Design: A lot more than just a cafe

A new cafe is a creative nucleus, says Ben Crawford.

Concrete floors and white walls give an industrial feel to LOT23's cafe. Photo / Ben Crawford
Concrete floors and white walls give an industrial feel to LOT23's cafe. Photo / Ben Crawford

We all dream of combining our professional and personal passions to form that dream amalgamation of making a living in an environment we love. Along with a home on a quarter-acre section, it's part of the Kiwi dream, right?

If that's the case, then the founders of LOT23, Steve and Sam Tozer, are living and working in paradise. And like any idyllic location, it's a mighty fine place to visit. Opened last December, LOT23 is a collaborative space and creative hub comprising an art gallery, cafe, studio and offices.

The premises have been part of the film and television industry for many years but had been vacant for some time when the Tozers came across it.

They realised it provided an opportunity to bring together many of their professional and personal passions - film and video, music, art, design, coffee, food and wine. Thus began nearly six months of refurbishing and decorating.

The father and son duo did the majority of what turned into a major rebuild.

Luckily for the Tozers, directors of production company Brownstreet Productions, the site came with a fully set up studio but, like the rest of the building, it needed some serious TLC.

Next-door to the studio was the old reception area. It was dingy and claustrophobic so the team set about transforming the space to realise another piece of their dream vision for the mixed-use building, a gallery space with a cafe at its core.

The grotty old carpet and cork floor tiles were ripped up, revealing the suitably chic concrete pad below. Walls were removed, crisp white paint was used liberally throughout and plenty of lighting was installed. A brand new commercial kitchen was put in to produce a delicious menu of locally sourced food, for the cafe's customers and the crews hiring out the studio space.

Then, like a giant cherry placed on top of a decadent slice of chocolate gateaux, the most unique espresso machine I have ever seen was delicately positioned on to the counter.

The 1962 San Marco lever coffee machine was bought from the owners of the old Brazil cafe on K Rd. It uses only manual extraction techniques, meaning there are none of the fancy automated gizmos seen on modern machines. It truly is a piece of art in its own right.

Sam's wife, artist Natalie Tozer, manages the gallery set around the periphery of the cafe. Natalie curates a revolving exhibition in the space and puts on new shows every month.

She sees the gallery's primary function as a platform to support emerging artists and give back to the community.

It's about encouraging new collectives and providing affordable art, which face it, can be price-prohibitive at times.

Another mission for the Tozers was to improve the reputation of cafe galleries, historically a proposition that most artists keep well away from. LOT23 is rapidly changing that. An artist in residence creates an environment that allows quality works to be shown in a serious yet relaxed setting, a combination that is attracting like-minded, art-appreciative patrons in droves.

In fact it's rapidly becoming the creative nucleus of the neighbourhood. Shortly, the studio will morph into a performance space for public theatre and stand-up comedy shows, along with various gigs and music events. That notion of giving back to the community provided the inspiration for a giant street art project that kicked off last week.

Artist Elliot Francis Stewart was invited to create a giant 120sq m mural on the side of LOT23 which took more than five days to complete. However this is only the beginning of the initiative. The invitation has been extended to all street art crews to legally add to the wall and, in turn, create an evolving piece of public art.

I love the concept and can't wait to see how it evolves.

You can see the mural being made in the video above or here.

No one in their right minds would advise someone to open such an ambitious business in a dead-end road, but LOT23 has rapidly become a buzzing hub for residents and visitors alike. And long may it continue because such ventures are vital for the long-term health and sustainability of our local creative communities.

Find it: LOT23, 23 Minnie St, Eden Tce, Auckland. lot23.co.nz

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- Herald on Sunday

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