A historic building, once an old Hillman Humber car dealership, has met a complete refurbishment and expansion and relaunched as Humber – Wollongong’s only rooftop bar and kitchen offering three levels dedicated to a unique food and drink culture.
For designers Giant Design, functionality is always the starting point for the design of any workspace, so making sure the kitchen, bar and back of house areas work is first and foremost. But then the fun part starts, and the next most important item for their client was wow factor.
Being almost triangular in shape the biggest challenge was fitting everything in whilst also complying with the necessary clearances and circulation spaces required by the building, fire and accessibility codes. For such a small footprint, fitting in the toilets, kitchen, bar and stairs didn’t leave a lot of space for patrons. But the shape is also one of the building’s greatest assets and really lends itself to the art deco look and feel channeled by Giant.
The building has a great history which was buried under years of adaption and neglect. Lots of it’s original features had been completely removed over the years, especially on its façade, but Giant hoped they’d be able to uncover and expose some hidden details in the buildings bare structure once removed the layers of gyprock and plaster. Fortunately, its bones were as beautiful as hoped.
“As soon as we walked into the space with the client on our first visit, we knew exactly what we wanted to do,” commented Chris Wilks of Giant. “The original brief was to have the first floor bar to one side, with a large space left over for lounging, but for me there is nothing better for a venue than a room that creates opportunity for friends and strangers alike to connect with each other, and nothing enables that more than a central bar. In the middle of the room the bar becomes the big feature, and works for serving large amounts of people at once whilst offering a place for couples and solo patrons to sit and connect with each other, the bartender, or a the person making eyes on the other side of the bar. Call me a romantic!
The building’s shape and history was the real source of inspiration for the venue’s concept, reminding the designers of the great triangular buildings of the art-deco period, from the Flat-iron in NYC to the Sydney Dental Hospital at Central Station, albeit on a more modest scale! From that starting point they needed to tailor the look and feel across three distinct floors, the ground floor café took on an industrial art-deco warehouse feel, whilst the upper floors sought inspiration in the glamour of the period, with a touch of Gatsby thrown in. There are details common to all three floors but treated in different finishes and materials helping to link and define the spaces at once.
Being based in Sydney meant the designers weren’t able to work as closely with the client as they might have otherwise, nonetheless he was a dream client in every sense. He truly believed in the project’s ability to transform Wollongong’s hospitality offer, and gave them the freedom to explore detailing and materiality they rarely get a chance to in today’s competitive market, including custom furniture and lighting. His only request was that they come up with something 100% unique, all the while creating a space that would not only feel good for special occasions, but also be both comfortable and familiar, a place to call home.
As was widely documented in the local press the project faced many hurdles along the way, mostly legislative but there were also construction issues that set the project back many times, but all the way through, the client remained steadfastly determined to deliver the best possible product.