Design: Letters from a lazy lunch spot

Ben Crawford finds a great ambience at Dear Jervois.

Dear Jervois cafe. Photo/ Ben Crawford
Dear Jervois cafe. Photo/ Ben Crawford

I first met David Lee last year when he opened Little King, a cafe in the North Shore suburb of Milford. Lee's transformation of a forgettable space into a double-back-flip, designer-cool eatery immediately caught my eye and his renovation story became a favourite chapter in my book, Built for Caffeine.

Twelve months on the enterprising restaurateur is at it again, now advancing his growing empire across the Waitemata towards the central city. And by the looks of it, his perfect recipe of designer good looks, delicious food and outstanding service is already conquering the inner-city suburbs, with local denizens rapidly discovering what North Shore residents have known for ages. Lee and his team do a bloody good cafe.

Opening its doors only a few weeks ago, Dear Jervois occupies a sun-filled corner site half way along Jervois Rd, in the heart of Herne Bay. Over breakfast and a bottomless cup of brew coffee, I caught up with Lee to hear about his latest venture.

The first thing I wanted to know was, why Herne Bay? "It's a suburb that's very similar to Milford, a true neighbourhood where locals look after locals and that's something I value greatly," he tells me.

In fact, Lee has been an admirer of Herne Bay for quite some time and it was during one of his regular walks in the area that he spotted the vacant tenancy. It was never his intention to open another cafe, but his inquisitiveness and entrepreneurial spirit got the better of him. After walking around the back of the building and seeing its industrial-looking bones, he knew he had to have it, even after talking to the leasing agent and discovering 17 businesses had passed through the space in 17 years.

He teamed up once again with builder and renovation teammate Nic Wike and the duo quickly set about converting the space to meet Lee's vision. Backbreaking days were spent removing layers of plasterboard and hydro-blasting walls to expose the brick, concrete and plaster beneath. Then they painted these surfaces in pastel mint tones, adding a degree of refinement while opening up the room.

The existing dark timber floors were modernised with a splash of light grey paint and chequered vinyl was laid in the rear to help create distinct zones within the cafe.

Meanwhile, the exterior was transformed with a few coats of dark charcoal paint, anchoring the business within the street and drawing passersby into the warm glow.

After weeks of demolition, construction and painting, the fit-out could begin in earnest.

Entire walls were covered in flawless black tiles, creating a beautiful contrast to the shabby-chic finish of adjoining concrete and brick walls. A variety of workshop shades, pendants and exposed bulbs were also hung to provide directional lighting and intimate eating areas.

Lee then tasked joiner James McNaughton with tailor-making all of the cafe's dining tables and a stunning set of open shelves to run the length of the wall above the service counter. Combining steel frames with rustic timber and beautiful craftsmanship, McNaughton's work is a real feature within Dear Jervois, helping provide a final layer of industrial decadence.

As I finished a final sip of coffee and made my way to the door Lee told me he has been surprised at the instant popularity of Dear Jervois.

I'm not. The sublime space and welcoming smiles create an atmosphere where a quick coffee can easily turn into a lazy lunch.

Bring a little bit of Dear Jervois home with you

Fully tiled walls

Don't leave your tiles on the floor or part way up the wall. Take inspiration from Dear Jervois and go floor-to-ceiling in your bathroom or kitchen to create a show-stopping space. Select a subway tile from the likes of the Tile Warehouse and lay them in a brick pattern for a classic design or stack them for a more contemporary effect.

Open storage

I love the massive set of open shelves James McNaughton made for Lee. Think about applying this idea in your own kitchen. Rather than hiding your pots, pans and ingredients in cupboards, put them on display in industrial style storage units.

Bring the outside in

Dear Jervois is full of botanical cool made by Annie Oxborough and Lee's wife. Get the look yourself by planting hardy succulents in any available vessel, from an old oil can to an antique teapot. Or if you'd prefer a more modern vibe, get your hands on some ceramic hexagon wall planters from For Keeps.

Find It: Dear Jervois, 234 Jervois Rd, Herne Bay

- Herald on Sunday

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