Venture Naval Bar

    June 10, 2012

    About 3.5 years ago we were asked if we wanted to design an Entertainment unit for the Naval Education Center ‘Venture’ in Esquimalt.


    Venture before

    Not that we would have said no – but given that my colleague Kim’s husband was a Navy man, and Kim had lived all over the world following him in his pursuit, made this project so much closer to our hearts.

    From that simple first step we got involved in the renovation of the bar itself – a process which took 3 years to complete, because it had to get approved by so many different levels of hierarchy. We actually never thought we would see the design realized – but it did happen after all!
    The bar renovation was not big on the list of the person in charge of all the masses throughout Canada – but the Victoria crew ended up being victorious, and for the better. There were severe health violations in the existing set up, which needed to be urgently remedied.

    One has to understand that the Bar is actually considered to be the living room for the students. They are not supposed to hang out in their rooms during their off times, but rather spend time with their peers to create a strong bond and companionship in preparation for their time on sea, and in potential peril.

    The Bar is also a statement of pride in the naval history, and therefore required somewhat of a traditional approach to military symbolism. Using typical marine related finishes like oak, mahagony, brass, and adding the occassional porthole window along with the traditional colours of blue, white and red was mandatory in my eyes.
    On top of that we wanted to bring the naval crests more to the attention of the visitors – those are small version ship crests, given as a keepsake to visiting crews, and quite often they are little pieces of art, or – if not all that well executed – they are at least real conversation starters! I was intriguged by them the moment I saw them for the first time – which was very high up on the existing bulkhead that runs around the large room, so that one could hardly recognise them.
    I for one had a lot of fun trying to organize and position the 80 plus of them as one of my last tasks on site! It took about 5 hours, and involved not only the organization by size and a certain graphic component, as well as 2 naval officers, but also an insight into the relationship between the various ships ( or the lack thereof…)

    Detail of the crests


    Having said all that, I also wanted to give the students an environment that was more in touch with their own age – not the stereotypical West Coast look with some heavy oak paneling, slate floor, and a K2 stone facade thrown in somewhere.

    Instead, we opted for a smokestack clad in a contemporary, fiery red metal ( note the detail shot – this pattern is actually inherent to the metal!), framed in black steel banding, and with an oak counter for a feature. The perimeter of the bar was clad in wide rift-cut oak veneer bands, which were accentuated with a Mahagony strip. Strategically positioned black steel U-channels give the whole length on both sides of the bar structure and rhythm, while adding a nautical flair.
    The existing heavy bulkhead was adorned with some decorative marine lights, which were placed in the center of a navyblue band with red banding.

    The feature smokestack


    Detail of the smokestack


    The inside of the bar needed a complete overhaul – indeed, most of the available (and rather tight) budget was spent on the remediation of the walk in cooler, and the restructuring of the bar itself.
    We kept the existing fridges, and restored the beer taps, but everything else had to be new…


    Due to the fact that the space is often divided into 2 areas, with the larger one being rented out for family events, weddings etc., the layout had to accommodate this fact with 2 barstations including beertaps and cashcounters.


    There was one other aspect that made this project clearly unique – a government project required the services of a registered architect. We were fortunate to work with Al Hepburn from the Colbourne Architectural Group in Vancouver, who (after negotiating with me the use of the red metal for the smokestack, with which he had fallen in love when I showed it to him….) took our designs and created the necessary paperwork without any changes being made to our design intend.

    Once the project was tendered we got involved on site again – maybe a bit more than was typical on those types of project, and not so much to the amusement of the very dear construction manager, who nevertheless pretty much accommodated my requests as much as he could. Thank you for putting up with me, John!!!

    I have to say – I am definitely not used to get my choices of light fixtures and tiles changed to ‘whatever’ fits the tender budget, just because the suppliers did not think that I would be all that concerned about their replacement choices… What an odd world this kind of construction is!
    Kim ended up laughing at me a number of times, saying things like: “THIS is how the real design world works -you give out drawings to a contractor, and then they do with them whatever they want….”
    Yes, she had told me that a number of times throughout the years before, all the while with a sincere sense of surprise that our designs actually end up looking like our original drawings…. Now I learned what she meant with this!!

    Go figure this didn’t sit all that well with me, and after some initial upset I ended up getting it pretty much my way. And I won’t tell the details that are not quite what I had envisioned – no need to spoil it for anyone else….

    We are very happy with the result, and wish all visitors and students wonderful times of cameraderie in the space!


    Fairfield Eyecare

    June 10, 2012

    Time flies….

    Today we present you with the first of 2 commercial projects we were fortunate to be involved in throughout the last months.

    The first was a retail space for Fairfield Eyecare, located in the Fairfield Mall in Victoria.
    The store has been in business for about 30 years, and when the current owner took over 3 years ago he figured that it was high time to create an environment that was in keeping with the high end exclusive designer frames he was bringing in from Germany and France.

    The store when we started


    It was a real challenge to create a space concept for this rather small store – we had about 300 sq.ft. available for the merchandising area, the POS/ office and the workshop, with another 150 sq.ft. for the doctor’s examination room and back of house.

    The second challenge was to create custom millwork for the high end products, as for security reasons those were supposed to be presented behind glass doors. The owner asked us to design custom units, rather then using readily available stock products from an outfitter for eyewear stores.
    Never having worked on an eyewear store before we had to educate ourselves on the various ways for displaying and illuminating glasses.

    View of the high end display wall

    High End Products

    As for aesthetics: the client was looking for neutral, sleek, contemporary, with the incorporation of some colour in order to create a fun environment. I learned that a lot of business came through the door in form of teenagers who wanted to check out a pair of cool glasses, with the parents ending up purchasing something for themselves as well…
    Given the fabulous pieces for sale it is no surprise, though – those designers from Paris turn each frame into a piece of art!!

    View of the sunglass display case with the workshop behind– note that we arranged for storage cabinetry whereever possible!

    sunglasses and workshop

    A fun little fact – and it was not so much fun while we were at it – the previous tenant 3 decades before was a barber shop – and all the plumbing had been kept alive inside blocked off walls!! We ended up freezing the lines in order to install shut off valves, as due to the age of the mall there was no such thing as a water shut off for the individual store. We would have had to either bring the plumber in at midnight, or close the pub that was on the same plumbing circuit for the time we had to work on it!

    We started out with the selection of finishes by looking at the right type of floor, and picked an unusual white-based faux wood floor made out of commercial grade vinyl, which is tough and easy to maintain.
    From there we picked the various laminates for the cabinet fronts – mainly white faux wood ones from Italy, in both matte and glossy finish, a white leather-like wallpaper, paired those with a touch of bark-coloured faux wood and copper hued high gloss foil to introduce a masculine element, added some black and stainless accents, and threw in a few watercolour shades of blues, greens and lavender.

    View of the open merchandising area

    Product display

    And a detail shot of the POS and office area – we told you it was a tight space!

    POS and filing

    Oh – right! We also added some royal blue for low counters, and the special ‘sneaky’ little cabinet at the dispensing table, which holds ‘add-on’ sale items in its top drawer. That’s it for you for sales-psychology…
    Some curvy legs add the special something to the stylized eyeglass-shape of that dispensing unit.

    The dispensing unit

    dispensing counter with display

    It sounds so easy, right?!!

    As usual it was all about sweating the details.
    This is one of the aspects that makes the profession of design so similar to that of a dancer – no matter how much blood, sweat and tears heppen behind the scenes, the end result is suppossed to look easy and simply beautiful.

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