MELBOURNE has some great cafes that have been around for decades, places such as Florentino and Pellegrini's Espresso Bar in Bourke Street. It was cafes and restaurants, such as these, that helped shape the brief for Pei Modern, a new restaurant in Collins Place.
"My clients wanted this place to feel as though it has been here for a long time, not just something that makes a loud noise when it arrives, and closes a couple of years later," says architect Helen Rice.
While the name of the new bar and restaurant - Pei Modern - sounds like it serves Asian fare, it's in fact French inspired food with a strong Australian foundation.
The chef, Mark Best, latched onto the idea of I.M. Pei, the famous Chinese-American architect, who designed the glass pyramid in front of the Louvre in Paris. I.M. Pei is also represented in Collins Place, after collaborating with Bates Smart in the 1980s.
Despite the Collins Street towers being from the 1980s, Rice, as well as her clients, didn't want an '80s retro fit-out and, although the space is modest in area, Rice was able to include a restaurant seating 50, a bar for 20, a kitchen and toilets.
Even the pavement outside has been included in the design, now seating 20 people in a protected environment.
While Pei Modern is fine dining, the menu was created to attract people who might eat at the same place a couple of times a week. It hasn't been designed for that special occasion.
"You can eat here for breakfast lunch or dinner. There's also a bar where you can have oysters and champagne before the theatre, or sausage and mash after a movie," says Rice.
With this degree of accessibility, the last thing on Rice's mind was stiff linen table cloths and high-back chairs. Bistro-style chairs on herringbone tiled floors feature in the cafe, with simple mood lighting.
In the bar, the same informality to the decor applies, with a distressed mirrored wall in the bar not only enlarging the space, but also providing a slightly faded ambience.
"I was keen to look at I.M. Pei's aesthetic. But I didn't want to use the same materials that he used in the '80s," says Rice. So instead of chrome Rice used stainless steel, instead of gloss black the palette is matt charcoal.
"It was about wearing down some of those finishes and applying them in a contemporary way," says Rice. "I wanted to make the place feel as though it has been here for 20 years, rather than just a new fit-out.''
Rice has included aluminium screens in the design to delineate the bar and restaurant spaces, and the chairs, although new, are a design that first appeared 10 years ago. "I've got the same chairs in my office. They're comfortable and still appropriate for a restaurant like this," says Rice.
Although the door handles and some of the lights are from British designer Tom Dixon they have a conservative aesthetic
"I've always appreciated spaces that have light and shade, but are also quite textured. There's no point in adding things just to make a statement," says Rice.