Design: French Flair

Ben Crawford reveals he's a Francophile

Petit Bocal. Photo / Ben Crawford
Petit Bocal. Photo / Ben Crawford

If I could swap nationalities for a year I'd choose to be French. For one, I could eat pain-aux-raisins for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Secondly, I'd be able to pull off the art of wearing a scarf with ease - a skill I'm yet to master. And thirdly, I'd be blessed with the best accent in the world and the ability to turn even the most mundane words into lyrical gems.

A perfect example is my neighbourhood cafe Petit Bocal, established by Frenchman Matt Gosset and his partner, Jess Brewer. My first question to Matt when we met was what does the name of his cafe tanslate to?

"Petit Bocal" - the two words rolling off his tongue like a poem - "means small jar in English," he explained. In English just two simple words, but in French, a beautiful name for the business.

It's not just the name that's attractive though. Petit Bocal has been a welcome addition to Sandringham, introducing a level of quality and style that the area had been crying out for. And based on the competition for a table every weekend, they've certainly hit the mark with the locals. Me included.

So how did Matt and Jess go about creating the rustic-bakery meets chic-cafe aesthetic?

The landlord left the duo with a freshly painted white box when they took over the lease.

This provided the perfect canvas to begin executing their vision, one based on the successful farmhouse bakery fit-outs they had already completed in their three popular La Boulange bakeries.

While continuity between businesses was a mandatory, it was essential that Petit Bocal's design evolved in order to function as both a cafe during the day then a restaurant and wine bar come nightfall.

Despite being born in France, Matt has obviously absorbed the Kiwi can-do attitude in the nine years he's lived here, fitting out the entire space himself. What skills he hadn't learnt while constructing the trio of La Boulange stores, he sought help from every DIY-er's best friend, Google.

Once the functional stuff like the walls, toilets and kitchen were built, it was time to execute their rustic French theme with a creative and opportunistic eye. Jess spotted an old window frame at a demo yard, it had no glass in it, but she saw another use for it as a display unit for the tiled rear wall. From another yard, a 900kg steel beam was transformed into the counter. Matt then painstakingly built all of the cafe tables, creating the tops from rough-sawn timber then fixing them to ornate pedestal legs.

Then continuing the well-loved black and white photo theme from their other properties, they adorned the walls with iconic images from Matt's motherland. The Eiffel Tower, children with baguettes and two lovers in an embrace. Then finally, the cafe's name provided a theme through the space, from the black vinyl decal of a jar on the wall to preserving jars turned into lights shades.

While I'm not French, I'm lucky that Petit Bocal is so close to my house so at least I can pretend to be. I've got a convincing bonjour, merci and au revoir in my repertoire, they produce delicious pain-aux-raisins though my scarf wearing technique still needs work.

Create your own French farmhouse vibe by taking inspiration from Petit Bocal:

Rustic Tables

Do as Matt did and make your own. Head to a hardware store and pick up some timber. After cutting to length, screw together from below then fix to metal legs which you can buy from cafe suppliers like Titan Furniture.

Window Shelves

The large window repurposed as a wine rack is extremely original and provides a rustic charm to the space. Try replicating the idea yourself as a bookcase or large-scale indoor planter box.

Old window frames can be found at building recyclers throughout the country, just Google 'demolition yards' to find the closest one to you.

Monochrome

Black and white photos in varied sizes haphazardly arranged on a wall are a common sight in eateries throughout France. Reproduce the same effect with your family portraits - the more images you can squeeze onto a wall the better.

Find it: Petit Bocal, 177 Sandringham Rd, Auckland.

- Herald on Sunday

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