The recently opened Sol Natural Foods is a stone’s throw from James Street Market. While James Street Market is the geographical heart for fresh produce and fine food for the residents and visitors to Fortitude Valley, Sol Natural Food aspires to not be an outlier of this mecca for foodies, but it’s soul.
The name perfectly describes the philosophy of Sol. ‘Sol’ is Spanish for ‘sun’. It is the sun that provides the sunlight, warmth and energy that grows the food we eat. It is the sun’s energy that is converted into living energy that nourishes our body. Sol Breads in West End is an institution for locals after fresh wholesome breads and cafe fare. Sol Natural Foods aims to continue this tradition for ‘the Valley’ residents and office workers.
With Sol Natural Foods we wanted to create a space that would become the Valley resident’s ‘local’. A little gem that soon becomes their first choice when looking for good food that is also good for you. We literally wanted to create a place that had ‘soul’ just like the food.
The 210 square metre floor space and over 5.5 metre height has given the tenancy a sense of openess and yet it still feels cosy and inviting. There is no ceiling over the dining areas so that we could take full advantage of the dimensions of the space. Sol Natural Foods is divided into two separate areas, a cafe and bakery accessed through one entrance, and a pizzeria accessed through another entrance. Both parts of the business share a common kitchen and are separated by a thick rope full height screen with a planter at it’s base. This allows for the pizzeria to carry on trading long after the cafe has closed at night and allows the Client to fully utilise their bread based products for both businesses.
The openess of the space gives it flexibility. The cafe incorporates a bar, and is fully licensed which allows the space to operate into the night if needed and be able to cater for private and corporate functions.
Just as the sun provides the energy for the wholesome food we eat, so to we have created a space that has an energy. Design is a willful bringing into being of the ideas and aspirations of all that are involved in the project and this has come together to create a space that reflects these energies. I remember when I was young that every suburb had it’s milk bar or corner shop, and this became the hub where people met before cafes became prevalent. Sol Natural Foods captures a little of this through it’s design aesthetic.
Creating A ‘Living History’
The aesthetic is of one of history. Though it is brand new, having only opened it’s doors yesterday, and with finishing touches such as signage being installed as I visited, in time it will acquire a patina of being well used and loved. The industrial aesthetic is a trend that many designers have picked up on. With Sol Natural Foods it was the natural choice in that there was a tight budget to meet and we wanted to create an ambience that would reflect the wholesome food that would be offered.
The bare concrete shell provided opportunities to utilise the existing elements of the space. An existing concrete wall was left exposed, already creating a ‘history’ as the roughness of the form work speaks of the people who constructed the Mosaic Building. The floor are polished concrete, the services are exposed and the slab above is visible, and plywood cladding to some of the walls speaks of the materials used to create the bare bones of the building. The 12 metre counter and bar is constructed from raw besser bricks and the hardwood timber tops were sourced by the shop fitter who was able to secure it at a discounted price. Hollow besser bricks in between full height timber posts will be filled with plants, further connecting the space to it’s beginnings and to its function to provide wholesome food. The space has a sense of quirkiness with the larger than life sized pineapple print on the back wall that was a last minute addition by the Client but gives the space that little something it needed. The space has been carefully designed, but it was left open enough that everyone involved could leave a piece of themselves and create the idea of frugality where things are ‘cobbled’ together over time rather than being ‘designed’ that way.
The industrial feel also speaks of the history of the area, from the migrant workers who called ‘the Valley’ home to the warehouses and industrial buildings in the area. The budget constraints meant that the design of Sol Natural Foods would not become a pastiche. Rather than imitating the spirit of the style, necessity meant that simple construction materials needed to be utilised.
As I write this article, I am reminded of a cafe I visited over a decade ago in Vietnam. It was Christmas eve and I was up in Dalat, which is a town situated in the mountains. It was very chilly and I happened upon a French style bakery cafe. As I opened the door, entered, and sat down, not only did I feel the physical warmth, but I also experienced the history and energy of the place. It was as if the cafe was in a time warp as it looked like I would imagine it looked like when it opened over 60 years ago. The style of the furniture and fittings, the timber work and leather seating didn’t look tired, but instead felt like it had a thick layer of history and exuded warmth.
With every project that I design, which is a collaboration of many people, from the designer, Client, shopfitter, tradespeople and consultants, I put out an intention for the new business. With Sol Natural Foods I put out the intention that it would become the soul of ‘the Valley’ and that it would age gracefully. While the area continues to evolve, we envisage Sol becoming a mecca for locals, and their energy becomes ingrained into every surface of the space. As the finishes begin to develop a patina of being well used, it continues to bring people together who appreciate the simple things in life: soulful good company and nourishing soul food.
As special thanks goes out to Tony and Daniel from Melco Shopfitters for the incredible work that they have done in getting the fitout together and the patience to weather the many delays beyond their control. Their years of experience shows not only in their exquisite service but also the crafstmanship of their work. Thank you guys.