café, sure everyone’s going to Gardiner and Field, but really, they are going to get a coffee at Jesse’s.

Defining Design Details

  • The great shopfront blackboard sign out that front that has quirky slogans, statements and greetings written on it daily – the original Twitter!
  • Ridiculously bright artwork – that Danone yoghurt piece is delicious!
  • Great layout – using the architecture of the establishment to drive the spatial planning to create a natural harmony instead of trying to fight it.
  • Views  - inside, outside, to artwork…Anywhere you look it is considered and enjoyable.

It’s great to see two cafes, in different suburbs targeting different clientele and yet doing it so well. It’s clear that Jesse and his crew have done their homework and assessed the entire café design from a holistic viewpoint and this makes the whole experience worthwhile and you just want to go back again.  Plus, he’s just a top bloke, which also helps.